UK's `most eco-friendly' trees are destroyed by GM activists

ECO-WARRIORS have cut down the UK's only genetically modified (GM) trees - more than 50 poplars that had been developed to make the production of paper more environmentally friendly.

The attack, at the Jealott's Hill site in Bracknell, Berkshire, belonging to Zeneca Plant Sciences, was on Sunday night. In the process, protesters destroyed an equal number of normal poplars used as comparisons in the trial, which began in 1995 and had the approval of English Nature. Five trees survived.

The trees had been engineered to contain less lignin, the "woody" element of trees, so that less chlorine would be needed in the bleaching process during paper-makingand less energy needed to turn the trees into paper.

Anonymous activists claimed responsibility for the damage, in which younger trees were broken, exposing pink wood that indicated their genetic modification. Older trees - some up to 30 feet tall - had a ring of bark stripped so that they will slowly die. Dr Nigel Poole of Zeneca called the process "like cutting someone's artery and letting them bleed to death".

Karen Holt, the project manager, said: "I planted the more mature trees myself so I was very sad to see them destroyed. The environment will suffer as the research was demonstrating that less energy and chlorine would be used in treating wood pulp for paper. An eight-year research programme has been seriously affected, and trees damaged have been condemned to a slow death."

Biotechnology companies are legally obliged to publicise the sites of trials, but cannot police them around the clock. Scores of sites have been damaged or crops ripped up in the past two years as the GM products furore has heightened.

The Zeneca trial was approved in December 1996 byEnglish Nature, which said there was "negligible risk to our native flora and fauna" and that "the fact that flowering will not take place will prevent any possible outcrossing". The trees will not flower because they are all female, so will not produce pollen.

Fears that GM pollen from herbicide-resistant crops would interbreed with weeds have often been cited in opposition to GM crop trials. However, trees with less lignin would generally be weaker than their normal cousins, so that trees with the "new" genes would have a lower chance of survival in the wild.

In a statement, the activists said that genetic modification of trees "is a major threat to the world's environment" and that "GM trees will lead to increased conversion of forests into regimented wood pulp factories, and increased chemical use". They added that the use of female trees "ignores the issue of horizontal gene transfer" caused by viruses or bacteria.

Zeneca had been worried that the site would be a target. In April, Dr Poole said: "I imagine they're going to try to cut the bark and destroy the trees. It's not about food, it's not about the environment. It's just sheer vandalism."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?