Higham Ferrers residents campaign to tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree

A petition to save a 400-year-old Higham Ferrers tree from being felled is gathering pace with a petition and plans to tie a yellow ribbon around its trunk.

By Alison Bagley
Wednesday, 15th January 2020, 2:00 pm
Updated Friday, 17th January 2020, 8:42 am

Higham Ferrers-born-and-bred campaigner Justina Bryan discovered that the oak tree she had known all her life as 'The Three Oak' was to be felled because nearby work on the £21 million Chowns Mill junction project might threaten the 'long-term integrity' of some of its roots.

The group has started a petition which has already gathered more than 1,776 signatures and the campaigners will decorate the tree with yellow ribbon and erect a Save Our Oak banner to highlight their campaign.

She said: "The tree is not actually in the way. They say that the tree 'might' be compromised by the work but only might.

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Campaigners Vanessa Penman and Justina Bryan with the 'Three Oak' threatened with felling because of work on the Chowns Mill junction

"I don't think they know how important the tree is as a local landmark on the road from Irthlingborough and Chowns Mill to Higham.

"My mum would always use the Three Oak as a landmark to say she was nearly home. It was used as a marker and was in the old hedgerow. Several people have stories about how their parents showed them the tree."

The tree known locally as 'The Three Oak' has a main trunk which splits into three smaller trunks.

More than 21 metres (70ft) high and approximately five and half metres (18ft) in circumference, the tree used to be on east of the A6, coming into Higham Ferrers in Station Road.

Justina Bryan with the oak tree which is thought to be 400 years old

When the A6 was rebuilt, the tree sat on the west side of the new road, which was raised by more than a metre.

Justina, 46, who now lives in nearby Irthlingborough, said: "The road level was raised a few years ago so it is being lowered to the original level, at which the tree happily survived for all its life.

"It isn't in the way of the new road. It is being cut down in case it is damaged by the lowering of a road to the original level. No investigation has been made into the root plate.

"Somebody planted that tree 400 years ago when James I was king. It's survived this long and once it's gone it will be gone forever.

The 'Three Oak' in Station Road, Higham Ferrers with Justina Bryan and Vanessa Penman

"They have said that the tree will be used for legacy furniture but that's a bit like killing something and keeping a brain in a jar."

Fellow campaigner Vanessa Penman has also signed the petition and has joined forces with Justina to form the 'Save Our Oak' group.

She said: "I'm very much an eco-warrior. I cannot stand the idea of 'veterans' [ancient trees] being cut down.

"We are entitled to breathe air and veterans tend to absorb more carbon.

"I believe that any good architect can design round a tree. There are too many trees being cut down to make money.

"As for 'legacy furniture' there's enough second hand furniture out there you don't need to make it out of an ancient tree."

According to the Woodland Trust a single 400-year-old ancient oak produces 234,000 litres of oxygen a year, and may support more than 2,000 species of bird, insect, fungus, and lichens.

In an email seen by the Northants Telegraph an explanation to why the tree was to be felled was given to Mrs Bryan.

It said: "There has been much discussion about the importance of retaining the local treescape at Chowns Mill to help preserve the current visual aesthetic, maintain the in-situ ecological corridors which act as visual buffers to residents and contribute to natural capital for the local people.

"Sadly, the Oak tree you refer to could not be retained based on the agreed junction design. This is due to the re-alignment of the Station Road approach with a provision of a footway and the fact that road level at this point will be lowered by approximately 1 metre.

"The Design Team felt that even if the main trunk did not conflict with proposals, the root plate would be sufficiently impacted by the extensive excavation in close proximity so the long-term integrity of the tree would be threatened.

"Whilst Highways England of course have an obligation to retain such important features wherever possible, this can only be accomplished when it is safe to do so."

It added: "Whilst I appreciated that you will be disappointed that this particular tree could not be retained we have considered the matter in great detail.

"The tree will be gifted to the nearby Stanwick Lakes Trust, who have great need for such trees for wildlife habitat, they have also committed to using the tree to create long lasting ‘legacy’ furniture around the lakes."

Highways England Project Manager Dean Holloway said: “We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and are one of the largest tree planting organisations in the UK.

"We only cut back or fell trees where it is essential to keep people safe and where it is necessary to allow us to improve journeys.

“Safety is always the priority for Highways England and there is a danger that this oak tree will be at risk of falling once the much-needed work at the Chowns Mill junction is carried out.

“We are still investigating whether there are any options that would enable us to retain the tree and keep pedestrians and road users safe. We will share our findings once all possibilities have been explored.”

Justina added: "The road works are needed but can we at least try to work with the oak in situ?

"It is a sad event and it was not mentioned or discussed prior to the decision being made. The decision seems to be based on potential risk and no exploratory work has been done to investigate the actual risk based on where the roots lay."

Read the Northants Telegraph for more information about the Chowns Mill improvement project.