THE COUNCIL has finally apologised for cutting down part of Europe’s oldest and longest green wall.

The apology comes after a campaign group announced it had reported Brighton and Hove City Council to the police for an alleged wildlife crime.

Last month, council officials slashed the living wall in Madeira Drive, which was planted by the Victorians and is a wildlife reserve.

Elected representatives were not told about the plans to cut down the Japanese Spindle, the transport and environment chief told The Argus yesterday.

We can now reveal that the council accepts the wall's Local Wildlife Site status was “not properly noted or considered” by the officials before proceeding with the plans.

The Argus:

Local Wildlife Sites are areas of land that are “especially important” for their wildlife.

“We’d like to apologise to our residents for the way we went about cutting back the stretch of Green Wall at the bottom of Duke’s Mound,” a council spokesman said.

READ MORE: Brighton and Hove council 'reported for alleged wildlife crime'

“It should not have been cut down in this way. We are very sorry about this, and an investigation is underway to find out how this happened.

“What is clear is that only minimal cutting back should have occurred, but we accept that we cut back much further than was necessary, and that this should not have happened to a Local Wildlife Site. 

“We are going to undertake a detailed investigation into how this happened, and how the Local Wildlife Site status (which was acknowledged at the planning stage) was not properly noted or considered as the detailed designs were worked up.”

The Argus:

The council has now U-turned on its explanation for why the work took place.

On Monday, residents were told the work was conducted during planning for a “possible” cycle lane on Dukes Mound.

On Wednesday, the council then said it took place for a cycle lane and a pedestrian crossing.

Now it claims it had "nothing to do with the cycle lane in particular".

READ MORE: Brighton wildlife reserve cut down for ‘possible’ cycle lane

A spokesman said: “As part of the Black Rock regeneration project a road safety audit was carried out. This found that the greenery limited visibility and may result in collisions between vehicles and pedestrians

“The cutting back of the greenery was not raised with councillors. It was arranged by council staff as an operational requirement, stemming from the road safety audit.

“Councillors have requested an urgent review into how the excessive cut-back happened, what lessons need to be learnt from it, and what work is being done to re-establish the greenery. Officers will report back to councillors on this as soon as possible.

“We recognise that we should have engaged with Brighton & Hove Building Green when it became clear that this vegetation needed to be cut back. We have spoken to them to apologise and ensure further engagement in future, and we are grateful for their involvement.

“We would emphasise that although there are plans to build a cycle lane here, the recommendations of the road safety audit were made in relation to pedestrian safety with regard to traffic in general and nothing to do with the cycle lane in particular.”

The Argus has asked for a copy of the road safety audit.

The Argus:

The Friends of Brighton and Hove Citizen's Action Group (FBHCAG) allege the partial cutting down of the Green Wall in Madeira Drive amounts to a criminal offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Campaigners said the work took place during nesting season, unlike seven years ago when the council announced preservation work that was "being carried out now on a 400 metre stretch to avoid the bird nesting season".

They allege the council knew that birds were, or were likely to be, nesting in greenery when they slashed down eight Japanese spindle plants on Europe’s longest and oldest green wall were slashed down.

READ MORE: Brighton councillors 'were not aware of plans' to slash green wall

It is a criminal offence, punishable by up to six months in prison, to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.

A council press release from the time of the work in 2014 makes reference to the plants which they slashed.

It said: “The Japanese spindle was deliberately established in the early 19th century when the wall was built, as a means to improve the appearance of the seafront for visitors and local people.

“Originating from Japan, Korea and China, these hardy plants are amongst the oldest surviving plants of this species in the UK.”

A Memorial Protest organised by the Save Madeira Drive Campaign will take place on Sunday.

Taking place from 12.45pm at the junction with Dukes Mound, the event will feature wreath-laying, a minute of silence and speeches.

Protestors are being asked to wear something green. 

Conservative councillor Robert Nemeth said: "The removal of the tamarisks for the wrong reasons and now the destruction of the famous and protected Japanese spindle plants together constitute a complete lack of regard for the natural environment and gross mismanagement of projects using public money.

"If I were the Chair of Environment, Transport & Sustainability Committee, I’d be considering my position.”

Labour’s environment, transport and sustainability spokesperson, Councillor Gary Wilkinson, said: “The cutting back of the Green Wall at Madeira Drive has caused a great deal of concern and raises some important questions.

“Why were Councillors not informed about these plans?

“How did the Green administration allow this to happen without their knowledge?

“What steps will they take to ensure this type of oversight and lack of consultation doesn’t happen again?

“We welcome the apology issued by the council, but serious questions remain, that I and my colleagues will be putting to the Green administration.”