Locals left stumped

By IW Observer.co.uk Apr 13, 2022

Residents have been shocked by the scale of the ash dieback programme carried out by the National Trust (NT) on Tennyson Down, describing it as ‘overkill’.

And NT countryside manager, Robin Lang, has admitted it could take up to 10 years before the area is restored properly, with the results seeing: “A mixture of flower and butterfly-rich grassland, scattered scrub with breeding birds, and secondary woodland with a range of woodland birds.”

The IW Observer has received photographs of the site before, during and after the works, which took place over recent weeks. Bulldozers were used to fell a strip, over 100 feet wide, from High Down Pit car park to Moons Hill Quarry.

But residents have contacted the IW Observer to criticise the timing of the work and the sheer scale of the number of trees cut down. One complained: “I know a woodpecker was nesting in at least one of the trees they felled. It is also a red squirrel corridor and affects other species like dormice.” This was confirmed by Helen Butler, chairwoman of the IW Red Squirrel Trust, who was shown our photographs and said: “Tennyson Woods is a corridor for red squirrels and I would hope the NT has not disrupted the corridor.

“There are dormice and squirrels in the woods, both protected species. Without going there, it’s hard to see from the pictures if the corridor and the dormouse hotspot has been disrupted. But evidence that red squirrel and dormouse presence has been found in regular surveys of the area.”

Another resident said: “At a time when the Queen is asking us to plant trees, the National Trust has cut down more trees than we could ever plant, including large trees. We haven’t much time left to reverse global warming and it is short-sighted to want to take it back to downland.”

Residents are also up-in-arms at the bonfires, which destroyed the felled trees, and the effect on soil erosion with wind and rain on the area, with one adding: “The area in front of the Piano Bar already suffers from rivers of water and mud pouring down from previous tree cutting. The trees helped stabilise the land and soak up rainfall.”

Mr Lang is meeting local residents at Dimbola Lodge, Freshwater Bay, at 10.30am today (Friday) to discuss the works, which also included sycamore felling and reverting the area to open chalk grassland habitats. He responded to the IW Observer’s questions, saying: “I do accept that the tree felling has had a big impact on the recently familiar landscape. The length of trees felled is purely a reflection of the length of the public right of way that was at risk from falling ash trees.

“In 10 years’ time, Tennyson Down will have a mixture of flower and butterfly – rich grassland, scattered scrub with breeding birds, and secondary woodland with a range of woodland birds like mistle thrush, song thrush and great spotted woodpecker.

“It is also true that some habitat has been lost. It’s impossible to do any land management without that happening. On the Island as a whole there is still a good network of habitat for red squirrels.

“The trees on Tennyson Down have mostly grown up within the last 100 years, due to cessation of grazing from about the 1920s. For much of its life, since the end of the Ice Age, it has been an open chalk downland with scattered scrub. Chalk grassland is a threatened habitat nationally and what we have done here is provide the opportunity to restore two hectares [5 acres] of secondary woodland to rare chalk grassland which will hold a vast range of wildlife.

“In terms of timing of the works, we had a huge amount of work to do this winter, much of which was delayed through the need to obtain multiple consents and permissions for the ash felling work. Most of the felling was completed by the third week of March; I don’t believe we affected any actively nesting woodpeckers.

“In answer to how we are going to repair the ground, it will take time to establish, but it’s much better to let that happen naturally than re-seeding as it is very hard to find enough native seed of local provenance. There is plenty of native seed close by and grazing cattle will help it to spread as well. This area of chalk grassland restoration will provide more joined-up grassland habitat when established. In answer to the risks of soil erosion, the chalk soils on Tennyson Down are highly porous and rainwater soon soaks in, so soil loss is much less risky here than on sand or clay. Once grassland is established, it further helps to retain rainwater and prevent runoff. Compacted trackways, like the one that leads down to the Piano Bar, are less able to absorb water in the same way.

“Although the work we have done this winter is a big change, we strongly believe that we are helping Tennyson Down to become more species-rich and still a really beautiful place, more like it was over 100 years ago.”