Trees that shaded Napoleon's troops face their Waterloo

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ONE OF the best-loved features of France - the tree-lined road - is falling victim to the country's rising toll of traffic deaths. Despite complaints by ecologists and local people, several departements have begun a systematic policy of felling trees along busy stretches of road.

They claim as many as one-third of all the transport deaths in their areas are caused by drdivers crashing into trees.

In the face of protests by some local people - others were delighted - 100 plane trees in Ariege south of Toulouse became the latest victims of the chain-saw massacre at the weekend. Four people had been killed in the past eight months when cars hit the trees .

The departement of the Gers, a little to the west, has begun a systematic destruction of all trees lining its roads. More than 15,000 have already disappeared and another 6,000 have been sentenced to death in the next five years.

Calvados, in Normandy, is joining the trend. More than 500 plane trees are to be removed from a murderous four miles of road near Caen where 30 people have died - mostly by running into trees - in recent years. The departement agreed to act after receiving a petition signed by 5,800 people.

The Emperor Napoleon is credited with originating the policy of lining French roads with trees, to enable his soldiers to march in the shade (not to extend a similar courtesy to invading German armies, as an old joke has it).

French ecologists and foresters are growing alarmed by the destruction of these "linear forests". Similar long stands of trees in farmland are also being removed, to allow the development of huge cereals and dairy ranches.

Paradoxically other forests in France are expanding rapidly, as agriculture, and people, retreat from remoter areas.

Jacques Trouvilliez, forestry director at the Office National des Forets, said: "At the rate of disappearance of this kind of [linear] forest, we are in danger of ending up with a series of huge woodlands, totally cut off one from the other. That would be very dangerous for our flora and fauna."

A retired doctor at la Bastide-de-Serou, scene of the death of 100 plane trees at the weekend, said he had attended dozens of funerals of people killed "by" the trees.

"I lost a niece whose car collided with one of these accursed trees last year. It was crazy to let them take so many of our children."

Ecologists have pointed out, however, that the trees - unlike many French motorists - did not drink too much alcohol, travel too fast or make sudden, unexpected movements.

In those areas such as Gers, where the roadside trees had been systematically removed, there had been no obvious reduction in the number of road deaths. Cars were still spinning off the road and then crashed into other objects.

Comments