Woodland campaigners' fears over more tree felling at site of Fife's new super campus
Activists campaigning to protect woodland in Fife fear more trees could be cut down soon because of a clause in environment laws.
Shepherd Offshore attracted criticism last month after carrying out unannounced tree felling at the Axis Point site next to Calaismuir Woods, Dunfermline - part of the land that will be the future home of Dunfermline Learning Campus.
It is understood that from April 1, Shepherd - which owns the plot - will be able to fell more trees on the land near the Halbeath Interchange without being hit with fines.
But environmental campaigners say the works are being carried out without considering the ecological impact, and without meaningful discussions with the community.
Martin Willcocks, spokesman for the Save the Calais Woods Wildlife group, said: "If they were doing it properly Shepherd would have an ecologist on site, and if a bird's nest was found they can't cut it down.
"I would have hoped that they would turn up with fencing and barriers, with notices because there's a pathway where these trees are.
"We would hope they would do this, but they didn't the first time around and given how they have conducted themselves we aren't holding out hope."
The Axis Point site is the focus of a planning application to create a new access road into the south of what will become a sprawling 'super-school' campus, industrial estate and residential area.
Mr Willcocks is concerned that the creation of the road will divide the grasslands and Calaismuir Woods to the south, and subsequently have a ruinous effect on wildlife that would typically flit between the areas. Nearly 300 objections have been lodged against the road plan.
While resigned to the inevitability of the long-term plans for the 'super-school', he has pleaded with Shepherd on several occasions to work with his group and the wider community to ensure the development is acceptable to, and welcomed by, all local residents.
Mr Willcocks said: "When it comes to big projects like this there needs to be a link between what people understand to be happening and what actually happens in the end.
"But by the time the bulldozers come in it's far too late. It would be a better facility if Shepherd created that link."
Scottish Forestry, the public body that regulates woodland maintenance, launched an investigation earlier this month after Shepherd cut down trees without warning on the Axis Point site.
It concluded that Shepherd's tree works were just within legal limits of felling without a permit.
Under forestry laws, landowners can cut down up to five cubic metres of timber every quarter without applying for a felling permit.
As of last week, Shepherd had felled around four cubic metres - and on April 1 that limit will reset.
Contractors were on site on Thursday mulching up branches from trees that had previously been felled. Forestry bosses confirmed that they were not felling extra trees, despite concerns from locals.
A Scottish Forestry spokesman said: "We have been alerted to this footage but we understand that this is not felling but mulching up the branches of trees previously felled. On that basis we do not have any remit to take action."
Shepherd Offshore has not issued any statement on the tree felling activity to date.