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Call for better future for Bromley tree massacre site

31st August 2023

CPRE London is calling for the site of the Bromley tree massacre to become a woodland nature reserve for the good of the planet and local people.

On June 10th, well over 100 trees, predominantly self-seeded oaks, were chopped down  on a piece of land adjoining Cator Park despite being covered by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) –  which came into force on June 7th following the cutting of four or five trees a few weeks earlier. 

Many of the trees felled were about 20-25 years old.  It is shocking in this day and age that anyone could think it is okay to chop down a woodland when trees, and especially established trees, are our best way of capturing carbon.  Beyond their vital role as one of the most effective trees in the UK for carbon storage, oaks are also particularly precious for strengthening our biodiversity – with a mature oak able to support over 2,300 species. 

Today, fallen oaks still litter the site.  Their leaves are now brown and shrivelled – a tree graveyard – and a sad reminder to local people of what happened that day. 

The site is now, thankfully, better protected following the securing of an injunction by the Bromley Council over the summer.  This means if any further harm is done to trees on this site, this would be a contempt of court, which could lead to the perpetrator being sent to prison.  

On 29th August, the council also announced they have contacted the landowner to inform them of their duty under Section 206 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to replant to adequately compensate for the trees lost on the site – no easy matter given the scale of the destruction. At the end of the prescribed period the council will assess to what extent they have complied with that duty – and identify any further action that may be needed. 

Penalties are now urgently needed to discourage other landowners from similar actions. Too many breaches of TPOs go unpunished leaving owners wanting to clear space for development thinking they’ll go ahead and get away with it.  It is worth noting however that a major breach of a tree preservation order in Enfield has recently led to a fine for the perpetrators in excess of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds.  The apparent flagrant disregard for the rule of law demonstrated in this case, combined with the clear lack of care for a nature rich site, suggests that the perpetrators of the Bromley tree massacre have also put themselves in line for severe penalties.  

The Cator Woodland site, which is designated as Metropolitan Open Land with the same level of protection from development as Green Belt, has been regularly used by the public for at least 25 years and is a haven for wildlife including bats, woodpeckers, tawny owls, kingfishers, egrets, slow worms, a good range of butterflies and stag beetles.  The area had even been suggested in the spring of 2023 as a Site of Special Interest for Nature Conservation by the local friends group and the landowner had been notified of this. 

Despite being alerted to the ecological value of the site, the owner or leaseholder brought in a group of mainly teenaged boys, who had chainsaws – but were not wearing any protective gear – to fell the trees. 

The tree preservation order sign on the single gate to the site was torn down.  Regular users of the area, alerted by the sound of chainsaws, told the workmen that they were breaching a TPO but this elicited a threatening response that left them feeling concerned for their safety.

At around 9am the police were called and, once a resident had shown them a copy of the TPO, they told the workmen to stop.  At this point around 40 trees had been cut.  Activity paused – however, once the police left the scene work resumed and around a further 80 trees were destroyed. It was only after the second police visit that felling was finally halted, with one man arrested and cutting equipment seized. By that time two thirds of the site’s trees had been cut down. 

A man, claiming to be the leaseholder, who admits it is his family that has owned land for last 15 years, has claimed in the Telegraph that the site was being cleared to make way for building a sports facility for which he had planning permission and that he had invited the community to meet with his architect.  However, no planning request for this has been made let alone granted by the Council.  If it had, it would have likely been rejected because of the woodland and ecological value of the site.  Additionally, no representatives of the local community had been approached about meeting with the architect. 

CPRE London’s Director, Anna Taylor, said: ‘We are delighted a replanting order and injunction to prevent further harm to trees on this site have been served.  It is vital the woodland lost is now restored whether by replanting or natural regeneration, or a combination of the two.”  

“This site is Metropolitan Open Land and therefore cannot be developed.  It has same status and level of protection as Green Belt land.  The purpose of Metropolitan Open Land designation is to protect areas of landscape, nature conservation and scientific interest.  In simple terms, MOL sites are the green lungs of London.  The level of protection from development keeps the land-value low.  This site was bought in 2013 for just £10,000.”  

“We hope that the community outrage and substantial media interest this story has generated will help the landowner understand this woodland is enormously valued by the public – and they will never get permission to flatten it.” 

We have reached out to the local Friends of Cator and Alexandra parks group about helping coordinate ecological surveying so that the value of the habitat that has been damaged can be more clearly understood. Good progress is being made by the group on gathering relevant data.  If you would like to help – you can contact them direct here 

We hope the owner will constructively engage with the Council on planting and creating new habitat to support nature’s recovery as part of their efforts to compensate for the established oak trees lost.  Long term there is potential for the area to become a thriving woodland with more species diversity – including trees like holly, yew, hornbeam and ash to help attract an even wider range of species.  Using some of the felled wood create stumperies and wood piles would also go some way to repair some of the ecological damage done.  Unfortunately currently there is appeal against the replanting order, although we do not anticipate this will be upheld.

The trees felled cannot be sold as the perpetrator of a breached TPO is not allowed to benefit financially from cutting protected trees.  We hope therefore that they can be put to good use locally including some being woodchipped to create mulch for the new trees. 

It would be fantastic if some of the felled trunks could be given a new life by being made into bird and bat boxes.  Some could also be made into rustic benches for weary walkers or carved into wildlife inspired sculptures for use in Cator Park by the woodworking volunteers at Men in Sheds.

Ultimately, we hope the landowner will consider now selling the site to a philanthropist or environmental organisation which embraces its status as a protected woodland with potential for further carbon capture, biodiversity strengthening and nurturing people. 

The land includes a fenced off triangle on the other side of the footpath which is currently totally unused, inaccessible and litter strewn.  This has scope to become the base for a forest school area and other community building activities.  Again some of the felled wood could be used to help build raised beds or seating areas, woodland dens for children and welcoming signs. 

“What happened on this site was tragic” says Anna Taylor.  “But now we need to find the silver lining and explore what could be done to make this site a haven for wildlife again.  Then something really wonderful could grow up here!” 

Drone footage of the felled trees can be viewed here (37) Tree Massacre – Cator Woodland Bromley – YouTube

For more on CPRE London’s wider work to protect threatened Metropolitan Open Land see details about our Ten New Parks for London campaign.  This includes details of work to protect Gorne Wood where substantial progress has been made towards securing the site’s long term future.
STORY UPDATE: The friends group in neighbouring Cator Park have raised funding to establish a new ‘Tiny Forest’ in the park to help compensate for the tree loss.  To learn more about the project and what has been achieved so far see here.

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Photo credit: Michael Shilling CPRE London

Photo credit: Michael Shilling CPRE London

Sign left by young visitor to the site shortly after the felling - photo credit Joel Taylor CPRE London

Sign left by young visitor to the site day after the felling – photo credit: Joel Taylor CPRE London

Banner by children from Alexandra primary in response to tree massacre