By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
A group of worried west Leeds residents want reassurance a beloved local woodland packed with nature is going to be preserved.
Houghley Gill, on the border between Bramley and Armley, is popular with dog walkers, cyclists and neighbours who all enjoy using its quaint tree-lined footpath.
But locals are upset that felled trees are not being replaced and say there is a wider issue of neglect, with parts of the Gill left overgrown and strewn with litter.
They are also baffled over a recent decision to excuse Gaunts – which owns the neighbouring industrial estate – from replacing trees it was allowed to chop down by Leeds City Council.
Stefaney Raee, who’s lived in the area for 40 years, said: “It appears the council’s crying out for these sort of places to be around the city.
“We’ve got one here and I do feel it’s just being neglected. Nobody’s keeping an eye on things.
“We don’t want to let it go, with it ending up being full of dead trees and nobody replanting. On some of the old photographs it’s beautiful, and look at it now.
“I’ve never seen it as overgrown as this. It always used to be better maintained.”
The residents say council contractors chopped down healthy trees at the eastern entrance to the Gill in January this year. They’ve suggested this was done to benefit Gaunts and stop overhanging branches scratching vehicles on their side of the fence.
Gaunts, however, insisted they had no knowledge of the works and had not made any such complaint to the council.
The company did recently receive planning permission to axe two trees on land it owns, and prune back another six to varying degrees, in the interests of maintenance and safety.
But the residents are irked that the council excused Gaunts from planting new ones, with the planning department ruling that “existing natural regeneration” would compensate for the losses.
Mrs Raee said: “Replanting can also be done in an area that needs trees and I can’t understand why the council didn’t say we need more trees down there (further into the Gill).”
Amy Blessington, who’s lived in the area for four years, said: “We want reassurance that this place isn’t under threat. The optimistic part of me hopes it isn’t.
“If this place is not seen as being valuable to the community and it’s overgrown and gets untidy, that may be used to justify (taking more trees down).”
Fellow resident and dog walker Rob Maney said he’d be “devastated” if more trees were decimated.
“It’s ancient woodland this and you don’t get that habitat back (once it’s gone),” he said.
A spokesperson for Leeds City Council said: “The Gaunts site is privately owned land adjacent to Houghley Gill. At the request of the owner, a qualified arborist carried out an arboriculturual survey of all the trees onsite.
“As a result of this assessment it was agreed to remove three trees which were rated as ‘poor’ due to decay and disease. Two further trees were ‘monolithed‘ to leave standing trunks which serve an ecological purpose to the woodland. Replacement planting was not approved in this instance as existing natural regeneration is more likely to be effective in this area.
The council added: “Natural regeneration is more likely to be effective due to the number of sycamore trees in the woodland, which produce prolific amounts of seeds, increasing the opportunity for new tree growth. Continued management will also ensure that new growth is allowed to mature.
“Over the last three years the council has planted around 50 hectares of new canopy cover each year across Leeds as a whole.”
Chris Pratt, managing director at Gaunts, said: “We have no knowledge of any work undertaken by the council contractors and we have not made any complaints as to overhanging branches.”
Mr Pratt confirmed the approved planning application related to “maintenance work to the trees on our land only.”
He added: “It would seem unusual for the council to condition us to plant trees on the Gill as it is not in our ownership.”