Published: 15:30, 24 January 2020
| Updated: 16:01, 24 January 2020
Urgent work is taking place to keep Maidstone safe from flooding that poses a "threat to life" - but at the cost of felling 300 trees.
The council has embarked on a huge project to reinforce the dam between the reservoir at Mote Park and the lake at Turkey Mill.
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Both are fed from the River Len that performs a S-bend in the park, on its way to join the River Medway at Mill Street.
In recent years, the park has seen some extensive flooding, with water from the 30-acre reservoir rising above the tops of the benches on the walks around it.
A safety survey found if the water levels rose higher, so as to over-mount the dam, which is only composed of earth and rubble, there was a danger it would quickly break up and wash away, potentially allowing millions of gallons of water to head towards the town.
Council leader Martin Cox (Lib Dem) said: "If water flooded over the dam and eroded the bank behind, we have been told that within a few minutes there could be a 2ft deep wave of water pouring through Maidstone heading for the Medway."
The council is spending up to £1.9 million to ensure Maidstone does not become the next Fishlake - the South Yorkshire village that suffered extensive flooding in November.
Cllr Cox said: "There is a threat to life, a threat to property and a threat to business. We had to act."
Sadly, the first part of the work involves felling some 300 trees currently growing out of the existing dam.
But park manager Alan Frith explained that it was not so serious as it might sound.
He said: "The larger trees close to the lake are being kept. Those coming out are all self-seeded and include many saplings and much smaller trees."
In any case, the figure is a small fraction of the the 54,000 trees recorded in the park.
Cllr Cox said: "It's very sad that we have to take out any trees, but once we became aware of the risk, we had to act."
There are plans to plant an equal number of new trees at the end of the project - but in more suitable places around the park.
Mr Frith, who has managed the park for the past nine years, said: "None of the felled wood is leaving the park.
"We shall chip some for use on the planting beds or paths. Larger trunks will be made into benches and for the rest we are planning a series of hibernacula."
Deep trenches will be dug and in-filled with logs. As the logs rot, they will provide the prefect habitat for reptiles and invertebrates.
The engineers will not move onto the site until July.
They will the reinforce the dam with a wall and concrete blocks - which will be grassed over so that the final product will look little different from the present one, but will be much more stable.
Mr Frith said it was necessary to fell the trees now, before the bird-breeding season and before any bats woke and began moving around.
The project has it own ecologist on site throughout the works. Dr Brett Lewis explained: "Bats and bat roosts are protected. Before any tree is felled, I personally inspect it to make sure there are no over-wintering bats."
That often involves climbing the trunk and poking an endoscope camera into any any cavities.
Although the park is known to be home to 10 different species of bats, so far, none have been found.
Dr Lewis said that was because the trees that are coming down are relatively immature trees that have not developed the cracks and faults loved by bats.
He was enthusiastic about the prospect of the hibernacula and said that in the end, the project would return habitat to the site.
More by this authorAlan Smith