Action has been taken by local residents and climate activists to stop the illegal felling of historic trees in Northamptonshire.
Up to 40 trees, which are over 100 years old, are to be felled on London Road in the market town of Wellingborough, in order for the council to make a new roundabout and move a gas main.
On Monday (27 February) protestors stood in front of lorries carrying equipment and local wildlife enthusiasts hoped their findings of ‘bat activity’ in the trees would be sufficient to pause proceedings. The evidence was reviewed by Northamptonshire Police and an officer on the scene confirmed that the felling would not take place “until we have seen a bat survey”.
But the report containing sonar readings was not enough to override the report commissioned by the developer Vistry. Police were satisfied that the ecological report carried out in the run-up to the felling was correct.
The trees are said to have a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) making it a criminal offence to damage and destroy them, according to barrister and climate activist Paul Powlesland, who later climbed one of the trees in solidarity with protestors and was subsequently arrested. Today (1 March) a second protestor climbed a tree.
Mr Powlesland passed on his legal advice to North Northants Council (NNC), developers Stanton Cross and the police who all confirmed the tree felling was legal due to exemptions to the TPO.
However, Mr Powlesland said the exemptions did not apply and the felling was still illegal.
‘The police were unwilling to stop the illegal felling’
The barrister said in a tweet: “I was instructed by the protesters to produce a pro bono advice on the position. Looking at all of the available documents, my clear conclusion was that the exemptions to the TPO regs didn’t apply and therefore felling the trees with TPO’s would be illegal.
“I’m sharing the advice I have with the permission of the protesters who instructed me. This was also shared with the council and the police.”
He added: “I travelled to Wellingborough to talk to the police on the ground. I explained my advice to them and they did not contradict it. However, not only were the police unwilling to stop the illegal felling, they were threatening to arrest the protesters for aggravated trespass.”
Residents protesting and standing in the ‘work’ area were read a warning that they were committing aggravated trespass contrary to section 68 of the Criminal and Public Order Act.
Wheelchair user Gemma, who did not want to give her surname, told our sister title the Northamptonshire Telegraph: “I don’t want to be arrested and I am not prepared to be arrested but I am prepared to stand to the last minute.”
‘Trees equal life, destruction equals death’
Following this, Mr Powlelsand decided to climb one of the trees to prevent the illegal felling on Tuesday (28 February).
He tweeted: “The police have now surrounded my tree with fencing and are covering it in police ‘crime scene’ tape so the tree is a crime scene.”
He came down from the tree late in the evening on Tuesday, saying that the council had offered him a meeting the following day. He was arrested and later released on bail - forbidden from climbing any tree in Northamptonshire.
‘We understand the level of concern’
A spokesman for developers Stanton Cross told the Northamptonshire Telegraph the work is part of “consented plans that we are required to carry out as part of the planning permission” and is needed to “facilitate the diversion of essential utilities, including a high-pressure gas main, water, fibre optics and electricity, and in the longer term will boost the road network around the town.”
The developers said they “understand the level of local concern” and “have already reduced the number of trees that have to be removed in this instance to fewer than 40.”
They added: “The development will see hundreds of new trees planted, the creation of parks and green spaces, as well as the provision of thousands of new homes.”
A spokesman for design and environmental practice FPCR commented: "Based upon the findings it is considered that clearance works have not affected any bat roosts and have been completed in compliance with the relevant legislation.”
A Northamptonshire Police spokesman said: “No criminal offences have occurred. We are in liaison with the site’s ecologist, who has advised that the trees which have been identified as possibly having bats present, will remain in situ.”