VILLAGERS were left stumped when a 60ft tree which has been growing for more than 100 years was axed in the night without notice.

Bowness residents woke on Friday morning to see a horse chestnut which had been standing for 118 years reduced to an eight foot stump.

It follows a series of incidents where branches have fallen from the iconic tree, located at the roundabout at the bottom of Crag Brow, onto the busy road below - narrowly missing cars and pedestrians.

Bowness resident Louise Broughton said Cumbria County Council (CCC), who decided to chop down the tree following a safety report, should have looked at other options, including cutting back any dangerous branches.

"It's a real shame," she said. "They are ruining the centre of Bowness. I would imagine if anyone was arriving into Bowness thinking this is the Lake District then they would be absolutely appalled.

"There's a lot of trees around the Lake District which have been around for more than 100 years.

"Do the council have any common sense?"

The tree was the last surviving one of three which were planted in 1900.

Jane Bateson, who has set up a Facebook group called 'Rip The Last Of The Bowness Chestnut Trees', said she and many of the local residents, who she says were unaware of any plans to chop it down, were shocked.

"Why couldn't they have just pruned it?," the 49-year-old told The Westmorland Gazette. "I know it's dangerous with the branches but the public weren't told. It was a huge shock for us.

"A lot of people are mad that we weren't told about it but there are some who are saying it should have been cut down a long time ago."

In August 2017 the Gazette reported that Windermere Town Council had recommended a health check was carried out after two branches fell from the tree in July.

There were similar incidents in 2014 and 2010.

At the time clerk Julie Hartley said she would write to CCC to express the town council's concerns about the safety of the tree and its potential threat to life.

But members were keen to look at alternatives to felling - such as clipping it back.

This week she said the council had not been notified of the decision to chop it down - and asked whether a sculpture could be created to tidy up the stump.

"It's such a sensitive issue and they (the council) were aware of that," she said. "It's come up a few times and there's been an outcry. They should have tried hard to let us know."

But she added: "They've got so much on sometimes they forget the obvious which is communication. It's no criticism of any individual. If somebody had been killed then we would be saying how dangerous it was. It's a lose-lose for the council."

The town council was due discuss the topic at its meeting last night (Wednesday).

A CCC spokesperson said there was no plan to replace the axed tree because of its dangerous location at the roundabout.

The report showed that the tree was diseased but the main reason it was removed was due to the road safety aspect, added the spokesperson.

"The disease may well have contributed to the falling branches," the spokesperson said.

"This tree has had several branch failures over the past few years, and due to its location a number of concerns have been raised that a further branch failure could potentially cause serious damage or injury if it fell onto an occupied vehicle or pedestrian.

"Engagement about removing the tree was carried out in August and September last year with Windermere Town Council, Cumbria Police, South Lakeland District Council and the Lake District National Park Authority. Following this, an arboricultural report was completed and the recommendation was that the tree should be removed to eliminate any future risks to highway users.”