Locals who have raised concerns about the ‘destructive’ woodland works taking place in a popular Kirkcaldy park have been reassured they are essential for the long-term health and viability of the area.
Dog walkers and nature lovers have espressed anger at the removal of a large number of trees and Rhododendrum bushes in Dunnikier Country Park over the past few weeks.
They claim the works are not improving the park, but instead are vandalising it and they say the area has been ‘destroyed.’
But the Forestry Commission Scotland said it was part of a management plan which includes the felling of a number of mature trees identified with safety issues which had to be removed.
Richard Smith, team manager for access and biodiversity at Fife Council, said the works would put the condition of the woodland into a secure footing for the long term.
The woodland was identified for selective felling with trees picked on an individual basis to allow space and room for the others to reach their full potential.
He said it also allows wildflowers to grow in areas where there is now more light reaching the woodland floor.
But some locals are not happy with the impact.
Maurice McGrath, who regularly walks his dog in the woodland, branded the works ‘‘a disgrace.’’
He said: “They have torn down healthy trees and ripped out rhododendrum bushes which are just starting to flower at this time of year. It is a disgrace what they have done.
“Paths through the woods are nothing but a quagmire with large furrows full of mud and water left by machinery.
‘‘This is not improvement but vandalism. Why could they not have left things the way they were?
“There was no need to cut all the trees down. We have been told they are going to plant new trees but they will take years to grow.
“Dunnikier Park used to be a nice place to go for walks. Now you are up to your ankles in mud and wildlife habitats have been destroyed.
‘‘Everybody I have met up there is in agreement – there have been nothing but complaints. The council has destroyed a good park.”
Fellow dog walker Frances Bell said: “We were never told about this - nothing about the mass destruction of the trees. If people had known there would have been uproar.
‘‘It is a mess up there – hundreds of healthy trees have been cut down.”
She added: “I am horrified at what has been done - it will never be the same.”
Another walker said: “Dunnikier Park has been completely ruined.
‘‘There used to be an abundance of wild flowers but now all we have to look forward to seeing is nettles, thistles, brambles and weeds. not to mention crisp packets, plastic bottles and tin cans which will have more room to grow.”
Jim Crosbie of Dunnikier Country Park Development Group said he understood local concerns.
But he said: “The work is the result of a plan drawn up by the Forestry Commission which was the subject of public consultation including a visual display and question and answer session at Dunnikier House Hotel.
“It is during the initial tree felling and rhodie clearing that most of the mess and disruption occurs and this is where we are just now.
‘‘Witnessing the scale of what is underway is understandably upsetting to many people who can see the woods they knew undergoing significant redevelopment.
“At this initial and most disruptive stage it is important to bear in mind why it’s needed.
“This is to ensure the long-term health and viability of the woods by making sure, that, while there are fewer trees, those that remain will be healthier and consist exclusively of native species.
‘‘Fewer trees mean more light will reach the forest floor. This will result in more plants, flowers and shrubs which will improve bio-diversity produce a better environment for birds, animals and the people.”
Forestry Commission Scotland confirmed it had helped Fife Council with funding to develop a management plan for Dunnikier Park.
Last year it awarded further funding to start work.
As well as felling trees and thinning woodlands, the funding will also include upgrades to the path network, new signs and seats.
Richard Smith, team manager for access and biodiversity at Fife Council, said while the work can appear to look quite destructive, woodlands have a strong resilience – and by this time next year most of the scars will have gone.
He continued: “Woodlands require management to ensure they are safe to visit and in good condition to cope with wind and weather and promote regeneration which guarantees there are new young trees to maintain the continuity of the woodland well into the future.
“Dunnikier woods have had very little intervention for many years, with the last major thinning taking place in 1999/2000.
‘‘This round of management is attempting to bring the condition of the woodland into a secure footing for the very long term.
“Woodland management, by its very nature, has to look at the long-term so that there will be trees and a strong woodland for as long as we can predict.”
All the works require prior approval from Forestry Commission Scotland who granted a felling licence, and its woodland officer visited the site last week and was satisfied with progress to date.
Mr Smith also explained exactly what is involved in the project.
“The whole of the woodland has been identified for selective felling, allowing space and room for the remaining trees to reach their full potential and allow wildflowers to grow in areas where there is now more light.
“If left alone closely grown trees will get very tall but thin, and are extremely susceptible to being blown over in high winds.
‘‘Giving them extra space will allow the roots to extend and the canopy to spread allowing them to resist a wider range of weather conditions.
“Some dense stands of non-native and very invasive Rhododendron Ponticum will be removed, as they prevent regeneration of ground flora by blocking off the light to the ground, choking new tree generation and are very poor for wildlife.”
Money made from the sale of the wood is being used to offset the costs of the project.
The project will also benefit neighbouring Dunnikier Park Gold Club.
Paul Murphy, golf courses manager, Fife Golf Trust, said: “From a greenkeeping perspective the lack of light and air movement through the trees was having a detrimental effect on the quality of turf we were producing in certain areas.
‘‘Just as we have put management programmes in place for turf, trees also have to have a manageable plan to flourish.
“If you don’t create space for trees to grow healthy they will grow tall and thin as they search for light which is not ideal.”
He added: “Having the contractor able to start at Dunnikier in the winter months when there is less pressure on the staff from golfers is ideal.
‘‘In addition to work on the golf course Fife Council will be carrying out extensive tree and scrub management within the park over the winter and spring period.”