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Campaigners launch last ditch Oaken Wood challenge

PUBLISHED: 09:08 24 July 2013 | UPDATED: 16:38 24 July 2013

Hermitage Quarry

Hermitage Quarry

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Action group to use EU birds and habitats directive to fight quarry decision

Green campaigners have launched a last ditch attempt to stop ancient woodland in Barming, near Maidstone, from being ripped up for quarrying.

The battle for Oaken Wood has raged on for two years between the Woodland Trust and nearby Hermitage Quarry and last week secretary of state for communities Eric Pickles granted permission to Gallaghers Aggregates Ltd to proceed with the 33 acre dig.

But in a last-minute attempt to halt quarrying, Maidstone Liberal Democrat spokesman Jasper Gerard has taken the case to Europe, arguing that Mr Pickles’ decision falls foul of the EU Birds and Habitats Directive.

Mr Gerard has lobbied the Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder as well as MEPs from all parties across the region, urging them to fight to save the ancient wood.

He said: “The EU has already taken the British government to task for failing to respect this directive.

“The Kent Wildlife Trust has identified such protected birds in the woods as nightingales, turtle doves and nightjars as well as a host of other birds.”

Jasper Gerard has also asked the heads of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Bird Life International to conduct field studies to give further weight to these findings.

The move follows a site meeting on Tuesday, July 23, with the Oaken Wood Action Group being joined by Lib Dem planning spokesman Tony Harwood, and Lib Dem county Cllr Brian Clark.

“The Weald of Kent is under siege,” added Gerard. “A dozen ancient woods are quivering under the threat of development in our borough. Mr Pickles seems to have ignored the rules of his own government by flouting the National Planning Policy Framework. Perhaps he won’t find it quite so easy to flout the rules of the EU.”

Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder leant her support to the Oaken Wood campaigners. She said: “I’m very concerned that the minister hasn’t seen the value of this ancient woodland and hasn’t respected the protection of the Wildlife and Habitats Directive. I will want good answers why or he could well find himself in court.”

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