This blog has been written by Victoria Cox-Wall, trustee of Bassaleg Community Woodland Trust. Bassaleg is a semi rural village on the outskirts of Newport and I was a Community Councillor here for 4 years.
The village has green corridors and pockets of woodland, plus two public parks, but despite being dominated by verdant farmland and trees, there is no woodland space open to residents. The woodland at Station Approach, once part of the Deer Park of the elegant 17th century Tredegar House, has been partially developed over time but there is one small sliver of woodland, filled with diverse trees, all protected by a Tree Preservation Order and wildlife which meets the criteria for registration as a Site of Interest to Nature Conservation (SINC). This unnamed woodland adjoins Community Council recreation land and a registered Semi Natural Ancient Woodland, known as Garth Wood.
The privately owned woodland is a potential money maker for its owners and having been gated off to the public for years allowing it to deteriorate, plans to build 14 homes were submitted spring of 2015. At this point residents joined together and protested strongly against the plans with a petition, individual letters, stalls at the local market and local press articles, led by fellow trustee Claire Young and myself. The plans were withdrawn on the advice of the planning officer but the Save Our Woodland Group stayed together with a watching brief, knowing the landowners would pursue their investment return. The group also became Bassaleg Community Woodland Trust, a registered charity in England and Wales and members continued to fund raise and develop their knowledge of important policies such as the Local Development Plan and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.
Events took an unexpected turn in October 2016 when several nearby residents sounded the alarm via phone and social media that a large brush cutting machine had entered the woodland and was cutting swathes of trees in its path. Over a few hours, we the trustees and other residents had summoned the police, stood in front of the brush cutter forcing it to stop and insisted the local tree officer come to view the dreadful damage. Over 20 mature and healthy trees and many smaller trees had been indiscriminately hacked down, all of them protected and numbered on the Tree Preservation Order of March 2006. None of the wildlife such as the substantial slow worm population had been protected and no doubt they, robins, thrushes, squirrels, the rare Cinnabar and Heath moths, the adders and roosting bats had all been killed. The damage was horrific and no one could explain why such an instruction had been issued to the contractor.
There was an “investigation” by the city council which concluded the landowner had the authority to fell any or all of the protected trees as they were deemed to be dead, diseased, dying or dangerous. No documentation existed to evidence this and there are still no answers. There is a legal process currently around these events and the charity has been lucky enough to secure both a local solicitor and barrister to act on behalf of the residents to pursue a replanting of the trees lost.
On 5th July 2017, after further petitioning from ourselves, residents, letters and strong pressure from the Community Council, the planning officer refused the re-submitted plans for 11 homes and commented the area would be better as a community woodland. This represents a landmark for both the charity and woodland and could be the first step on the path to a community woodland park.
Obviously, there are appeal processes the landowners may pursue but the residents of Bassaleg will continue to fight to save this woodland, the flora and rare fauna with support from Graig Community Council, City Councillor Cornelious, Harding Evans LLP and Llais Y Goedwig.
Victoria Cox-Wall, Claire Young, Ymddiriedolaeth Basaleg Coetir Cymunedol.
The Tree Charter Principles
We believe in:
Principle 5: Better protection for important trees and woods