AELTC applied late last year (2022) to remove 19 trees and "scrub" - apparently jumping the gun in advance of the Merton and Wandsworth planning committees hearing their plans to build on the golf course.
The Merton Planning Department has refused this application (see the Merton letter below) with a number of very pertinent (and fairly critical) reasons, relating to the environmental damage that the removal of trees would cause, the protected statuses of the land and the lack of justification.
The proposed work will reduce the amount of tree canopy coverage in the park;
The tree work is not considered to be necessary as compared to removal of trees on grounds of being dead or dangerous;
The proposed work will be detrimental to the setting of the landscape;
The proposed work will be detrimental to the character and appearance of the conservation area;
The two Turkey Oak trees referred to as T324a & T324b are not located next to a fence, but railings;
There is no explanation for the term ‘landscape restoration’ and no ecological assessment has been made of the significance of the pockets of scrub growth around the lake;
There has been no assessment of the historical value of the vegetation and whether it should be retained as part of the protected heritage landscape;
The application does not include any information concerning replacement planting for these 18 trees;
Given that the current planning application reference 21/P2900 proposes a review of the landscape setting of the former golf course including planting numerous Oak trees across the landscape, this would be a more appropriate time for such a proposal to be considered. This will also allow for replacement planting to be carried out as part of those proposals;
Merton Council has published a Climate Strategy and Action Plan, and the retention of existing trees helps to protect against climate change.
Below is the letter of objection that was submitted by Dr. Dawson to Merton:
1. 13 trees are to be removed for "Silvicultural thinning or haloing", presumably those described as "low-value trees where doing so will benefit the growth of better trees". The criteria for judging a tree to be low value or better are not given and will vary depending upon considerations of amenity, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Without a reasoned justification taking these factors into account, the proposed felling is not justified.
2. These 13 trees serve a valuable landscape function in that the historic landscape had clumps of trees in a grassland matrix, and many clumps have been lost or compromised through 200 years of farmland and sports use. Thinning such trees depletes such clumps. In the absence of a reasoned landscape restoration plan, I submit that a landscape opportunity would be lost.
3. The 18 trees proposed to be removed range in age from about 15 to 40 years. There is no proposal to replace them elsewhere, as would normally be required for trees protected by a TPO. Even if there were, it would take decades for the growth of any new planting to replace the proposed losses.
4. The felling of these 18 trees will release sequestered carbon and there is no proposal to redress this contribution to global heating.
5. 6 of the trees proposed to be removed lie within or near to the area proposed for a new show court in planning application 21P2900. Their removal should not be permitted, as it would amount to removing features that should be weighed in the balance in determining that application, not removed effectively to make way for the proposed show court.
6. 2 of the trees are to be felled because they lie close to the boundary of the golf course. This is not an adequate reason to fell a protected tree.
7. A few trees are to be felled for unspecified "landscape" reasons. There is no landscape plan submitted and even if there were, this is not sufficient reason for felling protected trees.
8.The lakeside of the golf course supports wet woodland, a National Priority Habitat, which has been seriously depleted by insensitive felling over recent years. Many of the felled trees have been coppiced and are re-growing from the coppice stools. The areas of "scrub" proposed for removal are said to include regenerating native wetland trees (Alder and willow) and other species that grow in both wet and dry woodland. However, these areas have several other wetland species not specified in the application, suggesting that the survey was inadequate and that valuable wet woodland will be compromised. It is not appropriate to grant permission for felling young trees in the absence of adequate survey and consideration of National Priority Habitat.
This is not a routine application, but one made in an area where there is considerable environmental and heritage value and where there is a history of approvals without adequate documentation being provided. I trust that this application will be given the careful consideration that it deserves.