Published: 06:00, 05 March 2020
The destruction of woodland has been compared to illegal logging in the Amazon rainforest.
Giant oak trees have been felled at Sparrow Wood, part of the ancient Hoads Wood, near Bethersden, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), while material has been dumped and covered with earth.
Tom Shelley, whose wife owns an adjacent section of the wood, has captured a scene of devastation, where a huge tract of land has been cleared of trees some of which were subject to tree protection orders, leaving just the stumps remaining.
He said: "The area in the photographs has been cut down and cleared using construction equipment, a lot of material has been dumped there by a succession of lorries, and covered up with a layer of soil."
Dr Shelley said that council officials appear "powerless" to stop the destruction.
He says the situation has parallels with illegal logging, mining and ranching in the Amazon, which the Brazilian government has largely been unable to prevent.
Ashford council says it has taken action against the owners of the land and a spokesman said: "We are aware that trees have been felled in Hoads Wood.
"As a result, we have obtained an injunction order in the high court prohibiting any further unlawful felling or any further development without the benefit of planning permission.”
Dr Shelley said that as well as chopping down the trees "a great deal of waste material was tipped there [in the wood]". The waste was topped by soil, creating a one metre mound of earth."
Woodland in the area typically features oak and hornbeam, wild flora and grasses, deer, buzzards and owls and is subject to an article four directive, restricting permitted development.
Dr Shelley said that he first saw machinery on the woodland at the beginning of last month, which work continuing apace despite a court order pinned to one of the trees at the site entrance forbidding it.
He said: "How can we possibly prevent illegal logging in the Amazon rain forest when we cannot even prevent it in darkest Kent?
Dr Shelley added: "Some people just don’t seem to care what they do to the environment and the law seems powerless to stop them."
The Kentish Express contacted the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) about the destruction of the woodland, who advised that if a person is convicted of felling trees without a licence, where one was required, they would face a penalty of £2,500, or twice the value of the timber felled.
It said that provisions within the Environment Bill, currently before Parliament, will increase the penalty to an unlimited fine and that in certain circumstances, the Forestry Commission can also serve a restocking notice to the individual who committed the offence, "either with or without having secured a conviction, which compels the individual served to restock the land with trees."
The advice continued: "Failure to comply with the notice may result in a separate offence being committed, which already carries a penalty of an unlimited fine."
Hoads Wood SSSI is listed as an 197-acre ancient woodland with bluebells and cow wheat.
It was first notified in 1951 and re-notified in 1981 and 1989.
Defra stated: "SSSI woodlands are representative examples of the best types of woodland. This ancient woodland [Hoads] with coppiced standards reflects woodlands of Kent with their high diversity of plants and woodland bird assemblage."
It said that woodland plots typically used for leisure purposes could present problems, with owners tempted to plant non-native trees and plants, put up sheds and create access tracks.