A row broke out yesterday after it emerged staff at Westminster are employed to pick the leaves off trees to save time raking them up.
MPs have been criticised after gardener Annabel Honeybun was seen cutting back leaf stalks from lime trees in New Palace Yard, below Big Ben.
Miss Honeybun, who is contracted by the Palace of Westminster, could be seen working for several hours yesterday, removing the golden leaves. The leaf-stripping was carried out in full view of members of the public yards from Parliament Square and sparked an outcry on social media.
A spokesman for the House of Commons said: “The leaves are removed each winter as a time-efficient alternative to raking fallen leaves. It is not possible to separate the cost of removing leaves from the trees in New Palace Yard from the wider cost of the gardening contract.”
The House of Commons employs a gardening service which covers maintenance of more than 145 trees on the Parliamentary estate as well as all grassed areas, planted areas, indoor plants, containers and window boxes.
Steve Marsh, a spokesman for the Woodland Trust, questioned why the leaves were not left to fall off naturally as winter approached.
He said: “One of the few pleasures at this time of year and something that can put a smile on people’s faces is our trees showing wonderful autumn colour.
“What a shame that members of parliament won’t be able to enjoy this spectacle and kick through the leaves within parliament for the rest of the season.”
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, added: “The parliamentary authorities will have left taxpayers stumped by this bizarre decision. What a pointless waste of money this is. We need to leave spending like this behind.”
However, Miss Honeybun insisted she was not simply “picking” leaves off the trees. She said: “I am cutting them down to the second bud so they keep their shape. I am doing some mini-pollarding but they do look nice after they are done. I wouldn’t pick leaves off. These lime trees are so old and they have not been pleached for years, so we have to keep their shape. We are keeping them in the shape you see every summer.”