SIXTEEN threatened trees on Lisker Drive, at the edge of the East of Otley development site, are not crack willows but a line of hybrid poplars and a mature ash tree with a fascinating story, a local campaign group has found.

The East of Otley Action Group has worked with local ecologists, an arboriculturalist, and local residents to identify the trees and to study the wildlife and amenity value of the immediate area.

The research follows fears raised last week that the trees were to be felled by contractors working for Persimmon, one of the consortium of developers who own the East of Otley fields.

The East of Otley Action Group took immediate action to save the trees and has now found out that they were probably planted at least a hundred years ago.

“The ash in this copse is strong and healthy with no sign of the terrible ash dieback, and with an unusual and beautiful shape in which its branches curve upwards, like a candelabra.” said a local aboriculturalist. “There is also an uncommon Wych Elm to the front of the copse, next to the pavement. Wych Elm are the only indisputable native British species of elm and were once widespread across the country: Dutch elm disease put paid to that, but this one is strong and flourishing and probably home to the white-letter hairstreak butterfly, which has suffered catastrophically due to the loss of the elms. They are hard to spot as they feed high in the crown of the tree.”

The rest of the copse goes up to the disused railway line and consists of hawthorn, willow, blackthorn and bramble reaching up to trees on the disused railway line, which are protected by Tree Protection Orders (TPOs).

A spokesperson for the East of Otley Action Group said: “Taken collectively, these ancient trees are of profound importance; both for amenity value for humans - their visual impact is stunning - and because they provide such rare and rich habitat for wildlife. All of the specialists involved feel that the whole copse should be given a TPO as soon as possible, and that their loss would be deeply damaging to local biodiversity. The copse provides the perfect habitat for hedgehogs, badgers, roe deer, for bat roosts, a vantage point for barn owls, and crucially, at this time of year, nesting birds.”

The Group maintain that the trees are old and that climbing on them or walking under them in a high wind would not be a good idea, but also that they’re not near a public right of way, they’re surrounded by bramble and nettles and not easily approachable.

“If Persimmon are genuinely worried for the welfare of local residents, they could fulfil their obligation as landowner by putting up a sign,” added the spokesperson.

Last week a spokesperson for Persimmon Homes West Yorkshire, said: “We wish to reassure local residents that there is no immediate plan to remove the trees on our land in Otley.

“An independent tree survey identified a number of trees that were dead or dying and therefore potentially a risk to public safety. None of these trees are subject to a tree preservation order.

“We are liaising with Leeds City Council to confirm the schedule of work for the trees and will continue to monitor the situation.”