MORE than 100 trees on Durham’s riverbanks could be felled in a cathedral scheme aimed at securing the woodland’s future.

Durham Cathedral officials say the felling would allow new, healthier trees to grow and more native species to be planted.

The Very Rev Michael Sadgrove, the Dean of Durham, said: “I think the woodland is a real gift to Durham – one of its most special assets.

“This is a world-famous environment of incomparable beauty and we want to do all we can to keep it that way.”

The year-long project will cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, with the majority coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The HLF has granted £50,000 to allow the cathedral to plan the work and carry out a first phase, which will see 38 trees felled over the next two months.

Phase two would see a further 66 trees removed during the autumn.

The cathedral is planning to submit a grant application for £300,000 from the HLF to fund the latter part of the scheme during the summer.

It is also hoped extra funding will be found from other sources.

Jon Williams, land agent for Durham Cathedral, said: “At present, because there are too many large old trees there is not enough light and space for their successors.

“Inevitably, when trees die or have to be felled for safety reasons gaps will be created.

“These gaps in the tree canopy will allow necessary light to encourage new growth and this in turn provides new views and habitats.

“Although no one likes to see majestic trees cut down, the work is an essential requirement to allow future generations to continue to enjoy the superb woodland setting of the cathedral and castle.”

Experts have surveyed those riverbanks trees of more than 2ft in diameter, concluding that more than ten per cent of the total of nearly 1,000 should be felled.

Most are beech, sycamore, oak or lime. They will be replaced with native species such as oak, ash and cherry.

Mr Williams said: “If we don’t do anything, nature will do it for us in a very unplanned way and we will have even more problems.

If we do this in a planned way, we can get the next generation of trees coming along.”

Durham Cathedral owns about two-thirds of the city centre riverbanks. All necessary permissions for the felling have been granted.

The project is part of Durham Cathedral’s five-year £7m development scheme, launched in 2008.