Uproar at plans to fell 140 trees over squirrel damage safety concerns

As many as 140 trees could be felled in the Ironbridge Gorge over concerns that squirrel damage is putting people at risk from falling branches.

One of the 140 trees condemned with a red paintmark in Dale Coppice known as the Sabbath Walks
One of the 140 trees condemned with a red paintmark in Dale Coppice known as the Sabbath Walks

The Severn Gorge Countryside Trust (SGCT) is considering the measure for trees along the Sabbath Walk in Dale Coppice, Coalbrookdale, but the plan has attracted vocal opposition from a group of local residents.

A number of trees had been marked to be felled, but the trust has delayed its final decision in light of concerns from residents – and will meet on November 23 to discuss the next steps.

SGCT chief executive Russell Rowley said an expert aboricultural consultant had found branches damaged by grey squirrels along the path through the coppice, which is managed by the trust.

One of the 140 trees condemned with a red paintmark in Dale Coppice known as the Sabbath Walks.

He said that it was the duty of the trust to take potential safety risks "very seriously", and added that its staff "love trees".

But those opposed to the plan have formed a group calling for the trust to abandon the proposal, arguing it will "ruin" a "beautiful path".

They have also called for measures to control the squirrels, saying that without them the situation will be repeated in the future.

In light of the opposition, a public meeting has taken place to discuss the plans, along with visits to the coppice with trust staff.

One of the 140 trees condemned with a red paintmark in Dale Coppice known as the Sabbath Walks.

Mr Rowley said: "Because all of our woodlands are open for public access 24/7 including 34 kilometres of paths, SGCT also commissions tree safety surveys from an expert arboricultural consultant.

"These identified a number of severely grey squirrel-damaged large branches high above the main path through Dale Coppice.

"The trust takes its health and safety responsibilities very seriously and has therefore marked a number of large severely damaged beech trees to be felled, subject to planning permission approval. Trust staff love trees and have run a programme for over ten years throughout the Gorge to identify and look after potential future ancient trees.

"Because of a number of concerns about this and other felling of trees in Dale Coppice from some residents – as well as other residents supporting the proposals – and as we could have been better at explaining the proposed works, the trust held a public meeting as well as three site visits to hear and discuss the range of people’s views.

"Taking all this feedback into account, SGCT trustees will re-discuss the works on November 23, and we have delayed applying for planning permission until after then. SGCT has always worked closely with the local community and acknowledges the concerns and is seeking a way forward that is acceptable while meeting our responsibilities, which is sometimes a difficult balancing act’.

Dr Tony Moore, an Ironbridge resident who is part of a campaign to stop the plans, said: "The reason why a lot of people are very angry about this is there is a beautiful walk down through the woodland, it is a nice path, it's just a beautiful walk and what they want to do is cut down 140 trees on both sides of this walk."

He added: "It is just ridiculous, cutting down so many trees will ruin the footpath."

Dr Moore said people had felt that the plans had appeared "without any consultation with the residents".

He said: "People have walked in woodlands for decades and trees occasionally drop branches."

He added: "They are doing nothing to try and deal with the squirrels. They will do this, cut all these trees down and then in a couple of years decide they want to cut more trees down.

"The response we get from everyone we talk to is it is absolutely appalling, why are they cutting down all these lovely trees and not tackling the problem, which is the squirrels?"

Damage caused by the squirrels shown in images from the Severn Gorge Countryside Trust
Damage caused by the squirrels shown in images from the Severn Gorge Countryside Trust

Mr Rowley said the trust accepted the issue relating to the squirrels, but said "as with the tree safety issues, it is much more complicated than it appears".

He said: "We have been in touch with Dr Gill, one of England's leading experts from Forest Research, who has confirmed that using contraception is not approved by the Forestry Commission.

"Despite promising results from the trials, as we pointed out at the community site visits, the results show that as little as 55 per cent in winter and 71 per cent of the squirrels in summer in the study took the contraceptive bait.

"We have attended Forestry Commission meetings for the past twenty years where contraception has been discussed, and unless it can be adopted by every landowner within a large radius of the Gorge, it will not reduce damage to levels required to stop such damage."

He added: "If contraception is finally approved in several years' time, the trust would be very keen to take part in any Forestry Commission-led landscape-wide squirrel control programme."

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