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The Hartley Morris Men join campaigners at site of horse chestnut tree protest in River Lawn Green, Tonbridge

Morris dancers joined campaigners in Tonbridge on Sunday to support the fight to keep a much-loved tree, which is set to be cut down.

An action group first gathered at the site off River Lawn Road on Friday morning as tree surgeons were scheduled to arrive for the felling of the popular horse chestnut tree to make way for a new medical centre.

The centre is set to be constructed by healthcare property developer and investor Assura before being leased to Tonbridge Medical Group.

However, the Keep River Lawn Green action group says the felling of the tree, enjoyed by local families for generations, is not necessary to the plans.

Activist Mark Hood, 50, is one of four to have spent several hours - day and night - perched on a branch in the tree over the weekend to demonstrate the group's commitment to their fight.

On Sunday, The Hartley Morris Men also arrived on the scene to entertain campaigners and passers-by with a series of dances.

Mr Hood's mother, Jane, said: "We've got people ready to take over from each other and plenty of others have signed up online to do a couple of hours here and there, which all helps.

"People have been bringing us coffees and biscuits to keep us going, everyone seems to have got behind the campaign.

"We don't know when they're going to come back yet but we'll be ready, they're not going to break us."

Protester Mark Hood in a tree he is trying to save in River Lawn Road in Tonbridge (5583416)
Protester Mark Hood in a tree he is trying to save in River Lawn Road in Tonbridge (5583416)

The company behind the project has responded to the protests saying the move was carefully considered and based on an independent report.

An Assura spokesman said: "At the very earliest stages of this project, we explored with the council planning team and independent experts all possible options for working around the tree and if there had been a solution, we would have supported it – removing a tree is never a decision which is taken lightly.

"The tree has bleeding canker and so there is a high risk of it becoming unstable when foundations are laid for the new medical centre – creating a safety issue for patients, staff and the wider public.

"The council approved its removal based on an independent arboricultural report and after taking their own specialist advice, as detailed in the planning officer’s report. We’re keen to find a new place for the trunk in the community for the future, and are exploring options for this.”

VIDEO: Campaigners tie themselves to tree

A petition which started on Friday has since gained more than 1,000 signatures.

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