Oxcroft Screens – Update

Oxcroft Screens is a site, formally part of the Oxcroft colliery. Its historical past use as a coal spoil depository, then a site for crushing and processing coke. Practices that have been dirty and cruel to the community and the environment – previously owned by NCB, then RJB mining when it finally closed early 2000.

Some native trees were planted to enable the site more aesthetically pleasing, enhance the area for the village of Stanfree, and improve stability for the spoil slopes left by the function.

We started monitoring the site in 2013. Working hard together, mother nature and time has created a small open mosaic gem of a habitat that supports a vast spectrum of magnificent wildlife – from the insect world to large mammals, birds of prey, amphibians, and invertebrates. Free draining, infertile and free from surface chemicals are key elements for wildflowers, often rare in today’s landscape. Birds foot Trefoil, Tormentil, Vetch, delicate grasses and sedges, Marsh orchids, Bee orchids, Vipers bugloss (to name a few) thrive in this unique open mosaic ecosystem. Many bog and wetland species thrive in the ditches and lagoons, once created to facilitate site drainage. We’ve seen the site grow and mature, as with us, the community – it has seen its bad times, finally flourishing into something beautiful.

In 2016 and to our utter displeasure, the site owner, Harworth Estates planned to infill two slopes with 150, 000 cubic meters of inert material. One adjacent Mill Lane and the other slope to its right angle. Theoretically (as quoted in the planning proposal) “The restoration would offer landscape and visual enhancement and ecological safeguarding”. It would take two years.

Under duress, we supported the plans at the time, we had to. A deal was made that the infill work would be done, in exchange that the rest of the site be left and preserved specifically the hotspot areas for BAP species (Dingy skipper, Common blue and Small Heath) with a view to be handed back to the community after completion.

For some time, the Friends of Oxcroft Screens were left asking questions and being uncommunicated by the landowner and local council. During the COVID lockdown, we stumbled across the new site owners, Red Materials, which we had no previous dealings with. The date was 20th October 2020. It was clear from the start the decisions being made were unparallel with objectives and previous planning arrangements. Work had already started to remove the reedbeds (that once protected the site from ground water pollution), mature trees from the slope and deposit infill material at least two months before the first permit was issued.

In the planning proposal, 66 lorry loads of material should have been deposited daily, we were soon observant that much more than this were being bought to site. For example, our records show that at 1:30pm in June last year, 11 lorries (5 different haulage companies named in our records) tipped loads to site in a 15-minute timeframe – on the same day we recorded more than 100 lorries. There is no weighbridge to validate incoming vehicles, so how is it possible to accurately tally this information? Waste transfer notes (legal documents) were left in a First Aid box at the site entrance, nowadays they seem to be placed in a CCTV monitored green grit bin. We are extremely disbelieving of the catalogue of data in the hands of the authorities.

Malpractice was reported, with concerns to the local council and Derbyshire County. In July 2021, some aerial photos were taken, which identified that the infill area had encroached over the original planning boundary. It was also identified that biological matter, plastic, metal, and other wastes were being dumped which is outside the remit of what the policy considers “Inert waste” (posing potential risks to the environment and humans).

In late summer 2021, a bulldozer damaged the banks to Hawk Brooke (which runs from the Bolsover area to Poolsbrook) and the watercourse was intentionally dammed so that water could be extracted for site use (dampening down dust from vehicle movement). Under the Water Resources Act 1991, it is an offence to intentionally interfere or alter the flow to a natural watercourse without a permit (declaring a valid rationale). The pooled water was piped out and the stream was left to run dry. Which poses the question, what effect will this have on wildlife downstream? And has there been an Environmental Impact Assessment carried out? Following the reports made, the site owners tried to salvage the damage, however the banks cannot be rebuilt to its natural status and the disruption to natural flow continues.

Many wonderful Oak trees have been bulldozed into the ground. Valuable life has been destroyed. We are aware that more hedgerows / trees will be taken because the site owners seem to lack any holistic approach to resolve the removal of boundary fencing – straight forward heavy-handed tactics using chainsaws and bulldozers are their only answer.

The natural ponds (BAP habitats) which supported the wetland species have been drained, the banks ripped open by diggers, and we don’t know why – simply to reduce biodiversity? This wasn’t in the plans.

This poor site, once a wildlife haven is shrinking and being consumed and no one seems to be supporting us, the community to protect it. Where are the councillors? Why aren’t they standing up to this ravenous company to care for what is right? The deal we made Harworth Estates and the local authorities has been broken. The Environment Act 2021; we know that at least three pieces of legislations to protect the environment have been breached, but we see no action nor penalties issued.

It seems that the site own has no regard for this community, biodiversity or to preserve life in the manner that an honourable company would strive to achieve. The dumping continues and the mounds are getting forever higher, defeating the planning objective to reduce slope gradient. When will this nightmare end?

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