Anger as digger flattens Lewes ‘wildlife habitat’

The clearance has been justified on safety grounds
The clearance has been justified on safety grounds

Clearance of undergrowth on the downs above Lewes has prompted an angry local reaction.

It has been described on social media as ‘habitat vandalism’ – but a staunch defence of the move has been made in the interests of safety.

Stephen Watson, of the Friends of Landport Bottom, gave a personal view. He said: “I am horrified by the destruction which has recently taken place along the Motor Road and the public footpath which runs alongside it.

“The trees that have gone (mainly hawthorn) provided a welcome windbreak to sheep and walkers on Landport Bottom and food, cover and nesting sites for birds as well as a valuable nectar source for bees and other insects in spring.

“Underneath were wild flowers including masses of sweet violets that were in bloom as they were grubbed up, also white comfrey, cuckoo pint, harts-tongue ferns and others.

“There were also small mammals living in the bank and almost certainly reptiles such as common lizards. Not only will these animals’ homes and habitats been destroyed, but they were probably crushed by the large digger and dumper truck that have been used.

“Butterflies seen on this site in the past include the rare Small Blue. The site may possibly also have held the very rare gold-eye lichen.”

Mr Watson added: “I understand that this land belongs to Lewes Racecourse, and is not part of Lewes Town Council owned Landport Bottom nature reserve.”

Patrick Eraut, a director of Lewes Old Racecourse Management Company (LORMC), said the clearance had been necessary in the interests of visibility and public safety.

“The sharp blind corner has been the site of near misses,” he said. “We regularly encounter mountain bikers and skateboarders travelling at speed around the bend who only become visible at the last moment, and the risk of a potentially fatal accident seems to the directors of the LORMC to be considerable.

“It is a private road, so others should not be using it – though they are welcome to use the footpath a few metres to the side of the road which we pay to clear and maintain.”

Another factor, said Mr Eraut, was access and safety in winter when the road became icy.

He said: “A a private road the council has no responsibility to grit and it was previously in total shade resulting in a road that was dangerous for days ... a number of elderly people and families with young children live here [at the old racecourse site] and the only access is via the road so we need to keep it open and safe at all times.”