A wildlife expert who has turned his garden into a haven for endangered species has been ordered to tear it down by the council.
Peter Birchall, also known as ‘Pete the Pond’ who makes YouTube videos about wildlife with a parrot on his shoulder and has appeared on the BBC, created an ‘eco-paradise’ in his back garden with a series of ponds, flowers and rare plants.
But his local council told him he has less than a month to clear the garden over “possible environmental health concerns”, describing it as “untidy land”.
The 59-year-old is said to be the number two expert in the country when it comes to pounds and has designed aquatic gardens for comedian Steve Coogan and TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky.
He also stars in his own YouTube channel, giving advice on wildlife and biodiversity with a bird on his shoulder.
Despite working with many councils and schools around his home town near Eastbourne, East Sussex, advising them on biodiversity, Wealden District Council targeted him after a complaint from a neighbour.
And on Wednesday (March 3) he was ordered to clear the garden in 28 days following a visit from environmental health officers.
Speaking about the council order, Peter said: “I’m absolutely devastated. My life is my garden, I just feel disgusted. I feel like bashing my head against a wall.”
He said council officials accused him of having builder’s rubbish on the land and that it was being used as a commercial business.
But Peter added: “The council said I have got a commercial nursery and a lot of building waste and it’s an eyesore. I don’t have waste, I have materials I use to upcycle and make into other things to stop them going to landfill.
“But now it’s all got to be thrown away and will go to landfill, which is exactly what I was trying to avoid. I rarely throw anything away, it’s against my philosophy, we’re trying to save the planet.
“It’s not a commercial nursery, I don’t make any money from it, it’s my hobby. I’m eccentric and collect things I consider useful or interesting. I said I’m prepared to tidy it up, but they [the council] wouldn’t listen. It’s just bureaucracy without looking at the situation, it’s crazy.”
Peter said the garden contains around 183 native and non-native species, potentially including endangered great-crested newts along with toads, frogs, grass snakes, slow worms and very rare plants.
Describing the garden and how the council arrived at his property, he added: “It’s one of the most important reference libraries in the country that I have built up over 20 years. If I move some of these they could be lost forever.
“They were very bullying to me, when I tried to explain they wouldn’t listen and brow-beat me down, they wouldn’t let me give my side of the argument. They were very aggressive.”
The wildlife expert works with a number of organisations including the National Trust, RSPD and the Sussex and Kent Wildlife Trust.
Liz Jameson, a friend of Peter, said: “He is a complete one-off eco-centric. He devotes his whole life to ponds and pond life for the sake of England’s environment and the little creatures who rely on them.
“Pete is a bit of a celebrity when it comes to ponds. He is in tears. To remove what he’s worked his life to nurture is tantamount to bio-diversity and flora murder.”
Peter even has a YouTube channel which features videos around his creations and he recently met BBC Countryfile presenter Tom Heap to talk about biodiversity.
But Peter said he was told by Wealden District Council that he needs to remove all the features in his back garden within 28 days because the council sees it as a “commercial enterprise”.
Kerrie, Peter’s daughter, said: “They are asking him to remove his complete reference library of 180+ native flora species that he studies and teaches from for many people – they are saying it is a commercial enterprise.
“Dad grows plants to put back into ponds to increase biodiversity of our native flora which is being lost at an alarming rate as are the species living on them.
“They also didn’t like that he had some scraps of wood lying about which he told them he uses to build bird and bug houses. They completely dismissed this and told him that the wood is just waste.”
Kerrie and Liz both said Peter is struggling since receiving the order from the council.
A spokeswoman for Wealden District Council said in response: “The property is currently the subject of an ongoing investigation regarding the commercial use of a domestic property, untidy land and possible environmental health concerns.”
When asked what these specific environmental concerns were the authority refused, stating those details were confidential.
Peter has been working with his fellow landscaping colleagues to clear his garden by the end of the month.