Council defends ‘brutal’ work on Harrogate nature reserve
Last updated Feb 13, 2023

Harrogate Borough Council has defended work to clear ground in a local nature reserve after local residents complained it was “brutal” and “excessive”.

The council cleared land and vegetation around the ponds in Rossett Nature Reserve in December – leaving the area looking rather ravaged.

The reserve is protected land because it is home to the great crested newt which breed in the ponds, along with frogs and toads. The work was carried out to support the newts’ habitat.

Local walkers have taken to social media to question the extent of the work.

Eighty-eight-year-old Shirley Rhodes walks her dogs in the reserve and was concerned at the way the work had been carried out. She told the Stray Ferret:

“It is desecration of the area – they’ve just destroyed the habitats for the rest of the animals there. They’ve gone too far.

“A lot of people I have met feel it was unnecessary to be quite so brutal with the equipment.

“There were lovely wild iris that were just chopped down and, I mean, do you really prune a tree like that?”

The reserve, though, has had a persistent problem with an invasive non-native weed, Crassula Helmsii, that grows in the ponds. Last year the Stray Ferret reported on a trial in the reserve to eradicate the weed by introducing mites that attack it.

The council has conceded that the work does appear rather destructive but, in a long statement, it said the newts’ habitat was being choked:

“Like all nature reserves, Rossett Nature Reserve is carefully managed to ensure habitats can continue to thrive.

“The ponds at Rossett Nature Reserve were being choked by Crassula Helmsii – an invasive pond weed – which forms dense mats across the ponds and causes oxygen levels to drop.

“Without removal of this invasive pondweed, the great crested newt – a protected species and the reason that the nature reserve exists – would struggle to breed as they are reliant on native plants, which are being overcome by his invasive weed.

“The great crested newt also require ponds with open water, minimal shading from overhanging trees and scrub, and less than 60% of pond vegetation cover. The ponds have also become silted up due to falling debris from the overhanging vegetation which reduces the water level over time, eventually causing them to dry up completely.

“All work at the nature reserve, carried out by the borough council thanks to funds raised by the Friends of Rossett Nature Reserve group, is done so in accordance with the site management plan and follows Natural England advice, to ensure a suitable and thriving habitat for the newts.

“Due to the scale of work required to remove Crassula Helmsii and the overhanging vegetation, this is carried out every few years as it requires machinery to do so. Further scrub removal was also completed on-site to help discourage anti-social behaviour and littering which had been reported in this area.

“And while it may appear quite destructive in the period following the initial work, especially in winter, the nature reserve will start to grow come the spring. Creating a flourishing environment for the great crested newt.

“Anyone wishing to volunteer or learn more about Rossett Local Nature is welcome to do so by emailing: [email protected].”

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