CANAL bosses have defended their decision to cut down a large number of trees along the historic Caen Hill flight of locks in Devizes.

Walkers and boaters have been surprised by amount of felling that has taken place in recent weeks and a number have contacted the Canal & River Trust to complain about the effect it would have on birds.

But this week the trust said the work was vital to protect this important section of the canal from damage.

A spokesman said: "The work includes felling overgrown trees from alongside the side ponds and beside the locks which were beginning to damage the locks and encroach on the ponds.

"The work will remove shady areas by increasing the amount of light reaching the reed beds - an important habitat for insects. Removal of trees will also open up views of the locks to the thousands of visitors that visit Caen Hill each year."

But one walker who contacted the Gazette said: "I am extremely upset. I am particularly worried about the impact it will have on the Kingfishers. They need to be able to have somewhere to perch when they are fishing. The kingfishers are dependant on the pounds."

But the trust said it was responsible for actively managing the growth of woody vegetation next to the pounds so that wildlife would continue to thrive.

The spokesman said: "The lock flight is also home to a wide variety of wildlife species including dragonflies, harvest mice, water voles and occasionally otters. The reed beds which surround each of the side ponds are used as a source of shelter and food for the critically endangered water vole along with reed and sedge warblers who build their basket-like nests hanging between the standing reeds."

Mark Evans, waterway manager at the Canal & River Trust, said: "The works here at Caen Hill look quite drastic at the moment but they really are essential in safeguarding the historic canal and maintaining waterside habitats for wildlife.

"The overgrown trees are having an impact on the ancient waterway and there are signs that tree roots are damaging the brickwork within the lock, potentially causing lasting damage.

“The work we’ve been doing at Jubilee Woodland shows just how important trees are to us at the Canal & River Trust - not only do trees create important wildlife habitats, they also give us a great sense of wellbeing. They help us breathe easier by improving air quality, they bring communities together and encourage people to step outside to explore the great outdoors and rediscover our wonderful canals.

“We have worked hard with local groups such as Help for Heroes and the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to encourage more nature and plant life to Caen Hill locks so now, when people visit this spring and summer, they should hopefully see an abundance of plant and wildlife along, and around, the waterways.”