St Albans residents’ anger brings halt to tree felling

FURIOUS residents rushed to an open space in St Albans on Tuesday after word of vigorous tree felling got round – and managed to stop it going any further.

The felling came out of the blue at Birklands Meadow off London Road which is part of the Watling Chase Community Forest and is owned by the county council.

The sound of chainsaws alerted nearby residents who assembled on the site, which is managed by the St Albans Community Forest Association (SACFA) under an informal licence from the county council’s estates department, and the felling had to stop on health and safety grounds.

Yesterday St Albans council leader and ward councillor Robert Donald was assured by the county council that the work had been stopped and the workmen would not be returning this week as had been expected.

Local resident Penny Jones, speaking on behalf of SACFA, said that under the direction of Countryside Management Services, the association had carried out such work as planting hedges and trees, funded by various public grants.

In 2005, the county council had wanted to remove all the trees but it was finally agreed that only those in the centre would be felled and those around the edge retained to provide shade along the perimeter footpath.

But when the work began on Tuesday, residents were told that the trees were self sown and were being pollarded to stop them growing too big and incurring future expense.

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Penny said: “SACFA appreciates that tree management is necessary. However, the birds are nesting. Many of the trees around the Meadow are not self-sown but were planted by members of the public at official plantings.”

She pointed out that young oaks were not pollarded so the intention was clearly to remove the trees completely which would mean the stumps having to be expensively ground down.

She added: “Most of the trees from the Meadow have gone; there is absolutely no logical justification for the felling of those that remain. We need to leave trees for future generations.”

Other residents were equally angry. Patricia Clegg, of The Poplars, said she was “both appalled and shocked” at the way the lovely young trees had been cruelly cut down and added: “I was under the impression we were all encouraged to the growing of trees these days.”

Dog-walker Neville Scott said he had been amazed to see at lunchtime on Tuesday that 20 trees had been cut down to five-foot stumps and questioned what right the county council had to act, “in this vandalistic way with no prior advice to anyone”.

And Marilyn Sarmiento asked why contractors were cutting down trees in an open space used by many for recreation and exercise. She added: “The trees removed posed no danger to the public and destroying them when the birds are nesting is doubly disturbing.”

Cllr Donald said: “I have been told that work has been stopped but why did it start in the first place? The county council didn’t even have the courtesy to tell local residents or councillors what was happening.”

A spokesperson for the county council confirmed that the work was on hold but said that as the owners of what the council knew as Birklands playing field, it was good estate management practice to keep such sites clear for potential future use.

She said the county council had carried out similar work five years ago and the majority of the current work had been taking place in the central area of the field removing self-seeded saplings and trees and trimming back larger trees at the entrance of the site to maintain access.

She maintained that the crew who were carrying out the work knew not to touch any trees where birds were nesting.