Exclusive: Tree-felling leaves top landowner and Trust at loggerheads

IT HAS been a retirement dream which has been in the pipeline for almost a decade for one of Yorkshire’s wealthy landowners.

Robert Staveley embarked on an ambitious project to build a new home on the outskirts of the North Yorkshire village of Mickley, near Ripon, with the aim of restoring the landscape near where he grew up.

But he has found himself embroiled in a dispute with the National Trust after undertaking a woodland project close to the multi-million pound property.

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Mr Staveley has admitted work to fell trees in the wood at Mickley Barras, which falls within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and 10 miles north of the World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey, had encroached onto National Trust land.

However, he hopes to resolve the dispute when he meets Trust officials next week. He claimed he made the error after basing boundaries on maps dating from the late 18th century.

He said: “This has been my retirement dream to give something back to the landscapes and community where I grew up. I have already apologised and hopefully the National Trust will undertake a similar scheme to restore their part of the woodland. To fell a tree is a sin in many people’s eyes, but the work will improve the woodland’s flora and fauna.”

Mr Staveley, whose daughter, Amanda, 38, once dated Prince Andrew and brokered the takeover of Manchester City by the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, secured a licence and a £3,500 grant from the Forestry Commission to help finance the project.

The Forestry Commission confirmed it has requested work is halted until the boundary dispute is resolved.

Mr Staveley, who set up the Lightwater Valley theme park, near Ripon, before selling the lease in the mid-1990s, claimed about 15 sycamores had been felled – including two trees on the National Trust land.

But the scheme has angered villagers in Mickley who believe he has pushed ahead with the work in a bid to carry out game shoots in the wood. Azerley Parish Council’s chairman, Reg Merrin, has lived in the village for the last 30 years with his wife, Dorothy. Mr Merrin, 72, said: “It is a wonderful woodland that has remained untouched for many years. It looks as though he has gone in there with a bulldozer, and it has angered a lot of people in the village. It does seem strange that the Forestry Commission would grant a licence for work on land that is not even owned by Mr Staveley.”

The Forestry Commission stressed the grant has yet to be paid, and maintained successful funding bids depend on applicants providing accurate information. The money had been awarded to thin out 40 per cent of a two-and-a-half acre area of the wood to increase bio-diversity, as well as creating a 220-yard track to remove felled timber.

Mr Staveley bought the nearby land in 2002. There, he built his home on the site of a former dairy farm after a five-year legal wrangle for planning permission. Construction took two years and Mr Staveley moved in earlier this year. His son, James, 37, now lives at nearby North Stainley Hall, where his father grew up and which has been in the family since 1516.

Mr Staveley admitted the restored woodland could be used for shoots, but maintained it is part of wider efforts to improve the landscape by planting native trees and shrubs. He secured his part of the wood through land swaps with a local farmer over the past two years to add to his family’s extensive portfolio. That is centred on North Stainley and stretches across about 1,500 acres. The Trust bought the 19-acre Mickley Barras wood – part of an estate once owned by John and then William Aislabie, who created Studley Royal Water Garden – in 1995.

The Trust’s general manager for Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, Chris Fowler, said: “We noticed a contractor had been onto land at Mickley Barras that is owned by the National Trust and carried out a considerable amount of work without any authority from ourselves. We are in discussions with the relevant parties to resolve the issue.”