Calls to clear up ‘environmental disaster’ beauty spot in Kent

A local community living by an ancient woodland that has been plagued by thousands of tonnes of dumped illegal waste is calling for the Environment Agency (EA) to “do the right thing” and immediately secure the funding to clear up the mess.

Hoad’s Wood is a beauty spot in Ashford, Kent, designated a site of special scientific interest, but is now described as an “environmental disaster”.

Campaigners have said the bluebell woodland has turned into a “desolate wasteland” buried under landfill waste, which in some areas is 25-foot-deep, despite continuous reporting of fly-tipping to the authorities.

The Rescue Hoad’s Wood campaign group said local people were reporting up to 20 to 30 trucks dumping illegal waste a day to authorities from July 2023, and earlier cases of illegal activity were reported in 2020.

They added surveys now estimate 27,000 tonnes of processed waste needs to be cleared with an estimated budget of £10 million including taxes and contingencies to cover the costs based on a quote from a local contractor.

A Rescue Hoad’s Wood campaigner, who wished to remain anonymous, told the PA news agency the EA acted “too little too late” in closing access to the site on January 16, 2024.

It is understood the EA was notified in August about the waste and began gathering evidence for enforcement action.

The community member said: “They’ve almost let the site fill up to capacity before they shut it off.

“The whole system is broken. They can’t talk about ‘we’re under-resourced, we’re underfunded’, my response is that’s just total rubbish, because there’s at least 20 people I know of that were the bodies on the ground, the eyes and ears telling you that something highly illegal was going on.

“Yet you chose to leave it, there’s no excuse right?”

Pictures of the site show the scale of the rubbish mounted up and encroaching on a patch of bluebells, while blue water also swamps the area.

Fly tipping at Hoads Wood
Blue water at Hoad’s Wood where thousands of tonnes of illegal waste has been dumped (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Following several public meetings since the EA closed the woodland, the campaigner said residents have given the government body a deadline of May 17 to come up with a budget to contract the work – which could take six months to complete.

Meanwhile, residents fear toxic liquid from the site could end up in the river, and also report the “nasty” rotting eggs smell of toxic gas hydrogen sulphide coming from the waste which is harmful to wildlife and the wider community.

The Rescue Hoad’s Wood spokesperson added: “I’ve even smelled it from my bedroom on one occasion. Interestingly, at the moment, it’s not too bad because it’s quite breezy. But this is decaying gypsum and organic matter in the site.

“It’s a feeling of being poisoned. And the only way when it’s here you can escape it is by leaving your property and leaving the area completely.”

The EA is currently assessing the risks to nature and the environmental impact of the waste on local air and water quality.

A spokesman for Ashford Borough Council, which is investigating the reports of odour nuisance, said to date it has been “unable to establish that the issues have crossed the threshold of a statutory nuisance”.

“We continue to liaise with the relevant agencies, such as Natural England and the Environment Agency, with reference to plans for addressing the issues on site, and their plans for further monitoring,” he said.

On the calls for a clear-up, the campaigner said: “This isn’t going to go away. We’re going to keep going public with this and highlight all the shortcomings of the government, the EA and the machinery around it.”

A petition by the campaign calling for the immediate clean-up of the woods has reached more than 6,500 signatures.

Fly tipping at Hoads Wood
Residents had been reporting illegal waste being dumped in the bluebell woodland until it was closed in January by the EA (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The Rescue Hoad’s Wood campaign has also received backing from a number of charities including Kent Wildlife Trust, South East River Trust, the Woodland Trust and the likes of TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham.

Sharing a Rescue Hoad’s Wood video of the waste on X, Mr Packham responded: “Look at this! It’s an ancient woodland & SSSI.

“Where is the accountability, where is the law, where is the respect & where is the understanding that we are now fighting tooth & nail for nature & everything matters.

“C’mon Environment Agency and Natural England let’s get this sorted.”

In a letter to the Environment Secretary, six charities urged for the EA to immediately secure funding to clear the site and restore the woodland to its natural state.

They said: “Despite early alerts, a lack of prompt and effective intervention allowed the situation to deteriorate drastically into an environmental disaster.

“The consequences of this inaction are profound. The accumulation of waste not only poses a significant threat to the area’s biodiversity, undermining the habitat of scarce flora and fauna, but it also adversely affects the mental health and well-being of the nearby community.”

An EA spokesperson said it is aware of the impact fly-tipping has on communities and is determined to “keep one step ahead” of the criminals.

They added: “That’s why we are pushing forward with our investigations against those suspected of illegal tipping activities of commercial waste at Hoads Wood – with support from Natural England, Forestry Commission, Kent County Council and Kent Police Rural Task Force.”