A MOVE to cut down hundreds of trees to make way for new flood defences has split Kendal residents.

The plans have sparked a furious outcry by protestors who say the trees, many of which are mature specimens, are an essential and well loved feature of the town and that alternative flood defence plans have not been fully explored.

But flood defence campaigners, while expressing regret at the fate of the trees, are adamant the work is essential to ensure there will be no repeat of the devastation wrought by Storm Desmond in 2015.

The situation came to the fore this week when red markings were sprayed on the threatened trees, sparking fears among protestors that the axe would son fall on them and prompting a sense of urgency on both sides as feelings began to run high.

Rumour and counter rumour circulated over who was responsible for the red markings, but both South Lakeland District Council and the Environment Agency confirmed to The Westmorland Gazette that they were not responsible for the markings.

And the protestors too denied they were behind them, so the person or persons responsible remains a mystery.

But the incident highlighted the issue, which comes after a long running campaign by residents to press for a comprehensive flood defence system for Kendal in the wake of the events of 2015.

This major programme of work looked to be a step nearing commencing when comprehensive plans were submitted to South Lakeland District Council by the Environment Agency at the end of last month.

However, a number of residents have expressed their shock and alarm when the documents contained in a section under the heading 'Tree Survey and Arboricultural Assessment' revealed plans to remove a total of 779 trees.

The protestors, many of whom live in the area directly affected by the 2015 flooding, have claimed this represents a devastating loss to the town.

Kate Willshaw said the plans envisaged a large number of trees to be removed from Aynam Road, along with a long line of trees along the A6 on both sides of Mint Bridge including a number which screen the Morrisons supermarket.

She stressed that a large proportion of the trees had stood for generations and in her opinion were part of the fabric of Kendal.

Dr Willshaw pointed out that without the completion of upstream work, for which full funding had not yet been secured, the linear work would not provide the full '1 in 400 years event' flood protection.

She added that the planning application suggested the linear work offered protection to only 170 of the 2,150 homes which were affected by Storm Desmond, and she said she was not convinced that other avenues had been explored in respect of flood defence.

"It seems odd that a solution to the flooding problem cannot be engineered without chopping down so many trees," she said.

"This project does appear to be destroying a well loved part of Kendal's environment in order to save it."

She has set up a Facebook page entitled 'Save Kendal's Riverside Trees' which has already gained 190 'likes' and says she has been amazed at the support she has received, some of it from residents directly affected by the 2015 floods.

However, members of the flood action groups in the area which were formed in the aftermath of the Storm Desmond devastation said while there was genuine sadness at the loss of the trees, there was no alternative to the plans if the chances of a repeat of the 2015 devastation were to be minimised.

"It is unfortunate that the trees will be lost but there are families living in fear of the river flooding and it is surely the priority to reassure those people they will be safe," said Sinead McCann, co-chair of the Benson and Sandes Flood Action Group.

Ms McCann also explained that the linear defences in the town which the removal of the trees will facilitate was first phase of a longer co-ordinated strategy which will later include catchment storage and the delay and reduction of river flow, and it was important this first phase was in place.

"This is a very emotive issue but I hope it does not become a divisive issue because the people of Kendal need to stand together," she said.

And an Environment Agency spokesperson stressed that a replanting scheme was an integral part of the plans and this scheme would ensure there would be more trees after its completion than at the start of the work.

“Once the scheme is complete there will be more trees in Kendal than before we started," said the spokesperson.

"Reducing the impact on trees through the town has been a key consideration in the scheme design.

"We have undertaken detailed surveys of the trees currently present to assess their importance from an ecological and landscape perspective, and wherever possible we have altered the alignment to take account of this.

"However it is unavoidable that a number of trees that currently sit within the footprint of the scheme or within the required working area will need to be removed during the construction phase.

“Our policy dictates that all of our schemes must result in a net biodiversity gain so that the natural environment in the local area is improved as a result of our works.

"We will therefore be planting many more trees as compensation for those lost.

"We are working with SLDC’s tree officer and professional arboriculturalists to ensure we replace any trees we have to remove as close to where they have been lost as we can, and to also identify areas for additional tree planting.”

A spokesperson for South Lakeland District Council said: “Our officers will make an assessment of the impact of the Environment Agency’s scheme on trees and hedgerows.

"That detailed information will then be put to the planning committee in the same way all planning applications are considered.”