York Museums Trust has been given the go-ahead by the council to fell the cedar of Lebanon tree – planted by Sarah Ferguson three years after her marriage to Prince Andrew – after submitting an application stating it is on sensitive archaeological remains and is inappropriate aesthetically as it blocks views in the Museum Gardens.
Critics have said the application has only been made because it restricts a seating stand for the upcoming Mystery Plays, which run throughout August and have the Archbishop of York as an official patron.
The director of knowledge and learning at York Museums Trust, Martin Watts, yesterday said the tree would be pruned to allow access to seats during the plays, and felled when they come to an end in September.
“We know the tree has Royal and ceremonial connections and it is very unfortunate that we have had to apply to have it removed,” he said. “However, we believe it is justified and necessary to take these steps.
“The tree is only 20 years old and in the coming years it will grow much bigger – both above ground but also its root run beneath the surface. As the roots grow they will disturb much more of the archaeology of St Mary’s Abbey underneath the surface.
“St Mary’s Abbey is a Scheduled Ancient Monument which York Museums Trust is trusted to look after to the best of its ability.
“We have sought professional advice on this and they have recommended that the tree should be removed to minimise any more damage.
“We also believe the tree is not in keeping with the original design of the gardens, where views and vistas were carefully thought out and created by Sir John Naysmith in the 19th century.
“When this species of tree grows it will obliterate the fantastic view of St Mary’s Abbey from a number of angles.”
The plays are a significant part of York’s rich heritage and were first performed in the city in the 14th century.
The production, which features a cast of 500 led by Ferdinand Kingsley, the son of Sir Ben who will be playing God and Jesus, and former Coronation Street villain Graeme Hawley as the Devil, is the first time the plays have been performed in the Museum Gardens since 1988.
More than 36,000 people are set to attend.