Last week I was out with Dave, one of the Woodland Officers (who deal with regulations, funding, illegal felling etc.) when we got a call from a concerned woman who said her neighbour had been cutting down a load of trees in their bit of ancient woodland, using diggers to excavate the roots.
Anyone who wants to fell more than 5m3 of timber per calendar quarter needs to apply for what's called a felling license, which allows us to look at the case and see whether felling is appropriate. In most cases it is, although sometimes we require people to replant in a different area or we will say they can't fell. If they fell more than 5m per quarter without a license they can be fined up to £2,500.
Today I went down to Essex to act as a witness for Dave as he went on to these peoples land, met with both parties and investigated what had gone on. It turned out there was a bit of a neighbourly dispute going on, but the owners of the wood had definitely exceeded what was needed for a felling license. Part of our inspection was measuring the trees which had been felled (which were luckily still there, and in long lengths) - we measured about 1/4 of what was there and it came to about 20m3, which is clearly enough to need a license.
However, there are many loopholes in the regulations which make it harder to get a prosecution (as in many things). For example, if it could be argued that the land was part of someone's garden, it would be exempt. If the trees were considered by a professional to be unsafe, they are exempt. Etc. etc. For these reasons, we are just going to serve a notice to make sure they have to replant a similar area to that they have felled.
If nothing else, we gave some people with far too much money a scare and made them realise they can't just do whatever they want with their little woodland. At least it felt like we were doing something worthwhile, if not disappointing we're not going to be able to bring more against them.
Ta-ta for now.
Listening to Yeasayer – Ambling Alp (in session with Rob da Bank on Radio 1)