Protesters accuse landowner of wrecking a much-loved nature haven on the edge of Harborough

But the landowner says he has done nothing wrong and that he is doing it for the best reasons

Wednesday, 8th April 2020, 5:33 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th April 2020, 5:34 pm
Resident Tim Bourne at the site off The Ridgeway where work has started to clear bushes and is the feeding territory for barn owls and lots of wildlife.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER
Resident Tim Bourne at the site off The Ridgeway where work has started to clear bushes and is the feeding territory for barn owls and lots of wildlife. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Furious residents are accusing a landowner of “wrecking” a much-loved nature haven on the edge of Market Harborough.

Tim Bourne and Christine Staff said they were “devastated” by the work carried out in a field off The Ridgeway to the north of Harborough.

The two next-door neighbours said they feared for many different species of birds as we go into the busy nesting season.

The site is used as a feeding territory for barn owls. PICTURE: JAMES BURMAN

But Joe Cowen, who as a local trustee owns and looks after the land, insisted he was simply restoring it to its “former agricultural use” and had done nothing wrong.

And Mr Cowen, who used to be Master of Harborough’s famous Fernie Hunt, also denied destroying any birds’ nests.

Tim Bourne, 59, told the Harborough Mail: “I’m very angry about this.

“This land backs on to my back garden and it’s a brilliant little beauty spot.

Resident Tim Bourne at the site off The Ridgeway where work has started to clear bushes and is the feeding territory for barn owls and lots of wildlife. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

“I couldn’t believe it when my wife rang me last week to tell me there was a digger on this land.

“I am a big lover of our fantastic countryside, birds and wildlife.

“And as far as I’m concerned this is an act of environmental vandalism.”

The self-employed carpenter added: “I realise that it’s Mr Cowen’s land and within reason he can do what ever he likes on there.

Sue Bourne with one of two heaps of bushes cut down.

“But this lovely spinney and meadow on our own doorstep belong to all of us in a way.

“We all have a duty to try to protect our countryside and nature.

“I feel so strongly about this that I spoke to Mr Cowen and the digger driver at the scene.

“I didn’t get very far but I made my point that they were destroying fantastic habitat that can’t be replaced for all sorts of birds.”

Tim said his own natural “backyard” on the outskirts of Market Harborough has become a real hotspot for birds and other wildlife over the years.

“I know my birds and I’ve counted over 23 types of bird in my garden alone.

“They include buzzards, red kites, long-tailed tits, gold finches, bull finches and chaffinches.

“We’ve also had a beautiful barn owl living here for the last week or so although it seems to have vanished now this work’s been done,” said the dad-of-three and grandad-of-four.

“They insist that they have not ripped out any bird nests and just torn out blackthorn.

“But I would argue that birds were nesting in the blackthorn.

“And more would have done so in the next few weeks if it hadn’t all been dug up.

“They piled up two big 20ft heaps of blackthorn and other material and burned them.”

Tim, who works on building sites, said the natural refuge had also become very popular with local people out getting their daily exercise over the last few weeks.

“There’s a public footpath winding across the land leading down into Great Bowden.

“It’s been very well used during the coronavirus crisis with residents venturing out for a much-needed walk and fresh air,” he said.

“This is an oasis of wildlife.

“There are deer in the woods there, too, and it’s terrible to see what’s been done.”

Tim’s neighbour and friend Christine Staff, 71, said: “We are all very disappointed.

“This was a great wild open space and a vital resource just yards from our back gardens.

“I asked the digger driver to stop but he told me his employer said it was OK to do it.”

But Joe Cowen hit back at his critics as he told the Mail: “We have done nothing wrong here.

“It’s been agricultural land for a long time and we are simply restoring it to be used as such.

“We dug up just the blackthorn and various weeds and didn’t damage the actual hedgerows at all.

“It had become a bit neglected and derelict so we decided to act.

“We would have carried out this work much earlier but it’s been too wet after all the rain we’ve had last winter.”

Mr Cowen, who would only say he lives nearby in Harborough district, added: “We certainly did not destroy any bird nests.

“We inspected the land at least three times before carrying out this work and didn’t see any nests.

“We are doing this for the best reasons and I don’t see why anyone would be angry about it.”

Kibworth farmer James Stanbridge, who was contracted to do the clearance work, said: “We were instructed to remove any excess shrubbery and return this land to its former agricultural practice.

“In an ideal world we’d have done this much earlier but the bad weather stopped us.

“As a local farmer our countryside and nature are my whole life – and we’d never do anything to hurt it.

“And we made sure there were not any nesting birds there before starting work.

“We didn’t rip out any hedgerows and we have not acted in an unreasonable manner.”