OKEHAMPTON Town Council’s park-keeper has refuted claims this week that people are ‘running amok in Simmons Park with chainsaws’ and causing ‘wanton destruction’ to wildlife habitats.

Concerns were raised after numerous trees were cut down in the main park and Platts Meadow but the council’s man in charge of the park James McGahey said the work was authorised and necessary as the specimens were suffering from ash dieback and were posing a threat to the public.

However, damage has been caused to two healthy trees including a large oak in the process of tidying up at the football club, he said, with plans now in place to rectify this.

Okehampton resident Mark Taylor said he was horrified by the loss of so many trees and damage he witnessed: ‘It seems like every tree of consequence has been cut down along the river behind the football club, resulting in half of the food source for wildlife being wiped out.

‘My dad who used to cut down trees in his spare time since the age of 14, would turn in his grave if he saw this. It seems that no-one wants trees in Simmons Park.They are running amok with chainsaws.

‘The trees provide shelter for lots of wildlife too including species like tree creepers which are declining. This seems like wanton destruction of the countryside and wildlife habitats

‘Some of the root damage is terrible, there is no way the trees will recover from this.’

Mr Taylor claimed there had also been some cutting back of shade cover to accommodate new spotlights on the football pitch and moss had disappeared from the trees.

James, the park-keeper said the 17 ash trees that had been felled had been diagnosed with ash dieback a year ago.

Some were in early stages then, some in later stages, he said, but there was no cure and they were likely to split and shatter. ‘We cannot take the risk of leaving them there for health and safety reasons,’ he said.

‘Some of the trees we have taken three quarters of the way down so the trunk will still provide a habitat for squirrels and other creatures for the next 30 years until the tree rots out.

‘We are replacing the felled trees with native species like flowering cherries and the other native trees like hazel will be left to fill in the gaps and it will take about five years for the new trees to fill in the gaps.

‘We have put up bird boxes and owl boxes, we have frogspawn, a wider range of birds visiting the site and otters in the river — these are all extremely good signs that the park is being managed in the correct way to attract wildlife.

‘We are not wrecking the park, we are managing it so it teams with wildlife but is also safe for the public.’

James said the park was a conservation area so all the trees were protected and no work could be done without permission from experts and the borough council.

He said there had been a slight over enthusiasm with a digger by the football club resulting in damage to roots of an oak and the trunk of a maple but a tree expert was now involved and a meeting had taken place with a view to rectifying the situation — this included wrapping the tree roots.

A spokesman for the club said tidying up work had included cutting back some bushes and shrubs from the edge of the pitch and clearing the track to the clubhouse but the nearest trees were 20 metres away from the floodlit pitch and so didn’t affect it.