Ali Miraj 10pm - 1am
(No) Licence To Fell: The Curious Case of 131 Oak Trees in Beckenham
16 June 2023, 17:42 | Updated: 16 June 2023, 18:00
As I got off the train at New Beckenham rail station and arrived at Cator Park to cover the story of a mass-tree felling for Nick Ferrari’s show, I was surprised to have aroused scepticism in some of the locals.
In what was a sleepy, peaceful and, frankly, stunning park, many residents seemed agitated - even obsessed - by my suitcase and large reporter bag as I dragged it unconvincingly through greenery.
As one friendly local approached me, it suddenly dawned on me when she was about 10 metres away: they think I’m here to destroy their trees.
"Is everything ok?” she asked in a friendly but firm tone, which clearly demanded an explanation from myself.
I squirmed but managed to blurt out something about being here as a journalist and covering the terrible story here at her local park.
Contented, she scuttled off, and reassured other park-goers who were lingering – also keen to gauge why I was carrying a suspiciously large number of items.
As you meander around the park there are all the hallmarks of a community in mourning. Signs littered around the area to warn against the murder of trees and black ribbons dotted around on fences to remember the fallen saplings.
But why is there such bubbling tension in the London Borough of Bromley? It’s about trees.
At 8am on Saturday neighbours of the park were awoken by the roar of chainsaws. A man in his 30s was committing an ‘eco-atrocity’ by felling a vast number of trees – and with no permission.
Police were called to the scene by a concerned dog walker and arrived to inform the gentleman that what he was doing was against the rules. He promptly assured them it was a mistake, the officers left, and the man continued with his ‘tree massacre’.
In total, the vigilante lumberjack slayed 131 protected trees, including self-seeded oaks. The ramifications of this, according to conservation groups, are that bats, nesting birds, woodpeckers, kingfishers and tawny owls will suffer as a result and will take ‘decades’ to return.
It remains unclear quite why this man decided to launch open warfare in Beckenham, the trees were on Metropolitan Open Land, had a Tree Protection Order, meaning they were supposed to be untouchable.
Police confirmed that whilst “a number of items of tree felling equipment were seized” a man was arrested and later released.
Bromley council are furious, saying that fines can go up to £20,000 if anyone dares to emulate these actions.
I left Cator Park impinged with some sadness. The tree graveyard was strangely poignant, with swathes of brown, dead leaves and branches lying helplessly on the bright green grass, disorientated looking birds and empty fallen nests.
It seems completely unfair that locals will have to wait ‘decades’ to welcome back much of the wildlife that has been taken away from them.