The Environment Agency (EA) is starting work at the beginning of September, with plans to strip the railway line of all trees along the old railway bridge, Saltwood. This work is being done, according to the EA, because these trees increase the chances of flooding!

Local people were horrified when they found out that mature trees, saplings and all other vegetation were being removed from what is a well-loved natural beauty spot and a natural haven for many species of birds and wildlife – with 11 different types of bat having been recorded there.

As of 1st September, the work will have begun to chop down a significant number of mature and young trees, with work resuming at future dates to ensure that no new growth is left there. The EA has said that these trees increase the risk of flooding but residents who have lived in this area for many years have never seen valley floor water levels rising to the level of the trees. Various consultants and contractors have also said that the trees and vegetation in this area would be most effective in damming water – with Woodland Trust also stating on their website that trees are one of the best methods of damming or preventing flooding: “Trees, shrubs and deadwood along riverbanks and on floodplains act as a drag on floodwaters, holding back water and slowing the flow at times of flooding”.

A resident who lives at the castle and owns this embankment has been fighting this clearance work for months and has found the EA to be rude, intimidating, obstructive and less than transparent. The EA had sent documents outlining their decision – but the document contained many redactions. More recently when the documents were obtained without the redactions it can be seen that their own ecologist is saying it would not be legal to take these trees down due to the thriving wildlife and the high presence and diversity of bats. When engineers and others are asked about these redactions their explanations vary – with reasons being given which include: ‘security purposes’ or ‘inaccurate or unimportant information’ and even ‘due to terrorism‘ was cited as a reason!!

Although the EA is claiming this work is being done for flood defences – it just doesn’t make sense to local people who know the area well – and there is a sneaking suspicion that this land clearance is in some way something to do with the new houses being build on the Philbeech site.

Trying to get to the bottom of this local councillor Lesley Whybrow met with the landowner and an EA representative – she says: “Mill Leese is an important part of the Hythe flood defences but I am not convinced that it is necessary to destroy all these trees and the bat habitat” – she goes on to say that information presented by the EA indicates that the Mill Leese Flood Storage Area was conceived, designed and constructed by the then Shepway DC in 1994 in response to flooding in Hythe and it was passed to the EA in 2006 and up to 70 properties in Hythe benefit from reduced flood risk due to the Mill Leese FSA.

Councillor Whybrow also states that under the Reservoirs Act the EA are obliged to appoint independent Supervising and Inspection Engineers who produce section 12 reports every 6 months and a section 10 report every 10 years. These reports have required the EA to carry out certain work in the interest of maintenance and reservoir safety – including the Vegetation Management Plan. However, Councillor Whybrow notes that the engineer who wrote the reports was not at the meeting so was unable to give a first-hand justification for the proposed work.