ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners are calling for Reading Borough Council to rethink plans to remove mature chestnut trees on a historic riverside walk.

The council will this month remove and replace eighteen mature chestnut trees on Chestnut Walk, a riverside walk next to the Abbey Ruins.

The trees are suffering from canker, fungal brackets and other defects, and council inspections found they are a risk to public safety.

Four have been felled previously for the same reason, with work to fell the remaining horse chestnuts set to begin on February 17.

Councillor Karen Rowland, RBC’s lead member for Culture, Heritage and Recreation warned that, if the trees are not removed, “a branch could fall over and kill a child”.

RBC will replace the failing trees with “more resistant” sweet chestnut trees, re-tarmac the route and introduce pedestrian lighting and CCTV at Chestnut Walk.

Campaigners have called for the trees to be pollard – a type of pruning involving the removal of the upper branches of a tree – or individual trees that are dangerous to be replaced.

Steve Goodman, a concerned campaigner, said: “I am appalled to learn that three months after RBC accidentally cut down nearly a thousand trees planted by myself and other volunteers in Palmer Park, we are now apparently about to lose all of the valuable magnificent mature trees forming the historic Chestnut Walk.

“I question the claimed unavoidability of that decision, and strongly suggest that far less damaging options remain available which may prevent Reading being added to the list of local authorities found to have needlessly destroyed trees wrongly said to be dangerously diseased.”

Claire Hawkins, of Extinction Rebellion Bracknell, added: “RBC has declared that there is a climate and ecological emergency. They need to act on it.

“Destroying mature trees should not be part of that plan. Not only are these trees of significant historic value (Oscar Wilde saw them from the Gaol), very old trees support unique ecosystems already under threat of extinction from man-made climate change.”

Cllr Rowland said all angles have been explored, including pollarding.

She said: “We have looked at the situation from all angles. It is not a decision we take lightly. I am very much a tree lover too.

“Nobody could be sadder than me. It kills me. I have to make tough decisions. It is all part of managing trees in an urban setting.”

The culture, heritage and recreation lead councillor said the alternative to removing the trees in one go would be random removals of trees as they come into total failure and continuously closing the walk.

She added: “It is becoming unsafe there.”

The council’s policy committee agreed to remove and replace the trees at a meeting in September 2019, with Green councillors backing the plan.

Cllr Rowland pointed out that trees along Coley Avenue had been there since the 1700s and were removed and replaced around one hundred years ago.

She said: “We can thank those people for making that decision one hundred years ago. In due course people are going to thank us.”

(Article originally appeared in The Reading Chronicle.)