Furious campaigners have blasted developers building a 760-home estate in the heart of Thomas Hardy country after they destroyed a hedgerow and almost 20 trees in a serious blunder.
The Foundry Lea development will be the biggest ever built in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in Britain and to make matters worse, developers have already gone off-piste from the very start, tearing up 300ft of hedgerow on private land in error.
The careless developers have also felled 19 apple trees and English oak trees that towered above the natural border.
The hedgerow, made mostly of blackberry bushes, was a vital habitat for wildlife such as bats, dormice, reptiles, and chaffinches and may take decades to replace.
Residents have blasted property developers for destroying a hedgerow and felling trees by mistake as they begin work on a 760-house estate near Bridport, Dorset
The development will be the biggest ever built in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and to make matters worse, developers have mistakenly torn up 300ft of hedgerow on private land in error
The landscape under threat inspired Wessex author Thomas Hardy in his writings and was the backdrop to some of his most celebrated novels.
Earlier this month, conservationists were outraged at plans for a huge solar farm in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty despite millions of pounds having just been spent felling electricity pylons that were ruining the landscape.
The proposed 1,400-acre site at Chickerell, Dorset, also lies in the Thomas Hardy-inspired surroundings lying between Dorchester and the World Heritage Jurassic Coast.
Joint developers Barratt David Wilson Homes and Vistry Partnerships, have apologised to the landowner, Sir Philip Colfox, who said he was ‘deeply saddened’ by the destruction of his hedgerow and trees.
Landowner Sir Philip Colfox (pictured) was ‘deeply saddened’ by the destruction of his hedgerow and trees
They put the mistake down to a ‘miscommunication’ as workers set about clearing the site ahead of the main building work.
Sir Philip’s Symondsbury Estate in Dorset borders the building site at the project known as Foundry Lea on Vearse Farm near Bridport.
Residents and campaigners were already outraged that the housing development had been given permission before the developers made the vital error.
The area of green countryside which will be developed is equivalent in size to 63 football pitches.
In 2020, a High Court judge ruled the development – which was granted by Dorset Council – could go ahead.
Protesters, backed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), had previously raised over £30,000 to take Dorset Council’s decision to grant the development planning permission to a judicial review.
Sarah Carney, a local councillor, said the community was ‘heartbroken’ by the devastation and described it as a ‘bad omen’ for the rest of the development.
‘This is the first time the developers have broken soil – what else is going to happen? It is so upsetting,’ she said.
‘The hedgerow is irreplaceable and will take years to recover. Species like bats and dormice rely on it to live. I imagine there will have been a diaspora from that piece of land.
‘It also protected residents and tourists from the concrete monstrosity of the Vearse Farm development.
‘The developers told us they would be doing a small amount of clearance work to provide access to the development.
Sir Philip’s Symondsbury Estate in Dorset borders the 105-acre building site at the project known as ‘Foundry Lea’ on Vearse Farm near Bridport. Pictured: Foundry Lea
The land where the trees were cut down is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which inspired writer Thomas Hardy
Shocking images show the destroyed hedgerow that developers have since apologised for doing by mistake
The development is near Bridport, which is about a mile away from the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast, a 96 mile piece of coast stretching from Exmouth in Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset
‘What has in fact happened is that, without the permission of the Symondsbury Estate, they have destroyed a hedgerow and trees on land which doesn’t even belong to them.
‘They haven’t even bothered to remove the tree stumps so I have no idea why they have done this. I don’t know how they can misread a map which is so simple.
‘The estate is the biggest development ever on AONB land – it should be afforded the highest level of protection and yet it is being overridden by government targets.
‘We have not got the infrastructure for it and it won’t be of any use to local people as they can’t afford the house prices.
‘The developers also said they would bring in local workers – but if they had they’d have known that land didn’t belong to them.’
Sarah Carney (pictured), a local councillor, said the community was ‘heartbroken’ by the devastation and described it as a ‘bad omen’ for the rest of the development.
The hedgerow is on a main road into Bridport, Dorset. The hedgerow was made mostly of blackberry bushes, was a vital habitat for wildlife such as bats, dormice, reptiles, and chaffinches and may take decades to replace
Thomas Hardy: A renowned writer inspired by his county
Born in Dorset in 1840, Thomas Hardy would go on to become one of the most renowned poets and novelists in English literary history.
Hardy lived in Dorset for most of his life and died in the county in 1928, aged 87.
Dorset provided him with material for his fiction and poetry.
He set all of his major novels in the south of England in an area named ‘Wessex’ – after the real-life Anglo-Saxon kingdom.
Hardy’s Wessex contained the fictitious area of Egdon Heath, which featured in The Return of the Native (1878) and The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886).
Hardy’s other great novels include Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895).
Source: The Poetry Society
Meanwhile, Dr Guy Dickinson, the West Dorset chairman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, added: ‘This is an appalling destruction of a decades-old hedgerow. I greatly fear whatever other ‘accidents’ may follow.
‘We frequently campaign for the protection of hedgerows which are of critical importance to wildlife.’
Others have hit out at the developers’ ‘carelessness’, with Eddie Howson accusing them of ‘incompetence and arrogance’.
Emma Ellis-Clark said: ‘Trust is severely undermined.’
And Ged Duncan said: ‘Its their first day on site and they’ve decided to grub up a hedgerow on the basis that its better to seek forgiveness than ask permission.’
In a statement, Sir Philip Colfox said: ‘I am deeply saddened by what has happened but most grateful to Barratt and Vistry for so quickly admitting the blunder and offering their fulsome apologies and promise to put everything right.
‘I have always been concerned by the potential damage done to wildlife, nature, the trees and also to the screening of the land and the setting of the entrance to Bridport so I will be asking the developers to make full and proper reparations in a comprehensive way and we trust out of this we will see a lasting improvement to the wildlife in this part of the Symondsbury Parish.
‘The trees beneath were approximately 40 years old, planted by my father. The hedge beneath was 40 years of natural regeneration.
‘Overwintering insects, their grubs, small mammals and much overlooked reptiles will probably suffer.’
A spokesman for the joint developers said: ‘We are sorry for the accidental removal of some of the hedging and trees at our Foundry Lea development.
‘We are committed to protecting habitats and biodiversity.
‘We will replace the removed elements as quickly as possible and in addition ensure that ecological and arboricultural enhancements are delivered within the scheme.’
What is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is land protected by law, which protects the land to conserve and enhance its natural beauty.
There are 46 AONBs across the UK, 34 of which are in England.
They include the North Wessex Downs, which stretch across Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire and the Norfolk Coast.
Only local authorities or the Secretary of State can give permission for development in, or affecting, an AONB.
However, authorities must make sure any proposals have regard for the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the AONB.
The status is different from National Park status, which has significantly higher protection from development.
Source: Natural England