Council at fault over hedgehog habitat at Cockburn pitch site

The Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman has found Leeds City Council at fault for not considering their own nature team’s advice on hedgehog protection measures. Hedgehogs are a red listed mammal threatened with extinction.

On 15 February 2023 Leeds City Council’s and Cockburn School’s contractors mechanically flailed a historic hedgerow that bordered the cobbled path into Middleton Park. The Nature Team had advised the council in 2020 that the double hedgerow was likely BAP Priority Habitat status and needed to be protected from the school’s proposed development work.

Early last year the Nature Team advised the council that the Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) was unacceptable in terms of hedgehog protection and needed changing. The Nature Team stated that an Ecological Clerk of Works should be present to ensure no hedgehogs were disturbed or removed.

However, the contractors flailed the hedgerow, removing all undergrowth, without an ecologist checking for hibernating hedgehogs. The Asset Management team at Leeds City Council instructed the contractors to carry out this work.

The council explained to the ombudsman investigator that they were not in breach of planning conditions protecting the hedgerow and hedgehogs. This was because the conditions were not legally enforceable until early summer when development work officially began.

They also explained that they were not obliged to follow the Nature Team’s advice regarding the Management Plan.
However, the ombudsman investigator found no evidence that the council had considered comments from the Nature Team before discharging the CEMP. The investigator found fault and the Council has agreed to take steps to ensure comments from consultees are properly considered in the future.

They will review their working practices, policies and procedures and ensure staff are made aware.

Work on site has since followed the revised plan taking account of the Nature Team’s concerns. Though the revised plan is not formally approved. You can find details on the LGSCO website here.

A spokesperson for Save South Leeds Former Golf Couse said:

“We remain shocked that the hedgerow was decimated in the first place.

“Councillors and residents had been assured by the planning department and the school’s agent that the hedgerow would not be touched and was protected. Fencing was erected to protect the hedgerow during tree felling works that commenced on 13th February. However, photographic evidence provided by the contractor shows that they moved their machine behind the protective fencing on 15th February, so that they could flail the hedgerow.

“We can only describe this covert action as an act of ecological vandalism. We feel deceived by the Council and the school’s agent.

“The Council were aware that hedgehogs were on site and would be hibernating at this time. The council did not investigate the hedgerow flailing until April. By that time it was impossible to gather evidence of wildlife crime.

“We were also shocked to learn that none of the planning conditions supposedly put in place to protect habitat and wildlife were legally enforceable before early summer. We feel the Council took advantage of a legal loophole. The planning conditions implied protection when in reality none existed.

“We are grateful to the investigator for exposing improper procedures in the Council.

“Leeds City Council declared a Climate Emergency in 2019 but the Cockburn School development failed to protect endangered wildlife and the historic hedgerow habitat.”

A spokesperson for Leeds City Council said:

“We have received and accepted the findings of the ombudsman and have made improvements in our processes and practices to ensure comments from consultees are fully considered before the council discharges planning conditions in future. The Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman is satisfied with the remedies put in place.”


Photo: Graham Spencer


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2 Replies to “Council at fault over hedgehog habitat at Cockburn pitch site”

  1. Totally disgusting that this was allowed to happen without any consideration for any hibernating hedgehogs which could have been disturbed or worse!

  2. Thank you for printing a response from Leeds City Council regarding the hedgerow flailing during hedgehog hibernation. It’s very disappointing that they did not take the opportunity when asked to apologise to residents over the incident. The lack of apology not only reflects the arrogance of certain council officers but a total lack of respect for communities and their neighbourhoods. Hedgehog Awareness Week runs from 5 to 11 May. Perhaps local councillors could encourage the staff/children at Cockburn School to participate in the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s Design a Poster competition. This would give the pupils a fantastic opportunity to learn about hedgehogs and their threatened habitats. The closing date is 22 April. Education is key to addressing climate change and the biodiversity crisis.

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