An Eden councillor is calling for an investigation to determine how the destruction of 40 trees in a Penrith wildlife haven was allowed to take place and whether policies need tightening up to prevent it happening again.
Ali Ross (Green, Penrith) has strongly criticised the mass felling of trees and clearance of a “valuable wildlife habitat” along Gilwilly Lane – the footpath which connects Gilwilly Road and Bowerbank Way on the Gilwilly industrial estate.
“This work occurred at the beginning of last week, which is National Tree Week,” said Ms Ross.
She explained that she was planting trees on farmland in Matterdale on Monday morning, when she received a call from a distressed occupant of one of the units neighbouring the footpath.
“The caller reported that the chainsaws and chipping machinery were active as she spoke, and she appealed for my help to try to stop the wholesale destruction.
“I spent much of the rest of Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning urgently trying to find out who was responsible and how to stop the felling.
“This wasn’t easy as so many officers are now working from home, and county council numbers are not being answered.
“By the time I got through to the right person, most of the trees had been felled – but at least the remaining few were saved and just trimmed back.
“When I went to see the site on Tuesday afternoon, I felt sick to my stomach.
“I counted at least 40 tree stumps, many of which were mature trees, and the scrub and undergrowth was literally scoured back to bare soil. This would have provided habitat for insects, birds and small mammals – including hedgehogs.”
Ms Ross reported that, from what she could determine, members of the Industrial BID on Gilwilly had reported that overhanging trees were causing problems, dropping leaves into business yards, and had requested that they be trimmed back to the fence line. Trimming or cutting back the trees is one thing – and is certainly something that could have been achieved by using a Portland tree service, for example – but cutting them down completely was just not necessary at all.
“This appears to have been interpreted as an instruction to clear the land back to the fence line from the footpath.
“The result is the loss of a small but significant corridor of wildlife habitat that connected the green area of allotments on Gilwilly Road to Thacka Beck Nature Reserve north of Bowerbank Way.
“It is such a supreme irony that this fiasco has occurred during National Tree Week, when people all over the country are planting trees to help address the climate and ecological emergency,” said Ms Ross.
Castletown resident Ken Harper said he was going to be contacting the county council to find out what had gone wrong and ask why the community had not been informed prior to any work commencing.
“There’s all this national and international talk about saving the planet and planting trees and these lot go ahead cut these trees down,” said Mr Harper.
Sam Morris, chairman of Penrith Industrial BID, said he could confirm works carried out on the footpath at Gilwilly Lane were undertaken by Cumbria County Council using their own contractors, as they are the authority responsible for maintaining the area in question.
He said Penrith Industrial BID had requested maintenance to be carried out following several expressions of concern from businesses. “Unfortunately because the area in question has not been maintained for a number of years, it is now apparent that Cumbria County Council have had to undertake a far larger amount of work than expected to bring these areas in line with the standards it should have been originally held to,” said Mr Morris.
It is understood the level of clearance was deemed necessary on grounds of public safety as the trees had disease.
There were also dead dangerous self-seeding trees, which over time had grown uncontrolled, and, in some cases, had been cut back by owners of adjacent properties where branches were overhanging. When these trees died they became unstable and were liable to come down.
“It is my understanding that Cumbria County Council will be carrying out new planting along the footpath in place of the trees that have had to be removed, and please be assured that we will be applying pressure on the council to ensure that this happens,” said Mr Morris.
A spokesman for Cumbria County Council said the authority was aware of the concerns and will discuss them directly with the complainant.
“The schedule and extent of these maintenance works was agreed in advance of work commencing,” said the county council spokesman.