£400 for destroying 100-year-old protected tree in Burntisland

The protected tree which died after it was damaged by builder Robert Wilkie
The protected tree which died after it was damaged by builder Robert Wilkie

A builder who hacked into a 100-year-old protected “landmark” tree with a chainsaw in a fit of “frustration” has avoided a massive fine.

Robert Wilkie twice applied for planning permission to build homes on a piece of land in Kinghorn Road, Burntisland – but failed after a deluge of objections by neighbours and even the local MSP.

They feared Wilkie’s development would end up killing the towering sycamore – described as an “ancient symbol” of the area.

Fife Council put in place an additional tree preservation order in 2012 to protect the tree, which sat in grounds adjacent to Wilkie’s home.

On Tuesday, Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court heard Wilkie had sold the grounds to his daughter for £10,000 and, last year, she applied for permission to build flats on it.

On June 16, Wilkie snapped and took a chainsaw to the tree – and was overheard saying he was tired of people telling him what to do.

Neighbours called in Fife Council, which carried out an assessment and reported two rings had been cut around the tree’s circumference.

That deprived the tree of sap – killing it and meaning it had to be cut down for safety reasons.

Wilkie (59), of Bangholm Terrace, Edinburgh, had been told he could face a fine of up to £20,000 over the incident but, instead, Sheriff James Williamson fined him just £400 after hearing Wilkie had recently been made bankrupt.

Wilkie had previously pleaded guilty to the offence.

However Nigel Cooke, defending, said: “He doesn’t accept there will be any financial benefit to cutting the tree down.

“He sold the land to his daughter and it’s not currently capable of development.

“His position is he was frustrated because he considered the tree was potentially damaging his property adjacent to it. He will replace the tree.

“He was in the building industry but was hit by the downturn and now works as a building surveyor and consultant.”

Ian Stevenson, planning enforcement officer, said a new tree would impact on future development of the site.

“The position of protected trees are marked on the plans held in the Land Register of Scotland. Any development plans for land around them has to allow for the protected tree or, if it has been illegally removed, for the replanting scheme,” he said.

Check your facts before you act...

Cutting down a tree subject to a tree preservation order is an offence and carries a potenial fine of up to £20,000.

If you are unsure about a tree’s status, contact Fife Council’s planning department, which has specialist tree protection officers.

If officers are given exact details of the tree – location and species – they can check for conservation area status and tree preservation orders.