Derbyshire residents in fight to defend treasured woodland from felling

Derbyshire Dales residents have hit out at environmental chiefs, after the new owner of treasured woodland moved in diggers and began cutting down trees as part of a plan to extract quarried stone from the site.
Residents are furious that the area, popular with dog walkers and families wanting exercise, is going to lose many treesResidents are furious that the area, popular with dog walkers and families wanting exercise, is going to lose many trees
Residents are furious that the area, popular with dog walkers and families wanting exercise, is going to lose many trees

The owner of Hallmoor Wood, off Hallmoor Road in Darley Dale, has been permitted to “remove no more than 30 per cent of the existing canopy” of tree across the 32.8-acre site under a five-year licence granted by the Forestry Commission this summer. The licence stipulates that “management operations to be undertaken sensitively to protect and conserve all features associated to ancient woodland”, but when work began last month, residents were alarmed that some areas seemed to be stripped bare.

They took their concerns to the commission and Derbyshire County Council, which has a Tree Preservation Order in effect for the area, but say they were initially met with a wall of silence until the community employed specialist solicitors to take up the case. Neither the county council nor the Forestry Commission sent representatives to a packed out public meeting convened by Darley Dale Town Council, Darley Hillside Residents Association and the Two Dales Action Group.

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Barry Mellor, chair of the residents’ association, said: “We are appalled by the lack of interest and lack of support, and we have raised the money to take legal action against the Forestry Commission and even to pay for an independent environmental survey. People at the meeting were bitterly disappointed that nobody from the county council bothered to turn up, even though they’d had plenty of warning. There’s a high degree of frustration that the key decision-makers weren’t there.”

He added: “It’s the lack of consultation as much as anything. We were told that no consultation was necessary for a thinning licence. If anyone had bothered talking to local people about plans for the wood – even just to say ‘The landowner is within their rights’ – and allowed us to say our piece, that would be one thing. At least people would know what’s going on.

“We’ve had support from the town and district councils, but the two authorities responsible for monitoring the rules have taken zero interest, other than fobbing us off.”

Despite their protests and the community’s lawyers applying pressure, the Forestry Commission has concluded that the landowner has not breached the terms of the licence. A spokesperson said: “We take alleged illegal felling very seriously. We visited Hallmoor Wood for a third time following a further report of what may be illegal felling. Following this visit, we can confirm that there has been no breach of licence, and our investigation has now closed.”

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The 13.31-hectare woodland has been used freely for decades as place to walk dogs, watch birds, exercise and enjoy the benefits of green space. Until the felling began, and signs appeared threatening action against trespassers, few visitors had realised that most of the paths they used every day were not legally recognised rights of way.

Barry said: “We respect that the owner has the right to make changes to the wood but our objectives remain to ensure that all work is carried out with proper standards, monitoring and controls, to ensure that wildlife is protected and to re-establish public footpaths and access to the woods.” Campaigners have raised funds to pay for their own environmental survey of the site. They say their next steps will be determined by the findings of the report

When contacted by the Derbyshire Times, landowner Martin Hudson provided a copy of a survey report produced by Bakewell consultants Peak Ecology Limited. The report found evidence of three badger setts in the upper part of the site, and recommends “that all semi-mature and mature trees are retained. It also recommends the employment of an ecologist to check for bat roosts.

Residents have made their feelings known in a flood of correspondence to their county councillor Susan Hobson, leader Barry Lewis and Carolyn Renwick, cabinet member of the environment, as well as asking local MP Sarah Dines to lobby the council.

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A spokesperson for the county council said: “We’re aware of the concerns in the community about felling in Hallmoor Wood and have received a number of complaints. Hallmoor Wood had a TPO placed on it by the county council in 1983. The Forestry Commission has recently granted a felling licence which authorises tree thinning there. It’s the Forestry Commission’s responsibility to administer the felling licence and to monitor it to ensure compliance. We work closely with the Forestry Commission and where they raise any issues with us in relation to felling licences we look at the scope for enforcement.”

In 2016-17, the county council conducted a consultation locally on possible building stone extraction from New Parish Quarry, adjacent to Hallmoor Wood on Bent Lane, and received an overwhelming rejection of the idea.

Any commercial permits for the Hallmoor quarry – sold to Mr Hudson together with the wood within the last 12 months – would be determined by the county council, and residents fear they may have more battles to come.

A written statement Mr Hudson provided to the public meeting was attributed to Stancliffe Stone Company, a business registered with Companies House in April 2023 and listed as “quarrying of ornamental and building stone, limestone, gypsum, chalk and slate.”

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In his statement to the public meeting Mr Hudson wrote: “I am aware of the public concern around the ongoing works at the woods and I am in constant communication with the relevant authorities to ensure works carried out are within the remit of the license.

“There has been question and doubt over the ownership of the path through the woods and whether or not it is a public right of way, it has been confirmed that this is private land and there is no access to the public.

“There have been several occasions where members of public have attempted to gain access to the site, this is extremely dangerous as there are tree felling works in progress. I have displayed signage to state no access for the safety of the public and the contractors working on site.

“I have also received several enquiries regarding planning, if in the future we decide to develop the site any planning applications will be applied for correctly and members of public will have the opportunity to make comments on the planning portal.”

Mr Hudson declined to provide a comment for this story, although he insisted that access to public rights of way on the land would be maintained.