Fears for replanted ancient woodland Mark Branagan and Sheena Hastings TV presenter Selina Scott is taking a starring role in the battle to protect an ancient Yorkshire woodland – bursting with blue bells and wildlife – which objectors fear will be torn apart by the felling of nearly 500 trees.
Miss Scott and other residents living in the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are stunned at plans by local landowner and tourist attraction the Newburgh Priory Estate to harvest Craykeland Wood at Coxwold, near Thirsk.
The estate applied to fell 1,020 trees – including oak and ash – over 25 acres, about a third of the wood. Following protests by residents and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the number of trees has been reduced to 471, including 428 sycamores, 29 ash and 14 oaks, over eight acres.
But Miss Scott argues that if the Forestry Commission grants the licence it will show itself "above the law" because of its duties under the Countryside and Wildlife Act and is stunned the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team is supporting the proposals.
Miss Scott, 55, the former newsreader and golden girl of breakfast TV, now fronting a countryside show broadcast in the South, said: "The AONB say in their management plan they want to encourage sympathetic felling.
"What's sympathetic about knocking down all these trees and ripping the hill apart? Even though it has come down to below 500 it will still devastate the wood.
"We have lost far too much over the past 20 to 30 years in this country. These ancient woodland site is simply the kind of landscape feature we have so readily given up in the past.
"That's why it's important it is saved now. Not for us but for future generations. There are bats everywhere at night. In spring it is end to end blue with blue bells."
Robert Masheder, senior conservation officer for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, said: "We are not opposed to felling broad leafed woodlands, but this is a site of replanted ancient woodlands. It has all the ground flora and fauna associated with ancient woodland but a different tree canopy on top."
He fears approving the felling could lead to more applications over the next 10 years until all the mature trees are gone, turning the eco-clock back nearly a century.
Newburgh Priory once belonged to the Earls of Fauconberg and is now the home of Sir George and Lady Wombwell who open the Priory – reputedly the burial place of Oliver Cromwell – to visitors in summer. No one from the estate was available for comment.
The Forestry Commission says after felling a century ago, the wood was replanted mostly with non-native sycamores. The estate wanted to re-establish the original mix of 70 per cent oak, 20 per cent ash, and 10 per cent other native species.
Specific trees would be left standing that are important to the woodland's bats, and the felling plan included protecting the badgers and other wildlife. The pattern had been adjusted to fit in better with the surrounding landscape.
A spokesman said: "The work will bring a number of benefits, such as the restoration of a native woodland on an ancient woodland site, and greater variety of species and ages of trees, which attracts a greater variety of wildlife and makes the woodland a more secure habitat for wildlife.
"Forestry works can, by their nature, appear unsightly for a time. However, nature is a great self-healer, and the site will begin to green up again within a few months as woodland grasses, flowers, and other plants start to regenerate, followed by the new young trees springing up."
But another objector, Mrs Chris Tomlinson, said: "It's alarming also that these 'guardians of our countryside' are so complacent. The FC statement that the site will recover in a few months is simply not true."