Plan to fell ‘internationally important’ trees on Isle of Man for farm access sparks backlash

·3-min read
At least 20 mature elm trees are to be cut down to create a new access road to a farm (Manx Wildlife Trust)
At least 20 mature elm trees are to be cut down to create a new access road to a farm (Manx Wildlife Trust)

Plans to fell two lines of mature elm trees along a road on the Isle of Man to allow the construction of a new driveway to a farm have been strongly criticised by local people and wildlife experts.

The Manx Wildlife Trust described the elm tree tunnel, on a road in St Marks, as being an “internationally important tree landmark”, and said it was one of Europe’s last elm tree tunnels.

A petition calling on the government to step in to save the trees has been signed over 11,000 times in just 20 hours.

Mature elm trees are rare in the UK due to Dutch elm disease, which ravaged the species in the 20th century.

A planning decision allowing for their removal was granted despite the trees being part of a registered woodland with trees over 100 years old.

Furthermore, the period during which the decision could be appealed has already passed, with the Wildlife Trust suggesting the planning application had not been noticed locally until it was too late.

Planning documents seen by The Independent indicate at least 20 mature elm trees will be cut down to allow the construction of a new access road to the farm, as the owners have said the existing entrance onto the road - which has a 50mph speed limit - is dangerous.

TV presenter Chris Packham tweeted that the decision was “an absolute disgrace and whoever granted the permission should have a sit down and a rethink”.

He added: “This is a National natural treasure – not an inconvenience to be destroyed for a farm. Life is not about this five minutes, it’s about the last and next 500 years.”

Nature writer and Robert Macfarlane said: “Elms are nationally scarce, elm tunnels drastically scarce across UK and Europe.”

Leigh Morris, the chief executive of the Manx Wildlife Trust, told The Independent: “Local people have been going ballistic about it. They’re really passionate.”

He said: “It looks like there is a good access point 30 metres up the road which could potentially be made better, which would have less impact on the trees. So it does seem like a dramatic step to put in a completely new road and remove trees on both sides of the road.”

“There are only three avenues like this on the island. These are 100-plus-year-old elm trees, there’s successional planting there, and it’s a special place.”

He said the trust’s “whole sense is that it seems sad they’re being cut down, rather than looking at ways to improve the access that’s already there”.

“These trees have been protected since 1982, so clearly they were deemed significant enough nearly 40 years ago to warrant this designation. But this is happening, and it’s really sad that it is.”

He added: “There’s a bigger issue here around planning, and how planning consultations are put up. The notice for this is pinned on a tree that you’d have to look hard to see. Unless you’re walking along the side of a main road where there’s no footpath, you probably wouldn’t see the notice anyway.”

‘Save St Marks elm trees’, reads a banner in the village where over 20 mature trees are to be chopped down to improve access to a farm (Manx Wildlife Trust)
‘Save St Marks elm trees’, reads a banner in the village where over 20 mature trees are to be chopped down to improve access to a farm (Manx Wildlife Trust)

Planning chairman Martyn Perkins told the BBC that losing the trees was “regrettable” but he claimed replanting other species of tree nearby would “achieve a net biodiversity gain for the area”.

As knowledge of the decision to cut down the trees spread on Thursday, local people put up signs demanding the trees be saved, ManxRadio reports.

Banners reading: “Save St Marks elm trees” and “Don’t axe our elms” were photographed on gates in the village.

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