OUTRAGED neighbours, councillors and environmental activists have joined forces to save 97 protected trees from being cut down.

Plans by Backhouse Housing to build 65 homes on the outskirts of Highworth sparked protests after revisions revealed that part of a copse containing mature trees would be felled to construct the development.

The town council recommended that the Redlands Park plans be refused after noticing that Backhouse intends to ignore Tree Preservation Orders and destroy wildlife habitats when constructing the new housing.

Coun Maureen Penny said: “This copse is an important feature in the local environment, It’s home to a lot of wildlife including bats, badgers, foxes, deer, slow worms and 60 species of bird – many of which are on the threatened ‘red’ list.

“With a deepening ecological crisis, the last thing we want is for so many protected and mature trees to be cut down.”

A cavalcade of comments objecting to the plans have been written by more than 100 people in Highworth. Ray Cox of Stonefield Drive has lived in the town for over 40 years.

He said: “We are very concerned about the destruction of the copse because it would be a great loss to the area and alter the character of the town. When you approach our hilltop town, the first thing you see is the trees.

“We do need housing but this is not the proper site for what has been proposed, it’s unsustainable.”

Swindon Earth Strike, Swindon Climate Action Network, Extinction Rebellion Swindon, Transition Swindon and the Swindon Green Party teamed up to create the Save Redlands Copse campaign.

In addition to councillor’s concerns, they have wider problems about developers building on greenfield sites.

Jon Timbrell of Swindon Earth Strike said: “There are 47 brownfield sites in Swindon which have enough room for thousands of new homes,

“These sites should be filled up before anyone starts building on greenfield sites and felling trees because there are wider environmental implications. It’s absolutely fantastic that so many people and groups have objected to this and want to save this green space.”

The site is allocated for development in the town’s local plan but Backhouse’s original plans indicated that the protected trees would be preserved.

Some of the trees would be kept but there are fears that they would dangerously close to the new properties.

A reserved matters application sent in to address concerns about the outline plans did not pass muster with Highworth councillors who noted that its wildlife corridors did not lead anywhere and a biodiversity report was not included.

Head of the council’s planning committee Julie Murphy said: “We were very disappointed with the plans. They didn’t seem to have the knowledge of the amount of trees that were being taken down. There was very strong feeling amongst councillors that the developers need to go away and rethink things.

“These trees take years to grow, you can’t just chop them down and replace them in a few days. We will do our best to be heard because we know there are strong feelings in the town about this.”

A Backhouse Housing spokesman said: “We have received positive feedback on our overall approach, however our proposal does involve the removal of some existing trees in order to deliver the best possible development and we are aware of concerns about this.

“In light of the comments received from the town council and local residents we will continue to review our proposals in collaboration with the various stakeholders and in particular with a focus on the potential impact of removing these trees.”

“As a design-led housebuilder, we are delighted to have purchased this fantastic site at Redlands in Highworth. We are committed to producing an outstanding area of new housing for Highworth and have produced the current proposed layout following detailed discussions with officers at Swindon Borough Council and a meeting with Highworth Town Council.”

The plans will come back to Highworth Town Council for scrutiny once Backhouse have reviewed all the comments.