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Angry mums stand up to chainsaw squad in bid to protect trees

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Angry residents of a Highland village squared up to a chainsaw squad yesterday as the latest phase of work on a waste water treatment plant got under way.

Scottish Water began a three-day tree-felling operation at the site of the popular Ardersier common and entrance to network of footpaths beside the Moray Firth as part of pipe-laying work for the contentious upgrade of its nearby water treatment plant.

A dozen protesters – mainly angry mums, closely monitored by local police officers – were there first thing as the cutters swung into action. They had hoped to halt the process.

The protest was the latest in many months of demonstrations against the waterworks revamp.

Villagers have previously taken their case to the council’s headquarters and even halted a coach full of councillors on a planning committee site visit to the facility prior to approval of the work.

The upgrade, to accommodate the new town of Tornagrain and future business expansion in the surrounding area, has prompted fears about the potential impact on the dolphin-friendly waters of the Moray Firth and the local environment generally.

Objectors recently fought and lost a battle to have a new water treatment works built closer to the emerging 10,000-population settlement of Tornagrain.

Campaigners said notice of the tree felling – advising of a three-day closure of the footpaths – was only posted at the village picnic site 24 hours earlier.

They claimed Scottish Water had “breached planning conditions” and “jeopardised a fragile wildlife habitat during a nesting period”.

Protest organiser Morven Macleod, a mother-of-four whose family run a long established organic farm bordering the picnic site site, said: “We’re furious. Scottish Water is vandalising beautiful woodland without permission.”

About 2,000 people signed an online petition against the project in general in a campaign backed by Holywood star Dame Helen Mirren, who was married in the village.

A spokeswoman for the council said Scottish Water did not require planning permission for the “underground installation” because it had “permitted development rights for this.”

She added: “It allows them to lay pipelines and gives them the right to fell trees to accommodate the pipeline.”

Local SNP councillor Glynis Sinclair intervened directly yesterday, clambering over a fence at the picnic area to face up to the tree fellers.

Speaking afterwards, she said: “I was horrified. It’s the bird nesting season so any work they’re doing is going to displace birds. Wildlife including bats will be disturbed.”

Abi Reardon, chairwoman of the Ardersier Foundation pressure group, said: “It’s a much loved area of our community and has great beauty. The fact that they’re tearing that up is appalling.

“The community liaison group has not been kept up to date. There is a real communication problem with Scottish Water. I emailed people all weekend in search of information about what’s happening, without success.

“This is a major loss, not only to the community but to the environment as well.”

Scottish Water stressed that the latest works were discussed at a recent community liaison group meeting and recent drop-in sessions.

A spokesman for the utility said: “We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and every aspect of the work taking place at Ardersier has been agreed in consultation with Highland Council.”

Scottish Water promised that a maximum 15 mature trees would be felled – and that there would be equivalent replanting to compensate. It also promised path improvements.

The spokesman added: “The purpose of these essential improvements is to protect and enhance the environment while meeting the needs of housing and economic growth locally.

“We regard health and safety as a priority. And we’d like to emphasise how important it is that no-one goes on to any of our active construction sites without prior permission or the proper safety equipment.”

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