Rare tree voted second best in England to be felled

A wildlife charity has questioned the decision-making process (pic: Paul Selby)
A wildlife charity has questioned the decision-making process (pic: Paul Selby)
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A rare tree in Sheffield which is home to a threatened butterfly species will be felled despite experts advising it could be saved.

A wildlife charity has criticised the 'disappointing' decision to remove the 120-year-old Huntingdon Elm on Chelsea Road, in Nether Edge.

The elm is home to the threatened white-letter hairstreak butterfly (pic: Ben Keywood)

The elm is home to the threatened white-letter hairstreak butterfly (pic: Ben Keywood)

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust says the tree supports the white-letter hairstreak butterfly, whose numbers have declined by 97 per cent over the last 40 years and is a 'priority species' in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

The elm, which came second in the English Tree of the Year 2016 award, is said to be damaging the pavement.

The Independent Trees Panel, a team of experts set up to advise the council, said it was a 'notable and rare species' and there was a 'strong' case to retain it.

But the council this week announced it was pressing ahead with plans to remove and replace the tree as part of the £2bn Streets Ahead contract to improve the city's roads and pavements.

Campaigners gathered in 2016 to protest against the elm tree's removal

Campaigners gathered in 2016 to protest against the elm tree's removal

The Streets Ahead team said the tree's roots were under the carriageway meaning it would be expensive to retain.

Nicky Rivers, the wildlife charity's living landscape development manager, claimed the butterfly colony would be lost if the tree is removed and said the trust had hoped a way could be found to save it.

"It’s therefore very disappointing to learn that that the panel’s advice from July last year has only just been released and with it a lack of clarity on why the advice was overruled. We will be asking questions about the decision-making process," he said.

Paul Selby, who led the campaign to save the tree, said: "I feel a great deal of anger and sadness at the lack of environmental understanding in this decision. I'll keep campaigning to the very last to save the precious Chelsea Road elm tree, but I fear that its days are now very limited.

"I know I’ll shed many tears when it eventually is felled, as it will be akin to losing a dear friend."

Councillor Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for environment at Sheffield Council, said inspections had shown the tree had 'significant decay' and was causing 'irreparable damage' to the surrounding kerb and pavement.

"Unfortunately, the costs associated with retaining this tree stand at over £50,000 and at a time when council services are already stretched, allocating funds to saving this tree would be unfeasible and moreover, unjust," he added.

"The council has committed to planting two further elm trees on the junction on Chelsea Road, as well as at numerous other locations across the city.

"We understand the concerns around the presence of the white-letter hairstreak butterfly in this tree and we are exploring options that will offer the best chance of protecting and relocating the butterfly and ensuring the council meets its biodiversity duty."