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Court battle looming over Monikie tree felling following investigation

Local protesters were upset at the removal of the trees.
Local protesters were upset at the removal of the trees.

A court battle is looming in the wake of a bitter enforcement battle over tree felling in Monikie.

Scottish Ministers have upheld an enforcement notice which was issued by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) following alleged unauthorised woodland clearance works carried out at the old curling pond site.

The operation to remove trees and undergrowth by Ayrshire-based Avancan Property Management in January was described as “exceptional” and likely to have had “significant effects on the environment”.

The company denied any wrongdoing and claimed it had “sympathetically” cleared an “eyesore” site.

Site owner James Canavan’s appeal claimed the felling did not constitute a “relevant” project because it was under the one hectare threshold and there were not “exceptional circumstances”.

Scottish Ministers appointed Richard Hickman to investigate.

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The reporter’s investigation concluded the clearance of the woodland “has resulted in a series of significant and potentially long lasting adverse impacts on the local environment”.

He recommended the enforcement notice served by FCS was upheld.

Scottish Ministers have now set a new date of March 1 for the remedial works to be completed and Mr Canavan has been told to prepare a 10-year plan of maintenance measures to restore the land and replant trees.

A spokesman for Mr Canavan said: “We will now be taking the appeal to the Court of Session where we think we will get a fairer hearing.

“The common working person is still being swept aside in the interest of a few and we believe we have a strong case and won’t be pushed around by the FCS.

“The curling pond was left to rack and ruin before we bought it and the site remains a fly-tipping magnet. You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear so how can you reinstate a midden?”

Regulation restricts intervention in forestry projects that extend to less than one hectare unless there are exceptional circumstances which make it likely it will have significant effects on the environment.

FCS concluded there were exceptional circumstances justifying enforcement action in this case “due to the nature, quality and age of the semi-natural woodland habitat; the almost complete destruction of the habitat; the irreversibility of the impacts in the short and medium term; the importance of the site for amphibians; the key connectivity with the wetlands in Monikie Country Park; and the value of the site as part of an important local community project”.

Reporter Richard Hickman’s report stated: “I consider the loss of the wet woodland and part of the colony of amphibians, together with the escape of Himalayan Balsam from the site due to the works on the bund, to be particularly serious, while the undermining of the voluntary community effort to assist the toad and frog population is very regrettable.

“My overall conclusion is that the forestry clearance work at the site is likely to have had significant adverse effects on the environment, and that the unusual combination of special factors at the site constitute exceptional circumstances that justify the use of enforcement action.”

A spokesperson for Forestry Commission Scotland, said: “We are pleased that the appeals process has now concluded and found that our assessment and proposed enforcement were appropriate.

“We will now seek to ensure that reinstatement works set out in the enforcement notice are carried out by the site owner.”

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