While negotiating a higher level stewardship agreement with Castle Point borough council to support the council's heathland restoration work on Thundersley Great Common site of special scientific interest (SSSI), Natural England assessed the overall impact on the mammalian fauna as neutral or beneficial, for the following reasons:
(1) The common is small and heavily used by the public, and so does not support a rich mammal fauna, though both bats and badgers do occur;
(2) The restoration only affects part of the common and the wooded part of the common outside the SSSI will not be affected;
(3) The result of the restoration will be a mosaic of open heath, scrub and trees which should be at least as favourable for mammal and bird species as the common is now. The mosaic will also support a range of more unusual heathland plants and animals and provide an open greenspace for the public to enjoy.
Before issuing a felling licence for the removal of some trees, the Forestry Commission assessed the selected trees individually. The commission considered one to be of potential value for roosting bats so Castle Point borough council agreed that this tree should be left and an alternative one removed.
My Department has had no substantive discussion with either local authority about Thundersley Common in the last five years. However, Natural England (non-departmental public body sponsored by DEFRA) has had discussions with Castle Point borough council.
Natural England’s purpose is to ensure England’s natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for current and future generations. An important part of Natural England’s remit is the protection of sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs)—the country’s best sites for wildlife and geology.
Castle Point borough council owns and manages Thundersley Common, which includes Thundersley Great Common SSSI. Within the last five years, discussions in respect of this SSSI between Natural England and the borough council have included several on-site and office meetings and regular discussions by phone, e-mail and letter. Natural England has offered consistent advice to the council on the conservation management of the site, aimed at restoring the heathland habitats for which the SSSI is notified. Since 2007, council staff have negotiated a higher level stewardship agreement with Natural England to support the council’s restoration of the SSSI to favourable condition.
Within the last five years, Natural England has not held discussions with Essex county council specifically on this SSSI, because the county council does not own or manage it.
Natural England does not have any information on public consultations held in respect of the removal of trees from Thundersley Great Common site of special scientific interest (SSSI), or in respect of the other essential components of the heathland restoration work being undertaken by Castle Point borough council. These works have the full support of Natural England, in fulfilling the council’s statutory duties to protect and enhance the special interest features for which this SSSI is notified.
Thundersley Great Common (14.8 hectares) is owned and managed by Castle Point borough council. In 1987, 8.9 hectares of the common were notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 by English Nature (one of Natural England's predecessor bodies): the ownership remains with the borough council. Both Castle Point borough council and Natural England have statutory responsibilities to conserve and enhance the special interest features of the SSSI.
The notified special interest features of Thundersley Common Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are its dry heath, wet heath and acid grassland plant communities. It is one of the best remaining fragments of heathland in Essex.
Natural England's records show that five oak trees, and one birch, have been removed from Thundersley Great Common SSSI since 2004. These trees were felled during the 2008-9 winter by Castle Point borough council with the assent and support of Natural England. The work was done as part of a higher level stewardship agreement to restore the special interest features of the SSSI—namely its rare heathland habitats—to favourable condition. Some tree removal is essential as part of this restoration work because many oaks became established on the heathland in the second half of the last century when the site was less actively managed. There are now over 100 trees on the northern half of the SSSI which are rapidly shading out the remaining patches of heathland vegetation. If these are all left to mature a large part of the SSSI will soon be dense woodland and the heathland will be lost.