EARLEY residents are devastated after a local woodland was “destroyed” last week — blaming the owners for “environmental vandalism”.
Swallows Meadow, which backs on to Lower Earley Way, was cleared without warning on Tuesday, November 17.
The land, originally owned by the University of Reading, was recently sold to Lower Earley Properties, a wholly owned subsidiary of parent company Jansons Property.
“All the trees just started coming down one by one,” said Karen Milligan, who lives on Bassett Close. “They literally demolished the woodland within hours.
“Over lockdown, we found a lot of people using the area for walks and it’s just unusable now.”
Ms Milligan’s dismay was echoed by Cllr Clive Jones,Lib Dem leader of Earley Town Council and borough councillor for Hawkedon.
“I’m really disappointed the contractors didn’t let people know that it was happening,” he said.
Lower Earley Properties said the work was routine landscaping to clear “poor-quality scrubland and vegetation” and protected the established trees.
But people are also angry about the impact on animals living in the undergrowth.
“We’ve fed the deer and the foxes every night there for the last 30 years,” Ms Milligan said.
“Three years ago some of the nearby woodland was cleared out and it took 18 months for the animals to come back.”
Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, Conservative borough councillor for Hillside, is also angry about the damage caused by Lower Earley Properties.
“To me, it’s environmental vandalism,” she said. “There are jays, deer and pheasants which all live in the woodland.
“Barriers of trees provide acres of woods for wildlife, and they’re far nicer to look at for the community.”
According to Cllr Jones, contractors conducted an ecological survey of the site and concluded that no animals were living in the area — but this has been met with anger.
“No animals, not even a single mouse? What a load of rubbish,” Cllr Jones said.
“We don’t have an awful lot of green space left, so we need to try and protect it as best as we can.”
Another resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, called the destruction devastating and said that it’s “preposterous” to claim no animals live in the woodland.
A spokesperson for Lower Earley Properties said the survey was carried out by an independent consultancy earlier this year.
“We will publish the full ecological report in the coming months as part of any public consultation on our plans for the site,” they added.
However, residents are also devastated about the impact on their quality of life because with the woodland gone, noise pollution has increased.
“We live right next to a main road and the M4, and they just started putting up a sound barrier to reduce the noise but now that’s all pointless,” Ms Milligan said.
“By taking away the tree barrier, the noise here has just been horrendous.”
According to Ms Milligan, a team of local residents are banding together to reclaim the woodland walk by clearing the debris and making it safe for people to use.
A petition has also been launched by Cllr Andrew Mickleburgh, Lib Dem borough councillor for Hawkedon, to try and halt any developments on the land. It pledges to “robustly oppose” any future housing or related proposals in Swallows Meadow.
According to Cllr Jones, Earley Town Council is also seeking to have the woodland designated as a Local Green Space to protect the area from development.
At the time of writing, Lower Earley Properties had not announced plans to develop on the site.
A company spokesperson said: “The site is privately owned land and there is no public access or public right of way through the site.
“Before work was carried out, the landscape contractor provided a full risk assessment, and signage and barriers were erected at the western end of the site to make clear that work was being undertaken.
“We are now looking at how best we can bring forward development at the site to make a positive contribution to the local area.
“We are at a very early stage in the process but look forward to engaging constructively with the local community, Earley Town Council and Wokingham Borough Council in the coming months.”