Plea to save trees as council defends Upper Achintore felling plan

TREE PROTEST Protestors object to council proposals to cut down mature trees around the former Upper Achintore site. Picture Iain Ferguson, alba.photos

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Highland Council has defended the planned removal of more than 30 mature native trees a part of its own development of 37 units of social housing on the site of the former primary school at Zetland Avenue in the Upper Achintore area of Fort William.

Planning committee members approved an application for full consent back in July with the condition that the applicant – the council – carried out a survey which identified 24 of these trees identified as being in either ‘poor condition’ or of ‘low quality’.

A Highland Council spokesperson told the Lochaber Times: ‘The development proposals do include the removal of 31 trees but, of these, three are category U (trees unsuitable for retention due to poor condition) and 21 are category C (trees of low quality).’

The spokesperson added that there is also an approved Landscape Plan which includes the planting of 81 standard sized broadleaves trees, 21 conifers, 227 hedge plants and 472 shrubs as part of the development.

The council’s forestry officer’s assessment of the proposals deemed the level of tree removals against the proposed tree retentions and new planting to be acceptable.

The 31 trees affected comprise one crack willow, seven silver birch, 11 goat willow, 11 alder and one ash.

A mature copse of trees which is to be cut down. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F41 Tree protest 02
A mature copse of trees which is to be cut down. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos
NO F41 Tree protest 02

But local resident Kevin Hickman says given the climate emergency, as many mature trees as possible need to be preserved.

‘Highland Council passed the plans for the Upper Achintore site and then the plans were changed with no apparent consultation and the trees getting destroyed came about because of the change,’ Mr Hickman claimed.

‘The change was made to accommodate a suds drainage basin. Why would they need one as there has never been a need for one before? Is it because they  are worried that removing the peat will cause flooding if the houses on Cow Hill are built?

‘The large stands of trees should have been incorporated into the plans for the site. Trees are important for capturing and storing carbon, as we all we should know by now, so it is inconceivable that they are proposing to cut down these trees when they have declared a climate emergency.

‘Also it is recognised that trees and all of nature are important for our wellbeing so the residents in the new build will be in a concrete jungle without them. Also birds, insects and mammals call the trees home.’

According to one local resident who attended this week’s meeting of the Upper Achintore Regeneration Group on Monday, the architect involved in the project agreed to review the fate of several of the trees earmarked for felling but he still felt too many were being designated for removal.

He added: ‘The removal of 31 trees seems excessive. It may be that the council in Lochaber is out of step with regard to current environmental issues and falling behind public opinion and that of residents.

‘The council should have a policy and guidelines on environmental issues and how development affects sustainability and the carbon footprint in Highland.

‘If a policy does exist, it should be made more public – for example, criteria on felling trees and removal of peat for developments such as at the top of the hill at Upper Achintore.

‘ In any natural forest there are new, mature, and also decaying trees, and the latter are important as they encourage to biodiversity by encouraging insects, birds, fungi and lichens.

‘What there is at the moment is a mini nature reserve and the natural elements of the landscapes will be removed or downgraded.’