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Friday, 6 July, 2001, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
France's 'killer trees' under threat
Avenue of trees
Tree-lined avenues - a cherished image of rural France
The classic image of a French country road lined with a row of tall plane trees is under threat because of mounting claims that the trees are to blame for the country's high death rate on the roads.

The avenues have already been drastically reduced as a result of road-improvement schemes, but now Agriculture Minister, Jean Glavany, has joined the campaign to have the trees cut down.


Personally I have no hesitation in saying we can cut them down and plant elsewhere

Jean Glavany
Agriculture Minister
Mr Glavany was reacting at the weekend to the death of a young motorcyclist near the town of Tarbes, in south-west France, in a crash that local people blamed on the trees.

Subsequently unknown assailants used chain-saws to cut gashes into 96 trees lining the route where he died.

"I consider that plane trees planted along road sides are a public danger," Mr Glavany said. "Personally I have no hesitation in saying we can cut them down and plant elsewhere."

Other causes

Defenders of the trees reacted furiously to his remarks, which they fear could presage a new drive to eradicate them in the interests of road safety.

"It is totally unacceptable for Glavany, or anyone else, to say that the trees are to blame for road accidents," said Chantal Fauche of the Association for the Protection of Road-side Trees (APRT).

"Instead of fighting the things that really cause road deaths, I mean alcohol and excessive speed, they are trying to find some external factor to blame," she said.

Despite a recent improvement, the number of deaths on France's roads remains far higher than in most of its neighbours - last year's figure was 7,580.

An official report in 1999 said that in 38% of fatal accidents "lateral obstacles," mainly trees, were involved.

Cultural heritage

The Service for Technical Studies on Roads and Motorways also said that if fixed objects like trees were removed from the sides of roads, the number of deaths could be reduced by a half.

However defenders of the countryside disputed the findings, and said that the trees in fact have a beneficial effect, making a driver more aware of his speed than if he is moving though open space.

The trees have been a cherished part of France's rural landscape for three centuries and many regard them as part of their cultural heritage.

"The lines of trees are an expression of social organisation inside nature. When the kings flanked their roads with trees, they were inscribing their power in rural space," said Daniel Laroche, a landscape architect.

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See also:

03 Jul 01 | UK
Conker trees saved from axe
28 Jun 01 | Europe
Tree-hungry dog gives owner stick
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