Fresh calls for authorities to clear 'environmental disaster' at Kent beauty spot

The ancient woodland is designated a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) due to its vast array of birds, insects and trees. Credit: PA Images

Residents living close to an ancient woodland that has been plagued by thousands of tonnes of dumped illegal waste are calling for the Environment Agency to “do the right thing” and immediately clear up the mess.

Hoad’s Wood near Ashford, Kent, is designated a site of special scientific interest, but is now described as an “environmental disaster”.

The bluebell woodland has turned into a “desolate wasteland” buried under landfill waste, which in some areas is 25 feet deep, despite continuous reporting of fly-tipping to the authorities.

The Rescue Hoad’s Wood campaign group said local people were reporting up to 20 to 30 trucks dumping illegal waste a day to authorities from July 2023, and earlier cases of illegal activity were reported in 2020.

They added surveys now estimate 27,000 tonnes of processed waste needs to be cleared from the beauty spot at an estimated cost of £10 million.

A view of thousands of tonnes of illegal waste dumped within Hoad's Wood in Ashford, Kent. Credit: PA Images

A Rescue Hoad’s Wood campaigner, who wished to remain anonymous, told the PA news agency the EA acted “too little too late” in closing access to the site in January.

Pictures of the site show the scale of the rubbish mounted up and encroaching on a patch of bluebells, while blue water also swamps the area.

Following several public meetings since the EA closed the woodland, the campaigner said residents have given the government body a deadline of 17 May to come up with a budget to contract the work – which could take six months to complete.

Meanwhile, some fear toxic liquid from the site could end up in the river, and also report the “nasty” rotting eggs smell of toxic gas hydrogen sulphide coming from the waste which is harmful to wildlife and the wider community.

The EA is currently assessing the risks to nature and the environmental impact of the waste on local air and water quality.

A spokesman for Ashford Borough Council, which is investigating the reports of odour nuisance, said to date it has been “unable to establish that the issues have crossed the threshold of a statutory nuisance”.

“We continue to liaise with the relevant agencies, such as Natural England and the Environment Agency, with reference to plans for addressing the issues on site, and their plans for further monitoring,” he said.

Campaigners have said the bluebell woodland has been buried under landfill waste, which in some areas is 25 feet deep. Credit: PA Images

On the calls for a clear-up, the campaigner said: “This isn’t going to go away. We’re going to keep going public with this and highlight all the shortcomings of the government, the EA and the machinery around it.”

A petition by the campaign calling for the immediate clean-up of the woods has reached more than 6,500 signatures.

In a letter to the Environment Secretary, six charities urged for the EA to immediately secure funding to clear the site and restore the woodland to its natural state.

They said: “Despite early alerts, a lack of prompt and effective intervention allowed the situation to deteriorate drastically into an environmental disaster.

“The consequences of this inaction are profound. The accumulation of waste not only poses a significant threat to the area’s biodiversity, undermining the habitat of scarce flora and fauna, but it also adversely affects the mental health and well-being of the nearby community.”

An EA spokesperson said it is aware of the impact fly-tipping has on communities and is determined to “keep one step ahead” of the criminals.

They added: “That’s why we are pushing forward with our investigations against those suspected of illegal tipping activities of commercial waste at Hoads Wood – with support from Natural England, Forestry Commission, Kent County Council and Kent Police Rural Task Force.”

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