Prince Philip turns on 'tree-huggers' over felling plans

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The Independent Online

The Duke of Edinburgh has reignited the row over his stewardship of Windsor Great Park after describing conservationists as "tree-huggers" for opposing his plans to fell a stand of ancient limes.

The Duke of Edinburgh has reignited the row over his stewardship of Windsor Great Park after describing conservationists as "tree-huggers" for opposing his plans to fell a stand of ancient limes.

He revealed in a BBC documentary that he wanted to remove up to a dozen of the trees which are home to some of the rarest insects in Britain.

Prince Philip, who is also patron of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, described the 400-year-old trees as "a few decrepit old things".

His comments have rekindled the controversy 10 years ago when as Ranger of the Park he ordered 63 mature oaks to be cut down, prompting calls for the Royal Family to be stripped of its Crown immunity from prosecution. This means he can ignore the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and does not have to comply with legislation relating to sites of special scientific interest.

"There is nothing to stop them doing just what they want to," said Matt Shardlow, conservation director of Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Trust. "If history is not to repeat itself then we may need some visible public opposition to prevent more trees coming down. These are ancient trees and their special vintage beetles are as much a part of our heritage as the stones and mortar of Windsor Castle. Damage to this internationally important habitat would be a serious crime if done by any other landowner."

In the BBC series, The Queen's Castle, broadcast on Sundays, 83-year-old Prince Philip is shown touring the grounds of Windsor in a Land Rover. Berating the Crown Estate, which has to be consulted on decisions, he remarks: "There is a circle of limes which I want to take down, which ... they want to keep. I can't understand why."

He adds: "When Queen Anne's drive was damaged by wind and one thing and another, I came to the conclusion that the only thing for it, was to replant it.

"Well we were taking some of them down and, whereupon the tree huggers from Newbury by-pass, they descended on us some time ago and made the most appalling fuss to the extent that it's been almost impossible to take down dead trees. Or even to remove dead branches.

"All hell broke loose amongst the tree-huggers and all the people who thought we were destroying the oak trees. I mean can you imagine, a few decrepit old things, and a few that were planted in the wrong place? It seemed absolutely crazy not to straighten it out and, as I say, we planted 1,000 oaks. So what's wrong with that?"

Environmentalists will find it hard to dismiss Prince Philip's comments as just another gaffe.

Windsor is the most important site for saproxylic (dead wood) insects in Britain. It is home to 10 rare species of saproxylic beetle and is one of only three sites for the violet click beetle (Limoniscus violaceus), a protected species.

Dead wood from the limes provides a unique breeding ground for insects including the woodwasp soldierfly (Xylomya maculata), the cranefly (Ctenophora ornata) and the stag beetle (Lucanus cerusis). The wood is also important for rare fungi, mosses and lichens associated with decaying timber. Conservationists believe Prince Philip is setting a bad example to other landowners and gardeners who dig up old roots and fallen timber.

Windsor's threatened species

  • Woodwasp Soldier Fly: (Xylomya Maculata) This large black-and-yellow-striped wasp-like fly is rare in Britain. It can be one cm long and the larvae grow in dead, decaying wood known in bug circles as porridge. It has been sighted in New Forest, Windsor Park, Epping Forest and one in north Middlesex.
  • Stag Beetle: (Lucanus cervusis) This beetle is the largest in Europe and is easily identified by the distinctive mandibles that resemble deer antlers, hence the name. The larvae, which live for five or six years, eat rotting wood and fruit, but it is thought that fully developed beetles eat nothing at all. In April 1998 the stag beetle became protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife Countryside Act 1981 but in practice, it is protected only from being bought and sold.
  • Ornate Comb-Horne Cranefly: (Ctenophora Ornata) The larvae of this unique type of cranefly also develop in soft dead wood. The larvae develop in dead, moist trunks of deciduous trees, mostly trees with big diameters and at the advanced stage of decay. As adults, these creatures have unusually long legs which are thought to be useful for escaping spider webs or detecting hazards when flying at night.