Ancient bluebell woodland smothered in illegal waste as campaigners tell authorities to 'do the right thing'

Hoad's Wood in Kent is known as a local beauty spot but has been branded an "environmental disaster" after thousands of tonnes of waste were illegally dumped on the land. 

In some areas, the landfill waste is around 25ft deep, according to locals, and the mountains of waste have been growing for at least four years.

Local people reported up to 30 trucks a day dumping illegal waste from July last year, according to the Rescue Hoad's Wood campaign group. Earlier cases of illegal activity were reported in 2020.

Surveys done on the site now estimate around 27,000 tonnes of waste needs to be cleared in order to restore the woods, costing around £10m, according to campaigners.

A Rescue Hoad's Wood campaigner, who wished to remain anonymous, told the PA news agency the Environment Agency (EA) acted "too little too late" in closing access to the site on 16 January 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."

Now bluebells are starting to spring up in the wood, but their patch is surrounded by the waste. Murky blue water is also lying in pools around the area and residents have described a "nasty" smell of rotting eggs, which can sometimes be caused by rainwater reacting with the chemicals in landfill waste.

"I've even smelled it from my bedroom on one occasion," said a Rescue Hoad's Wood campaigner.

"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.

A spokesman for Ashford Borough Council, which is investigating the reports of odour nuisance, said 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.

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A petition calling for the immediate clean-up of the woods has reached more than 6,500 signatures and the local campaign group says they will not give up the fight.

"We're going to keep going public with this," said the group's spokesperson.

Conservationist Chris Packham shared a video of the waste on X, saying: "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."

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 Hoad's Wood - with support from Natural England, Forestry Commission, Kent County Council and Kent Police Rural Task Force."