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Thanet council investigated by Kent Police over reports of alleged 'illegal hedge cutting'

By Matt Leclere

A council is under investigation by the police over fears hedge cutting is taking place illegally in the district.

Kent Police has confirmed it is looking at whether Thanet District Council (TDC) disturbed wild bird nests in work carried out at Margate Winter Gardens earlier this week.

Video shared on social media shows large machinery chopping away near the venue with pictures showing the aftermath of the hacked away hedges.

WATCH: Footage shows tractors chopping back the hedges outside the Margate Winter Gardens

Angry residents claim there is evidence nests have been damaged by the work and reported their concerns to police.

It is a criminal offence to destroy the nesting sites of wild birds and anyone wanting to cut back foliage must carry out official checks to ensure it is done safely.

But the council says it has ensured there were no nests at the Winter Gardens and also did ahead of work at the former Canterbury Christ Church University campus in Broadstairs last weekend.

Thanet council is being investigated by police after angry residents complained about hedgerow cutting at Margate Winter Gardens potentially illegally destroying nesting birds (11915922)
Thanet council is being investigated by police after angry residents complained about hedgerow cutting at Margate Winter Gardens potentially illegally destroying nesting birds (11915922)

The latter incident was also reported to police but officers have confirmed there is no evidence of anything illegal having taken place.

PC Darren Reed form the Kent Police Rural Task Force said: "Kent Police received reports regarding tree and hedge pruning and the possible disruption of nesting birds in in Northwood Road, Broadstairs on Sunday, June 2 and Fort Crescent, Margate on Tuesday, June 4.

"Having spoken to all parties, there was no evidence of nesting birds at the Broadstairs location. Enquiries are ongoing to establish whether any offences have taken place in Fort Crescent, Margate.

The council says it is necessary to carry out the work due to anti-social behaviour and health risks from dumped rubbish in the overgrowth
The council says it is necessary to carry out the work due to anti-social behaviour and health risks from dumped rubbish in the overgrowth

"While it is not best practice to carry out pruning work at this time of the year due to the possibility of nesting birds, it is not unlawful if it is established by those conducting the work there are none present."

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it illegal to take, damage or destroy the nests of protected wild birds while they are being used or constructed.

The RSPB advises the public not to cut or prune hedges and bushes between March and August due to the likelihood of birds nesting, breeding and living in hedgerows.

A spokesman for TDC says the work was carried out following anti-social behaviour and littering causing health and safety risks because of the material dumped but no more work is planned during the summer.

Campaigners say there is evidence of nesting birds in hedges which is illegal to remove or disturb
Campaigners say there is evidence of nesting birds in hedges which is illegal to remove or disturb

Amelia Gregory, who runs the Thanet Trees campaign group, is blaming the council for causing "catastrophic carnage across Thanet decimating hedges, wildlife habitats and open spaces".

She added: "Thanet Trees believes that TDC needs to cease all destructive and at times illegal maintenance works on Thanet hedgerows, public spaces and trees pending a review of current strategies, to ensure future works are in line with the advice of respected environmental bodies and taking into account our current climate emergency and our need to restore biodiversity and look after green spaces across the district.

"It's illegal if birds are found to be nesting - and we have found multiple nests."

A council spokesman said the authority is acting within the law, saying: "At any time of the year, before starting any work a member of the team will visit a site in person and conduct a thorough visual survey - looking for active birds’ nests.

Officers from the Kent Police Rural Task Force are investigating whether any illegal acts have taken place
Officers from the Kent Police Rural Task Force are investigating whether any illegal acts have taken place

"Our Open Spaces team carries out regular maintenance to trees, hedges and shrubs on land we own. The vast majority of this work is completed during the winter and therefore outside of recognised nesting seasons.

"The decision to undertake work of this nature during this particular time period is based on issues raised by stakeholders using the affected spaces, including the need to mitigate against health and safety risks, particularly in relation to members of the public for whom our duty of care is paramount."

The council says the volume of vegetation makes it impossible to cut the hedges by hand, adding: "We engaged experienced, qualified and accredited contractors who conducted further examinations before commencing work and would also know to cease activity if evidence of active nesting birds were spotted.

"We appreciate that this is an emotive issue, and can assure residents that there has been no intention to displace wildlife that contributes to our wonderful bio-diverse natural environment."

The RSPB has questioned the ethics of work taking place during nesting season.

A spokesman for the charity said: "The RSPB strongly believes that nature cannot continue to be squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces, and we cannot demand that nature fits in with our plans.

"Under current law, hedge and tree maintenance can legally take place during breeding season as long as there are no nesting birds present, but we question the ethics of doing these works when many species are at their most vulnerable.

"Hedgerows and trees provide vital food and shelter for all sorts of wildlife during breeding season, not just birds, and removing large areas of vegetation is likely to have a negative impact on all of the species that rely on it."

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