VILLAGE residents have hit out at the National Trust for chopping up riverside trees.

Much of Buscot, near Faringdon, is owned by the charity, however locals have criticised the decision.

The trust responded by saying the work would ordinarily be phased, however Covid-19 has altered operations.

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Buscot resident Ellen Hopkins said: “The Environment Agency (EA) has threatened the National Trust with legal action if it does not remove trees that could fall into the river.

“In their zeal to avoid prosecution, the National Trust is determined to bring down trees that are not totally diseased and could live for many years to come.

“They pose no threat to boats or fishermen, or other river enthusiasts.

“These important riverside trees are significant to the river landscape and wildlife.

Residents in Buscot are angry after trees were cut down. Picture: Ed Nix

Residents in Buscot are angry after trees were cut down. Picture: Ed Nix

“The roots of these trees are a vital protection of the river banks from erosion during floods.

“The EA gave instructions to the National Trust to clear off overhanging branches which interfered with the waterway.

“However, instead of removing the overhanging branches, entire trees are being cut down.

“Unless the trees are protected, important birds like woodpeckers will have their habitats destroyed.”

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Richard Watson, countryside manager for the Buscot and Coleshill estates, said what is happening is a traditional practice.

He said: “At the National Trust, we care hugely about the trees we look after.

“In line with recommended tree management practice, we have pollarded the willows along a stretch of the Thames near Buscot.

“This traditional practice involves cutting back riverbank willows to the height of two to three metres and is carried out on a regular cycle of approximately ten years.

Riverside trees in Buscot. Picture: Ed Nix

Riverside trees in Buscot. Picture: Ed Nix

“Whilst it can look severe, pollarding encourages regrowth and prolongs the life of the trees.

“It doesn’t affect the tree’s root system and it preserves veteran features in the trunk for insects to inhabit – and hollows in which birds such as woodpeckers can nest.

“Ordinarily the works would be phased and so less noticeable, but this year, Covid restrictions have meant that contractors have had to complete the work all at once.”

An EA spokesman said: “Fast-growing trees like the willows at Buscot can cause a problem if branches and leaves fall into the water.

“Unstable or overhanging trees may also damage the river bank.

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“Individual trees are only removed as a last resort, if pruning doesn’t reduce an obvious risk.

“This work by the National Trust is part of our ongoing maintenance programme to ensure the river is kept free from obstructions.

“These can create a flood-risk for local residents, or a safety hazard for boats and other river users.”