EA seeks access warrant for controversial tree felling

The Environment Agency (EA) has applied for a warrant to gain access to land so it can fell trees for flood mitigation purposes after a landowner refused to cooperate.

The EA has said it requires access to the land at Mill Leese in Saltwood, Kent, in the interests of safety as the felling is needed to maintain the reservoir which acts as a flood storage area. 

However, the regulator’s legal escalation comes amid fierce opposition from local councillors and residents who say that the work is unnecessary and will destroy “healthy trees” which they say are home to 11 species of bats and will ruin an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 

The EA says that the felling is not a matter of choice, and that while it is "legally obliged to do this safety work", it is "also looking to enhance the ecology of the area".

The spokesperson continued: "Mill Leese is a flood storage reservoir which protects up to 70 properties in Hythe from flooding. The reservoir embankment at Saltwood Castle must be maintained to a high standard and we have been advised to carry out this work by an independent inspecting engineer.

"This is not a matter of choice, but a legal requirement in the interest of safety under the Reservoirs Act 1975.”

The EA said that although it is not required to let the landowner know beforehand about maintenance activities, it chose to do so because of “the nature and timescale needed to carry out these works”, but as access was refused it had to apply for a warrant.

However, this explanation has been met with confusion by multiple groups, including Kent county councillor Rory Love who told Kent Online last month that: "The EA needs to explain how destroying the habitat of 11 species of bats, and countless other animals right down to insects and wood bugs, is intended to assist in flood mitigation."

The chair of the local parish council, Frank Boland, also said that he was open to understanding why the tree felling would prevent flooding, “but the Environment Agency hasn't provided information which would persuade me”. 

Boland wrote a letter to Damian Collins, the district’s MP last month, saying that “the EA has classified this flood storage area as a 'reservoir' because it can be said to fit the rather woolly definition set out in the 1975 Reservoirs Act”.

"However, the common understanding of a reservoir is a permanently maintained body of water”, he wrote, “Mill Leese is no such thing - most of the time it is completely dry and a public bridleway runs through the middle of it.

"It is only used for storing water for short periods on the very rare occasions when there is prolonged very heavy rainfall after which the water is released downstream or simply seeps away by itself.”

Collins has subsequently written to the environment secretary on the concerns raised.