RESIDENTS are fighting to stop the felling of hundreds of trees in the heart of the New Forest.
The operation, which kicked off yesterday (Wednesday0, is to chainsaw up to 500 trees in a ribbon of woodland just south of Burley near Burbush car park.
The work on the half-hectare site at Slap Bottom is being carried out by Scottish and Southern Electricity Network and Forestry England, which says it is to secure open heathland habitat and protect a row of powerlines.
But a group of villagers is resisting the scheme saying the trees should be saved to help absorb carbon in the atmosphere, which is blamed by scientists for climate change.
Objector John Carter, whose property adjoins the site, told the A&T: “It’s not the right thing to be doing at the moment. There’s pressure nationally and globally not to cut down trees. They are doing a very good job absorbing carbon.
“We’re also losing a very interesting and useful habitat for all sorts of wildlife. There are two sides to this question.”
Opponents have recruited the support of Sir Desmond Swayne, the Conservative general election candidate for New Forest West.
Sir Desmond posted a video on Facebook agreeing the move was “crazy”, saying: “This is a time when political parties are pledging to plant millions of trees, indeed billions more trees, in order to combat climate change.
“It’s time to be planting trees, not felling them.”
Burley parish councillor Robert Clarke added: “We feel this scheme has been put in hand without proper examination, explanation or justification.”
Forestry England said it had consulted local bodies and residents before gaining a felling licence from Natural England, mostly for birch and Scots pine.
The willow would be coppiced for regrowth and the timber used for local supplies, said a spokesperson – who pointed out the body had planted 6-million trees last year.
She added: “There is often a perception that tree felling is bad, but it’s a key part of good woodland management. Harvesting trees provides the wood that we all use in our daily lives and promotes healthy forests.
“What’s best for the area varies from place to place, and we need to be thinking not just about carbon emissions, but also about biodiversity, water quality, flood management, air quality, recreation and public health.”
Tree-planting has become an election issue with Labour promising to plant 2-billion trees by 2040; the Green Party 700-million by 2030; the Lib Dems 60 million a year; and the Conservatives at least 30-million more every year.
Jack Davies, of the Liberal Democrats, backed the felling, saying: “Tackling climate change isn’t all about the number of trees, it’s about effective management of existing habitats and the Conservative candidate should listen to the experts on this issue rather than pontificate for political gain.”
Labour’s Jo Graham said: “Responsible forestry management informs Labour’s ambitious tree planting programme. As well as fixing carbon we will be re-wilding the countryside, restoring habitats, supporting biodiversity and improving all our wellbeing.”
Green Party candidate Nick Bubb said he wanted to hear Forestry England’s reasoning before “jumping on the bandwagon”, adding: “As a Green Party candidate of course I am in favour of tree planting. However, this must go hand in hand with long term planning and management.”
Mr Carter told the A&T his next step would be to lobby government ministers to step in and stop the activity.