A £20,000 fine warning has been issued after new reports of plants being pulled or dug up on a Wirral beach.
In recent weeks, there have been reports of plants along the beach in Hoylake, Wirral being pulled or dug up and later left on the beach, the promenade, or slipways. This is despite the fact any removal of vegetation without permission on the beach is against the law.
The alleged activity is linked to the ongoing controversy over the future management of the beach. Wirral Council stopped management of the beach in 2019 including the use of weed killer glyphosate following heavy criticism but this has left the community divided on its future.
Vegetation began to spread quickly while Wirral Council develops a plan to manage it in the future. This plan is expected to head out for a final public choice in the next few months in the hopes it will help “heal a sorely divided local population”.
The issue has been described as toxic and compared to a civil war with many calling for a compromise on both sides and better accessibility to the beach. The Hoylake Beach Community group was set up to call on the council to clear an area of the beach for amenity use while others argue it should be able to develop naturally.
The vegetation on the beach is protected as it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) but photographs suggest plants have been pulled up by human activity.
The Hoylake Beach Community dispute this arguing there is no evidence while others have argued it could be foxes, dogs, other animals, children, or people wanting plants in their garden.
Wirral Council has previously said it received “reports of diggers and strimmers being taken onto the beach as well as the spraying of chemicals, all without permission. People have also bragged on social media of their efforts to remove vegetation by hand.”
The local authority hopes if an area of beach is cleared as part of the new management plan, “such behaviour would cease”.
Julian Priest, who campaigns for the Green Party locally, said he had noticed an uptick in recent weeks which led him and others to report the incidents to Merseyside Police and Natural England, a government body that regulates areas like Hoylake beach.
He said, “We noticed various things happening but felt we shouldn’t report it when it was one or two. However, if you have seen it in eight different locations, it’s obviously someone who thinks they can get away with it so it was worth reporting.
“It’s almost like the plants right next to the wall get targeted maybe because they are easier to pull up. It’s not like they are pulling it up and taking it away. They have moved it six or eight feet but left it on the beach.
“It makes you think they are aware that it is something they shouldn’t be doing. They are not moving it off the foreshore for fear they might be caught in the act.”
He said they had previously considered it might not be human activity but argues the repeated incidents suggest otherwise. He said, “In the past, we thought it might be a dog but in the course of one weekend, there are at least six, seven or eight incidents between Trinity Road and the old Lifeboat where tall plants have been pulled,” adding, “The fact it’s three or four foot tall plants, there is no way you can see that is anything other than human intervention.”
A Natural England spokesperson 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. Unauthorised removal of vegetation is an offence under Section 28P of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and is liable of a fine of up to £20,000.
“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.”
A Wirral Council spokesperson said, “We are aware of new reports of disturbance to vegetation at Hoylake beach and any evidence we have been provided with has been passed on to enforcement bodies.
“As everyone should know, Hoylake beach – along with the whole North Wirral foreshore – is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This means it is protected under law from actions or behaviours that could damage the special interest of the site, including anything that could cause harm or disruption to the range of rare or nationally important species and habitats.
“It is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to intentionally damage, disturb or remove naturally occurring items within a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England is the Government’s statutory nature conservation adviser and is responsible for enforcing laws that protect wildlife and the natural environment and we work very closely with them regarding the North Wirral foreshore and other protected sites in Wirral.
“We are continuing to move forward with a new Beach Management Plan, which will cover Hoylake beach from Red Rocks to just past the RNLI station. Within this plan will be a Code of Conduct for all beach users to adhere to so that the beach can be protected for – and enjoyed by – everyone.”
The Hoylake Beach Community was approached for comment.
All images commissioned for use by LDRS partners