Peterborough: Why did a council cut down a 600-year-old oak tree?

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An at-risk 600-year-old oak tree in Peterborough.Image source, TERRY-HARRIS.COM
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Houses have been built around the mature oak and concerns were raised about its roots putting properties at risk

Campaigners say they have been brought to tears over the felling of a 600-year-old oak tree. Peterborough City Council decided the Bretton Oak needed to be chopped down because it was causing damage to nearby homes. We look at what the tree meant to local residents and what might happen with the salvaged timber.

Why did the council want to remove the oak?

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The oak tree was the subject of a long campaign to save it

Two homes in Ringwood, Bretton, were damaged by the ancient tree's roots, according to Peterborough City Council, and it was concerned that more homes would be next.

Councillor Nigel Simons, city council cabinet member for the environment, said it was as a very difficult decision but the tree ultimately had to go.

"What was certain to us was that if we didn't act quickly and swiftly, the council would be liable for the damage to one home - an underpinning bill of around £150,000.

"This would mean we wouldn't have any money to look after thousands of other trees in the city," he said.

Other options, including root barriers and extensive pruning, were considered but they "were not accepted by the insurance company as a feasible solution".

The council is planning to plant 100 more oaks in a bid to mitigate the environmental impact.

Why were residents so upset about it?

Image source, TERRY-HARRIS.COM
Image caption,
The tree dated back to the 14th Century

Campaigners argued that the tree was healthy, predated the housing estate by centuries, and was essential for wildlife.

It appears on the Woodland Trust Ancient Tree Register as one of the last standing oaks from the original Grimeshaw Woods.

Environmentalist Amy Price, who lives in Bretton, said she was in tears while watching it being felled.

"When they chopped that first bat roost, where we knew we'd seen the bats, I just broke down and cried," she said.

"The skyline has changed forever, this is something we will not get back, but we will not give up our fight with the council on its environmental protection policies."

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Brad Adcock grew up on the street and was visiting his parents with his daughter Esme, three

Brad Adcock, who grew up locally, said the tree was the last one standing from many that were there when he was a boy.

"It's part of our heritage, and there aren't many big trees - just spindly trees that councils plant.

"It's sad, with the agendas of carbon zero and a 600-year-old oak, and the ecology and the life it supports - and we just rip it down and don't care."

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Fionna Adcock said she felt dreadful watching the remains of the tree being chopped down

His mother, Fionna Adcock, said the tree was a big part of her life.

"I've watched it grow, watched all the birds in it, how it's given life to things, and in a rainstorm, while walking the dogs, you stand under it and it protects you.

"It's a fabulous tree and you feel the heart of community has been taken away from you.

"It's still alive - they're killing a living thing, it's absolutely dreadful."

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Sue Walker said her eight-year-old granddaughter's face fell when told the tree was being chopped down

Sue Walker, of Bretton, said her eight-year-old granddaughter had grown up with the tree and it reminded them of special times together.

"She used to look at the tree and she said 'Nanny that's me and you, joined together, and when you're not around any more, I'm going to come to see this tree and talk to it'."

Her granddaughter was "withdrawn" when told about the felling, and did not want to see it happening.

"I took her a piece of the tree yesterday and she just put her arms around me and said 'I love you.'

She said the tree had brought neighbours together in the fight to save it.

"It's brought the community together, meeting new people who have the same interests and passion for these things in life," she said.

Is the campaign over?

Image source, TERRY-HARRIS.COM
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Peterborough City Council said the alternative to felling the tree could cost them hundreds of thousands of pounds in repairs and legal fees

The council had already decided to cut the tree down last year but work had to be halted after a protester stood beneath it.

More than 2,500 people signed an online petition calling for it to be saved but an eleventh-hour injunction, heard at Peterborough County Court, was dismissed.

Sarah Dodd, a solicitor acting on behalf of the campaigners, said it was tricky to see a way forward for the campaigners.

"Now that the tree has been removed it is difficult to see what other options are available for the campaign group," said Ms Dodd, who represented them.

The next step, legally, would be a judicial review of the council's decision - but that would be very expensive, and would not bring the tree back, she added.

"I think that the best thing that the campaign group can do now is to stay involved with the council and work with them to ensure that nothing like this happens again," she added.

What will happen to the timber?

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Amanda and Tony Garratty, and Deb Gibbons salvaged sections of branches

Several residents grabbed branches from the tree as it was cut down, to keep as a memento.

"I think we should repurpose it and give it another life, if not it's a complete waste," said Mr Adcock.

Amanda and Tony Garratty, and Deb Gibbons - who salvaged sections of branches - said a larger piece could make a feature in the cathedral.

"If you had the actual trunk, it's huge - you could make a table top," said Mr Garratty.

The council confirmed it was discussing ideas and hoping to come up with a plan in the near future.

"We have some saved some of the bigger sections of wood and are currently exploring uses for this - ideas include a sculpture or bench to be used within the city," a spokesman said.

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