PROTESTORS forced a temporary halt to controversial work to cut down a century-old hedgerow near North Berwick High School earlier today, before they were moved away by police.

Despite extensive opposition, plans were approved last year for the removal of a 142m section of mature hedgerow to allow for East Lothian Council to build two sports pitches, located to the west of the current high school plot on land owned by North Berwick Trust and designated for educational purposes.

READ MORENorth Berwick High School pitches plan narrowly wins approval

East Lothian Council confirmed that work to remove the hedgerow – which, in places, is eight metres wide and eight metres tall – began yesterday and was expected to continue today, at the southern section of the hedgerow.

However, two protesters attended and placed themselves within the working area, resulting in a temporary halt to the clearance works.

Police later attended and moved people from the site, allowing the works to continue.

It is understood that about five people attended in protest at the work.

Alison Clark, member of community group Sustaining North Berwick, was among those in attendance at the demonstration.

She said on Facebook: "North Berwick Trust and East Lothian Council appear to have got their way – at the expense of nature and short-changing schoolchildren with less than the statutory minimum area for playing fields.

"They have broken every policy to do this. But why? What are their plans in the 2024 Local Plan for the land they withheld from the school, and the country park? Nature is not safe in the hands of the trust or the council.

East Lothian Courier: A section of the hedgerow is currently being removed

“The playing fields could have been provided and the hedge and trees retained. The only reason for this destruction is that East Lothian Council want uninterrupted sightlines across the pitches.

“The council are unwilling to take a 21st-century approach that protects nature. It is just business as usual, which means nature is not protected and have corrupted the planning process.

“This was a valuable landscape feature that screened the school and housing, a main corridor for wildlife to move between town and countryside, shelter for the playing fields, and a biodiversity resource for the school and a carbon sequestration sink."

The plans to remove the hedgerow were opposed by many parents and pupils at North Berwick High School, including the school's parent council and eco-committee.

One senior pupil, Finlay McIlwraith, started a petition against its removal which received more than a thousand signatures, several hundred from pupils at the school.

READ MOREPupils launch petition to save century-old hedgerow

An East Lothian Council education spokesperson said today: “Planning permission is in place to extend North Berwick High School’s campus boundary and provide additional playing fields, which are required to deliver our statutory curricular responsibilities.

"This includes the removal of a section of existing hedgerow on the current boundary to provide safe sightlines across the area and support efficient learning and teaching.

“Commencement of works has been undertaken during the holiday period to minimise disruption to the school. It also ensures that we are acting in accordance with the relevant planning condition, which stated that ‘no removal of hedgerow, trees or clearance of vegetation within the site shall take place during bird breeding season, which is March to August’.

East Lothian Courier: A section of the hedgerow is currently being removed

"The hedgerow will be replaced and enhanced to provide a more extensive and biodiverse planted environment.

“Works are being taken forward to create the path network and the playing fields to be available for the school to use during the earliest academic session possible.”

After the protestors and contractors left the area, local resident Gerry Taggart (pictured), 82, surveyed the damage.

“The council approved their own planning application," he said. "No-one has listened to the residents or the youngsters at the school so upset at the removal of these native trees which support so many bird species.”