A DECISION to significantly cut back trees close the the County Ground has come under fire.

Tree surgeons have removed the upper branches from the line of black poplars, after an ecological survey found they were diseased with a fungus known as spindle shank.

The disease had hit the roots of the trees, with the borough saying work to remove branches was necessary to prevent them falling on to the footpaths below. At least one tree had to be completely felled.

But the pollarding of the poplar trees has proved unpopular with residents, who have linked the cutting-down of the trees with the development of a new all-weather pitch and pavilion on the green space behind the football stadium.

One Shrivenham Road woman, who did not want to be named but has lived in the area for 15 years, said: “I’m really angry about it. Those trees are mature and majestic. It seems coincidental that a lot of people in this area are totally against the building of the football pitches.”

Siobhan Latouche, 31, of the town centre, said the trees now looked very bare, adding: “They were nice to look at and walk under in the autumn.”

Queen’s Drive mum Kelly Baker, 37, added: “They were much prettier before.”

But Keith Guyatt, 64, said: “If there was a fungus there, you’ve got to cut back the trees.”

Swindon Borough Council rubbished suggestions that the trees had been chopped down to make way for the 3G pitch facilities. But it acknowledged a link between the new development and the work on the trees.

A spokesman said: “The work, which is being undertaken by our own arboricultural officers outside of the bird nesting season, has nothing to do with the new facilities being created. However, the issues with the large poplar did come to light as a result of a report commissioned as part of the planning application for the pitch and pavilion.”

He added: “We are not in the habit of chopping down trees just for the sake of it. We only remove trees if it is absolutely necessary and the black poplar in this case was found to be structurally unsafe due to a fungus that has affected the roots.

“We will also be reducing the height of the remaining trees to avoid the risk of branches falling, which is a known issue with this species of tree.”