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The Sycamore* Chainsaw Massacre

Richard Bell’s Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Tuesday, 23rd December 2008


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fruit bowl

A WOMAN rings me, upset that, on the route of one of my Walks around Horbury, 50 sycamores* have just been felled and the trunks used to block access (as I understand it) to an old railway to prevent lads with motorbikes getting up there.


Could we stage a protest and call in the local paper? Could we get a tree preservation order drawn up and take it to the planning department?


Well, yes, we could do both of those and it might make us feel as if we were doing something but it probably wouldn’t save a single tree. You can’t preserve every tree and sometimes when landowners are served with tree preservation orders on particular trees they make sure that every tree not covered is removed before it too grows to the dimensions at which it would qualify for legal protection. I guess that here in densely wooded Coxley Valley there isn’t a single T.P.O. in place.

Besides, from a brief description of what’s going on, I can see both sides. The men who’ve done the felling have restored some once derelict buildings associated with an old woollen mill and you can imagine how they feel, moving somewhere for the peace and quiet when the local lads on motorbikes use the old railway adjacent as a race track.

Like the woman who phoned me, I hate the sound of chainsaws. I think ‘which of my favourite ashes, birches, willows or sycamores is going this time?’ Oaks rarely seem to get the chainsaw treatment as they’re not so invasive (or, as I’d prefer to put it, they’re not primary colonisers).


I try to reassure her by telling her of the large willows and sycamores in a delightful little corner alongside Smithy Brook below the old grey railway viaduct. I was heartbroken to see them felled but now, only a year or two later, that little corner looks better than ever with ground flora returning and vigorous new growth springing from around the old stumps. Even the Himalayan balsam can’t compete. A spot of felling, provided it’s not followed by bulldozing of the stumps, can rejuvenate a small patch of ‘unofficial’ woodland.

When I was a school boy bananas were my favourite fruit; ‘Are you eating another?!’ exclaimed my mum, ‘They don’t grow on trees, you know!’

* I’ve since been told that they were silver birches.