A historic avenue of horse chestnut trees has been felled after a council claimed they were a ‘public threat’.
The trees, on Tooting Common in London, had been standing for 140 years, but were chopped down despite a petition with more than 6,500 signatures.
Horse chestnut trees are being felled across the country over concerns about disease, despite expert advice that they could be left standing with careful pruning. Scientists warn they could all but disappear from the landscape within 15 years.
Chestnut Avenue in Tooting Bec was renowned for its Horse Chestnut Trees which have been chopped down in what has been described as the Tooting Chainsaw Massacre
Workers arrived at the scene, pictured before the massacre, to remove the 51 trees
The council claimed they had no choice but to remove the 51 trees from the avenue
It took workers armed with chainsaws almost 12 hours to remove the 51 trees from the area of Tooting Common known to generations of local families as Chestnut Avenue.
Wandsworth Council said they were removed due to a killer disease called bleeding canker, a pest called the leaf miner moth and their advanced age.
However independent tree risk assessor Jeremy Barrell said most of the trees had the potential to live for another 50 to 80 years and did not need to be felled for safety reasons.
Mr Barrell, who has closely examined the trees on three occasions, said: ‘I will stake my professional reputation on there being no defensible safety reason to remove these trees.
‘The council said they were dying, which they were not. The council said they were unsafe, which they were not in any obvious way, and the sound wood in the stumps left behind confirms this.
‘The issue could have been dealt with by pruning the branches if they were overlong. The council seized on one event a couple of years ago where a tree fell down as meaning they might all fall down, but that is contrary to tree risk assessment principles.’
Yet locals expressed anger that so many trees had to be removed by contractors
Some claimed the council wanted to remove the 140-year-old trees as a cost saving measure
The council released footage which they claimed showed a tree which had been diseased
Tree felling by local authorities is increasingly controversial, with opponents claiming it is done to save money. Last month Environment Secretary Michael Gove attacked plans to axe thousands of trees in Sheffield, saying it would damage ‘our children’s rightful inheritance’.
Protesters arrived at sunrise on Tuesday for the latest round of felling in London. Francine Forde, who lives locally, said: ‘These trees were environmentally important to animals such as birds and squirrels and provided important protection from city pollution in London.
‘The tree-lined avenue was beautiful and generations of families grew up learning to ride their bicycles below those trees. Now it is completely bare.’
Councils order the removal of horse chestnuts for fear that diseased branches might break off and injure passers-by.
Some of those on Tooting Common were infested with leaf miners – a moth which arrived in Britain from Greece in 2002 on a lorry and has ravaged the country’s trees, causing their leaves to turn brown and drop.
Yet, locals maintained that many of the trees were entirely healthy and should have been saved
The insect also makes mature trees more vulnerable to bleeding canker, which leaves weeping sores on their bark and is also said to have been present in the London trees.
Professor Stephen Woodward of Aberdeen University, one of the country’s leading experts on tree diseases, has said it is ‘plausible’ that almost all of Britain’s horse chestnuts could be wiped out within 15 years.
Mr Barrell says horse chestnuts across the country are diseased but do not necessarily need to be felled. However Wandsworth Council said Mr Barrell had not got close enough to the trees to make a proper observation.
A council spokesman said: ‘No-one wants to lose large trees needlessly, and we fully recognise this has been an upsetting day for some local residents, but what today has confirmed is that many of these trees were in a very poor and rotten condition and structurally weak and without intervention they would soon have begun posing a serious threat to the public.’
Officials say a tree had already toppled without warning and promised to replace those removed with 64 semi-mature trees by the end of the week.