An application by Visit Alderney to remove two trees from the historic grounds of the Nunnery, is proving controversial.
In the past year Visit Alderney has lifted the Nunnery site into arguably the Island’s top visitor attraction, stripping back overgrowth and debris to showcase and interpret 2,000 years of history.
But the latest effort to preserve part of its heritage has sparked a fierce debate between Visit Alderney, the Alderney Society and the Alderney Bird Observatory.
The two trees and a flowerbed were planted by the Nunnery’s previous private tenants in the main historic part of the site. The roots are now boring into the Roman structures, which like just centimeters below the surface.
The roots, which run about a metre deep, are penetrating wall and floor levels of Roman remains – particularly valuable as they were not destroyed by the construction of an adjacent German bunker.
Visit Alderney asked the General Services Committee, as landowner of the site, for permission to remove the trees. The request was circulated to all GSC members by email, as is normal for minor applications from other States departments, so it could be considered at the September BDCC meeting.
None of the GSC members objected to the request.
Before the next planning meeting however the application was abruptly removed from the September planning list. The instruction came, according to the Planning Office, ‘from the Chief Executive’. Mystery shrouded the exact source of the withdrawal instruction but senior civil servant Adrian Lewis, performing the day to day role of CEO, said it made sense to defer the application until GSC had properly debated the matter.
It transpired that since the agreement via email several letters of objection had been sent to GSC from the board of the Alderney Bird Observatory, which bases itself at the Nunnery, leading some members to rethink their previous position.
The ABO argues that the trees form a refuge for birds after they have been identified and rung in the small modern building erected on the Nunnery’s ramparts, known as the ‘sun room’. ABO supporters say they are vital to the birds’ welfare.
Letters supporting the proposal include the assertion that under Land Use Plan polices the States prioritise the maintenance of heritage assets and sites of special archaeological value within the designated zones.
Both the trees and the ringing room, they say, are part of the historic Nunnery site.
They submit that use of the building on the ramparts as a ringing room is actually contrary to the LUP so any argument that the trees are ancillary to that are not valid.
The ABO board for their part has forwarded a letter from Steven Stansfield, chairman of the British and Irish Bird Observatories Council, who studied images of ringing operations. He wrote:
‘These trees will prove to be important shelter to migrant birds once they have been ringed and released. I would implore that these trees do not get removed from the grounds of the Nunnery.’
The General Services Committee will discuss the proposal at their meeting tomorrow and members will vote on whether to send it to the Building and Development Control Committee for approval.
Graham McKinley, chairman of GSC, said: ‘This whole issue is causing a lot of concern on both sides, and we have numerous letters representing Visit Alderney, Alderney Society and the ABO.’