A botanist has claimed people are ripping up “beautiful” flowers on a beach at the centre of a town’s “culture war.”
Josh Styles, an ecologist, said plants are being dug up on Hoylake Beach “all the time” as the debate over the future of the land continues to cause bitter divisions in the town. Others say there is no evidence to back up the claims.
The controversy in the Wirral seaside town stems from a 2019 decision to stop spraying weed killer and clearing vegetation after Wirral Council faced the threat of an unlimited fine.
Since then the council has been working to develop a new management plan, with thousands asked for their opinion last year. Though the consultation suggested room for a compromise, two groups have very divided views on how the beach should be managed.
In recent years, there have been reports plants have been dug up on the beach without permission. Anyone caught removing plants at Hoylake faces the risk of criminal record and a fine of up to £20,000 because it’s a protected area and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), as designated by Natural England.
Mr Styles, who is in favour of the plants staying, had posted on social media a photo of a yellow flag iris. However, five days later he believes someone tried to pull up all of the flowers on the beach.
He said, “I’m utterly devastated”, adding: “To deprive other people and wildlife of such a beautiful and valued wild plant is outright evil.”
Speaking to the LDRS, Mr Styles said, “Literally all over the beach there are clumps of plants that have been removed. The yellow flag iris, it’s a really good plant pollinator so it really p***ed me off that someone went and did that.
“It happens all the time. I visit the beach once a month or every two months but others go there every day and there are new plants that have been dug up and tossed about. It’s an ongoing battle.”
However, Nicola Verkade from the Hoylake Beach Community said their group were fully aware removing plants from the beach was not allowed due to the environmental protections and the legal risk involved.
She said there’s no evidence proves those on their side of the debate pulled up the plants, adding, “This is just absolute rubbish. There is no factual evidence to prove it.”
Ms Verkade pointed to no prosecutions, adding, “There could be any number of reasons for that. It could be an animal, it could be anything. There needs to be clear evidence to back up any claim.
“That is something they cannot provide. If you can’t back up your claims then stop saying what you are saying.”
Historically, Natural England, a public body, said people removing plants with tools, weedkiller, and vehicles had been reported and investigated. Warning letters were issued but no one prosecuted.
However Richard Elton said he’s “seen perfectly dug holes in the sand,” evidence he said shows plants have been dug up. Mr Styles also believes more can be done to protect the plans at Hoylake Beach which has a number of extremely rare species, including surveillance.
He said, “There are plants on Hoylake where there are about three hundred left in the whole of Britain so I think there should be a lot more funding to be put aside to promote at the very least more awareness about the importance of the beach.
“First of all removing clumps of plants won’t prevent the plants from being there. It is not going to make a difference to the overall extent of the beach vegetation but it does mean those people are risking themselves in having a flagrant disregard for the law and it is quite frankly disgraceful people feel entitled to behave in that way.
“They are risking a lot of money. They are risking a criminal record and they are doing something blatantly illegal. These people need to be made a very clear example of.”
Mr Styles believes divisions over the beach are to blame, adding, “That is kind of what the beach has become. It has become another culture war.”
Ms Verkade thinks Wirral Council is to blame as some in the community feel they are not being listened to. In the recent options passed by councillors at a meeting, only a small section of the beach was proposed to be cleared after a major consultation involving thousands.
She said, “It’s caused a huge amount of divide and upset,” adding: “There has not been one iota of consideration for our mental health. That is why there is division because there is huge hurt in a community that has been completely and utterly ignored.”
She added, “The council needs to realise that there has been an impact on people’s physical and mental health and it’s time that it started to be taken seriously. We are affected by this on a daily basis and that needs to be recognised. It’s about time the real issues are taken into account and the real issues that affect the people who live and work there.
“I have done the research. We are not anti-environmentalists but there has to be a balance. There needs to be a compromise and a balance. Of course, the environment is important but what are we saying? Is it that people aren’t?
“There is room for (a compromise) and anybody who says there isn’t aren’t telling the truth.”
Cllr Liz Grey, Chair of the Environment, Climate Emergency and Transport Committee, told Birkenhead News, “I spoke about my planned “compromise solution” twice with Nicola Verkade herself over the phone before it went to committee. She fully approved and recognised that local councillors were not going to get what they asked for if asking for more raking than Natural England had already rejected.”
A Natural England spokesperson previously said, “The foreshore at Hoylake is important for a range of conservation interests including intertidal mud and sand flats, saltmarsh, sand dune and non-breeding waders and waterbirds.
“Removal of vegetation from the beach is damaging to the Site of Special Scientific Interest and can only be carried out with the right permissions.
“We urge members of the public, if you spot removal of vegetation on Hoylake Beach, report this immediately to Wirral Council on firstname.lastname@example.org or directly to Natural England on 0300 060 3900 / email@example.com If possible, please provide photographic evidence of the offence so that this can be investigated further.”
Wirral Council were approached for comment.
Main image: a Yellow Flag Iris at Hoylake Beach