AT FIRST sight Flaxland Avenue has little to distinguish it from a typical suburban street with terraced houses, parking at a premium and the only greenery to be found are weeds growing between cracks in the pavement.

But a gap between two fences at one end of the street, which sits above a main A-road, is an unofficial entrance to a near half-acre woodland that residents of the otherwise nondescript residential street have come to cherish as a haven for birds and biodiversity.

It’s thought the plot, which narrows at its northern end to just a few yards wide, is packed with around 150 mature trees including some 40 oak trees.

Surveys by residents have recorded birds such as robins, sparrows, wood pigeon and great spotted woodpecker all making their homes in an otherwise concrete environment.

Hedgehogs and squirrels have also been recorded in the small woods as have green long horned moths and speckled wood butterflies.

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For years the overgrown area had gone almost forgotten until a Cardiff council audit revealed the unused piece of land and it was listed for auction at a council disposal, in December 2019, with a guide price of £32,000.

Fears the site, which is crammed between a lane running along the bottom of Flaxland Avenue and neighbouring streets and the embankment of one of Cardiff’s busiest roads, the A48, would be developed sparked local residents into action.

A petition against the sale was started, which attracted nearly 3,000 signatures, and a friends group founded to try and preserve the woods and possibly enhance them as a community resource.

In response the site was pulled from auction by the council, at the eleventh hour, and it is now understood to be in discussions with the friends group. But while there are no current plans to sell the site its future is undecided.

The plot remains listed for disposal in the council’s current property plan but with a note attached that it is discussing “potential acquisition with local community group”.

The National Wales: Flaxland Woods and the A48.Flaxland Woods and the A48.

The Friends of Flaxland Woods however hope a 10-year plan, agreed by Cardiff council last year, to cut carbon emissions will strengthen the case against any potential clearance and development as it contains an ambition to increase tree cover across the city by 25 per cent.

“The council has got a commitment to plant trees so it does seem absurd to also cut them down,” said Flaxland Avenue resident Rob Macmillan.

The 70-year-old joined a WhatsApp group to save the woods and signed the petition as his biggest concern is local air quality. The street sits above the four-lane A48 Eastern Avenue, which residents refer to as “the motorway”, and the busy Whitchurch Road route into the city that is clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic every rush hour.

“The woods are a buffer from the motorway and absorb all the pollution. I have a personal interest as I have two lung diseases and I don’t want any greater pollution,” said the retired support worker who has been diagnosed with IPF, that scars the lungs, and emphysema.

On the opposite side of the dual carriageway to Flaxland Avenue is the University Hospital of Wales. Pedestrians routinely cross a footbridge, probably unaware of the wildlife haven in what looks like a fenced off area of wasteland, as they make their way between the myriad of residential streets around Whithchurch Road and the major hospital.

The National Wales: Rob Macmillan.Rob Macmillan.

Though Mr Macmillan is aware of ambitions to potentially create a footpath through the woods, or for the friends group to be involved in managing the plot, he thinks it should be left untouched: “There would have to be all kinds of risk assessments and safety checks so I’m quite happy for it to be a wild space. Don’t interfere with it, leave it as is for the birds and the bees.

“The council want to sell it but it has always been ours, why should we pay for something that’s always been there?”

Some 100 yards further down the avenue David Wickham lives in the end-of-terrace house where he’s been resident for all of his 57 years and is only separated from the woods by the lane.

“I don’t walk in the woods but it is nice to have something between the road and to block out the fumes and the noise of the traffic,” he said.

The former civil servant remembers the A48, which now leads on to the M4 motorway, replacing an old railway line and the giant UHW, known as the Heath Hospital, being built in the early 1970s.

“They did promise to leave it as a landscaped area, as a break between the road and the houses, but I haven’t got anything written down to back it up.”

Alison Howarth, who has recently returned to her the home on the avenue which has been in her family since it was purchased by her great grandparents, remembers the area at the bottom of the street, which was developed for new housing around 20 years ago, as waste land.

“When we were younger it was like a dump and we’d always go and play there but to the other direction (to the woods),” said the 47-year-old. She wouldn’t be opposed if the site was developed for housing but acknowledged: “It is nice to have a bit of greenery.”

In Longspears Avenue, which runs parallel to Flaxland Avenue, and also leads on to the woodland, Gloria Ernst, who is 84, said she was struck by the sight of trees at the end of the road when she moved in some 20 years ago.

“I thought it was nice when we moved here to see the birds up in the trees and to hear them singing but I’ve not got a clue what they’re called.”

Neigbour Stuart Anderson, 57, questioned the value of developing the land: “I know they want to build where they can but surely they’ve got to leave a couple of trees.”