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Managing Sutton Heath

After 1,200 people signed a petition expressing their concerns about how the Site of Special Scientific Interest at Sutton Heath was being managed by the Council, Suffolk Coastal has agreed to set up a special advisory panel.

Last night’s (Thursday) Full Council received a petition from the Sutton Heath Users Group and heard from its spokesman Doug Parr who called for an end to the destruction of existing woodland, and engagement with local users to preserve the area as a mixture of woodland and heathland.

“It is clear that there continues to be considerable concerns about what this Council is legally required to do at Sutton Heath, which is to remove some of the existing trees in order to allow the heathland to prosper again,” said Cllr Andrew Nunn, Cabinet Member for the Green Environment.

“Setting up a Sutton Heath Advisory Panel would give the Council a local body that could help us with the planning and management of this internationally important area of land.

“We have to find a way of balancing the needs and concerns of some local residents with our legal requirements to encourage the return of the heath to Sutton Heath. This Panel could have a vital role to play in finding a way forward that satisfies everyone,” added Cllr Nunn.

Sutton Heath is part of the Suffolk Sandlings Special Protection Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest, and lies within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The heathland restoration project at Sutton Heath is aiming to largely recreate the landscape that existed around 60 years ago. In order to achieve this goal, Suffolk Coastal aims to protect the older more established trees on the site, including the restoration of an old tree belt and the re-introduction of a coppice regime in a large copse of sweet chestnut.

Over the past 20 years the Council has managed Sutton Heath with the help of Government grants to restore heathland where pines, birches and bracken have invaded following the removal of livestock between the two World Wars and the loss of rabbits.

Sutton Heath, like many remnants of the Suffolk Sandlings, has an important natural status supporting a variety of specialist wildlife and it is vital to the survival of two endangered species of birds, the woodlark and the nightjar. Other species of wildlife include the grayling and silver-studded butterflies, the dartford warbler and adders, who are all thriving in this special and rare habitat.

“Since the 1980s, Suffolk Coastal has been working with national and local conservation bodies to reverse the decline of the Sandlings heaths and so protect one of the county’s most important natural treasures which was in danger of forever being turned into a forest which would have driven away its unique wildlife.

“It is its history which makes this a unique site and what has to be understood is that we have never planned to remove all the trees. There is much common ground between us and the petitioners and hopefully the Panel will help us proceed in one shared way in future.

“Our goal is provide an area that will be a mosaic of woodland and heathland that will remain a magnet for future generations of people but also the rare and important wildlife for whom this has been a home for centuries,” added Cllr Nunn.

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