End of the road for Higham Ferrers' old Three Oak tree as it makes way for A45 improvements

The seventeen-week campaign failed to save the ancient oak from being felled

Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 3:40 pm

An ancient oak tree that had stood at the edge of Higham Ferrers for centuries has been felled to make way for road improvements to the A45, the campaigner for its preservation confirmed today (Tuesday May,5).

The imminent destruction of the tree known locally as the 'Three Oak' sparked a campaign to save the landmark tree in Station Road from road builders' axes but the news that the tree had not been saved was broken on Friday (May 1).

A survey by tree experts revealed that carriageway improvement excavations could have undermined its root system making it unstable and a potential risk to the public.

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Campaigner Justina Bryan, who lives in Irthlingborough, said: "It's a terrible shame. I did go up on Sunday to say goodbye and I found a sapling so that's good.

"They did it quickly so people didn't get in the way. They just want a clear run at the site. The roots might have been damaged but the risk was very small but there is a culture of eradicating all risk.

"We tried to save it. I'm not going to go back there for a while. It's a terrible shame."

The Save Our Oak campaign started in January led to 6,735 signatures being collected in an online petition and Highway England bosses pledging to see if the tree could be preserved.

Trees are removed from the site close to where the Three Oak stood

A spokesman for Highway England said: "Experts have now completed hi-tech investigation works on an oak tree at the centre of a much-needed road improvement scheme to see whether it can safely be retained.

"A number of options have been explored but specialists have concluded that the tree could be a danger if not removed as part of the £24 million upgrade of the busy A45/A6 Chowns Mill junction in Northamptonshire.

"The investigation works included ground penetrating radar to help map the roots of the tree - known locally as the Three Oaks - which is on the A5028 [formerly the A6] at Higham Ferrers.

"Discussions are now under way to ensure the tree can still be enjoyed by the community with the wood being used as carved park furniture/equipment or put to similar good use."

A specialist tree cutting team were on site in Station Road to clear the area.

Highways England has said it is looking to plant up to 1,500 trees and to create wildflower meadow areas as part of the scheme.

The Chowns Mill junction is being redesigned as a half hamburger layout with a new link road connecting the A6 South and A5028 with the existing roundabout.

All approaches will be widened to provide extra lanes and capacity to help the flow of traffic and ease congestion.

The new road layout will fall within 1.5m of the oak tree and the road will be lowered, to a construction depth of 2m from the existing ground level.

The Three Oak tree

The Highway England spokesman added: "As well as the ground penetrating radar - essentially an x-ray of the existing ground – the investigations involved digging trial holes to examine root spread and see whether the road construction would damage the tree.

"Arboricultural specialists concluded that all of the roots encountered would need to be removed which would impact on the tree’s overall health, potentially leading to tree mortality. Meanwhile severing major roots would make it less stable and a safety hazard.

"The project team also explored changing the road design to protect the tree but due to the root spread, and the size and quantity of roots, it was apparent that the tree would still be destabilised and put public safety at risk."

Outdoor furniture will be made from the tree's wood and be gifted to nearby Stanwick Lakes nature reserve.

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Chowns Mill roundabout takes shape

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The Three Oak was felled yesterday
An computer generated impression of how the junction might look as seen looking towards Higham Ferrers - Station Road is seen at the top of the picture