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Campaigners celebrate new reprieve in battle to save cherished Thurston oaks

Cherished oak trees at the centre of a battle between campaigners and developers will not be axed before September, it was revealed on Wednesday.

A crunch meeting on the future of mature oak trees in Thurston saw housing developers Persimmon Homes agree not to fell the trees immediately but their eventual fate is still uncertain, with a further meeting planned at the end of July.

On Wednesday, campaigners and residents met representatives from Persimmon, Mid Suffolk District Council, Extinction Rebellion Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Police and Suffolk Highways.

Thurston residents are protesting against the plans to fell oak trees by Persimmon Homes on Ixworth road..Pictured: Richard Halliwell...PICTURE: Mecha Morton ... (36795890)
Thurston residents are protesting against the plans to fell oak trees by Persimmon Homes on Ixworth road..Pictured: Richard Halliwell...PICTURE: Mecha Morton ... (36795890)

Laura Fellows, of Extinction Rebellion, said she felt optimistic after Persimmon Homes said they were ‘flexible’ during discussions regarding rerouting a footpath.

“But they’re really set on taking away at least one of the trees at the junction for the estate,” said Laura.

“However, we have got another stay of execution, which is good.”

Wednesday’s meeting came as an online petition to save the trees reached 5,500 signatures.

The petition is the work of campaigners from the village, supported by Extinction Rebellion Bury, which has already successfully lobbied for utilities to be rerouted into the road and around the trees.

The trees stand on land to the west of Ixworth Road owned by Persimmon, which has planning permission to build 250 houses.

As part of the plans a new footpath and cycleway would be built along the line of trees and hedgerows, most of which have already been removed.

Campaigners working to save the remaining oak trees are concerned the area is conservation habitat for bats and other species.

They have conducted a bat survey focusing on the three oldest remaining trees. Data is still being analysed, but campaigners say there was activity from at least five bat species recorded across the trees.

The dispute began in March, when Persimmon started removing trees and hedges. Residents voiced their disapproval and, as lockdown started, work was put on hold.

On June 1, protesters attached themselves to trees as contractors arrived to cut them down.

A resulting temporary stay preventing the felling of the oaks ended on Wednesday.

On May 22, residents received a letter outlining plans to resume work on June 1.

The letter said one oak tree would be spared and talks to save others were ongoing, but those nearest the site entrance must go.

On May 28, Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds tweeted ‘beyond the two trees being taken down for safety reasons, all other remaining trees should be left untouched’.

A Persimmon spokesman said: “We are pleased with the constructive discussions that have taken place and remain open-minded about all options for the footpath. We will continue to work with all parties to seek a mutually acceptable solution.”

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