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Thanet council leader Bob Bayford announces action plan after hedge cutting row at Margate Winter Gardens

By Matt Leclere

A council has promised a seven-point plan to address major concerns about its hedge cutting and grounds maintenance in the district.

Thanet District Council says will be taking action after a backlash last month when footage emerged of tractors chopping back foliage at the Margate Winter Gardens.

Campaigners feared wildlife nesting in the bushes were being harmed and a Kent Police investigation was launched but officers found no wrongdoing by the council and its contractors.

Council leader Bob Bayford (Con) confirmed the authority would be carrying out a full review and today pledged the council's action plan.

The steps include buying an infrared camera to detect possible nesting wildlife, seeking information from other councils about processes carried out across the county and will also be employing a new arboricultural officer.

Cllr Bayford said: "We have received a significant number of complaints and media attention regarding the hedge maintenance work carried out at the Winter Gardens on Tuesday 4 June.

"Although Kent Police have confirmed they found no evidence of any disturbance or damage to nesting birds and therefore concluded that no offences have been committed, we are keen to improve the processes followed in relation to this work in the future."

Kent Police confirmed no illegal activity had taken place
Kent Police confirmed no illegal activity had taken place

The council says it will be:

  • Seeking information from other Councils to understand what processes they have in place and if any examples of better practice exist.
  • Recruiting an arboricultural officer as soon as possible, even though this isn’t a requirement.
  • Developing an improved process, including how to deal with complaints about tree and hedge works.
  • Carrying out ecological risk assessments for a variety of parks and open spaces works, following the improved process and including the use of new technology. We have purchased, as a trial at this stage, an infrared imaging wildlife camera. This will be used alongside traditional methods of ecological monitoring as part of the prescribed process that must be followed before works are carried out. Check sheets will be included as part of the ecological risk assessment to ensure compliance is documented. Recommendations are being sought from the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and other local authorities to help shape this.
  • Drafting new parks and open spaces service standards – to be approved and published on the Council’s website so the public know what to expect from us and what we expect from them.
  • Conducting a review into our arrangements with contractors, including exploring a new permit to work process for any contractor carrying out work on our behalf.
  • Training staff, supervisors and service manager on new processes, how to handle complaints and how to prioritise work based on process, legislation and to ensure balance with other relevant sensitivities
Thanet council was investigated by police after angry residents complained about hedgerow cutting at Margate Winter Gardens
Thanet council was investigated by police after angry residents complained about hedgerow cutting at Margate Winter Gardens

Angry residents claimed there was evidence nests were 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 in early June.

Thanet council leader Bob Bayford has called for an internal review (12334733)
Thanet council leader Bob Bayford has called for an internal review (12334733)

The police carried out checks into whether any illegal acts had taken place under the under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The law states it is 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.

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