“Batty” delay in fell dangerous tree causes closure of section of Norfolk river

The closure of a section of the River Bure for two weeks has left critics lamenting the 'batty' delay in felling a dangerous tree.

The willow, on the bank next to public moorings at Hoveton, was found to be rotten and at risk of falling in the river during a Broads Authority inspection in October.

However, a suspicion that it might be a roosting place for bats meant a tree surgeon could not set to work until an ecologist had carried out a thorough survey using an endoscope to check inside cavities in the bark.

Both before and during the work, carried out by ecologist Louise Brown, a section of the river between Hoveton and Coltishall has been sealed off and public moorings put out of bounds, with boats being diverted via Bridge Broad.

The tree was finally felled yesterday after the survey proved abortive, but the river will only be re-opened early next week when tidying up work has been completed on the bank.

Angler John Currie, a committee member of the Norwich Pike Club, said he had been surprised to find the river closed and pointed out the loss of the free moorings might have had a significant impact on traders in Hoveton.

He said: 'I am not opposed to the wildlife regulations that demand such a survey, but surely the work could have been done quicker? On a building site it would only take a couple of days.'

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However, Ms Brown, who runs her own company Torc Ecology, in Docking, said the delay was due to waiting for the services of the tree surgeon.

She said: 'I was called in after Broads Authority staff assessed the tree as having bat roosting potential.'

Her endoscope survey had found no hibernating bats but as a further precaution the tree was still only carefully taken down in sections, each piece being examined again on the ground.

She said: 'If we had found any bats we would have had to stop work and contact Natural England and the police to ask for permission to continue with the felling as a health and safety issue which overrides part of the wildlife protection legislation.'

A Broads Authority spokesman said bat boxes were now being put up in neighbouring trees as replacement habitats in what she described as a 'model of best practice'.

Paul Greasley, boss of Wroxham-based Norfolk Broads Direct and chairman of the Broads Hire Boat Federation, said it was a relief the saga had played out at the end of the season.

'If it had happened over the August bank holiday it would have caused real chaos and it would have been interesting to see what happens when commercial operations are affected by bats in a tree,' he said.

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