FLOOD fears were heightened in Morpeth when a felled tree was thrown into a culvert.
The Environment Agency has warned of the potential risk of flooding to homes and businesses after one of its emergency response teams was sent to quickly clear the debris last Thursday.
The blockage in the Cotting Burn culvert was caused by a 15ft tree that got wedged under a water pipe, trapping other debris that naturally floats downstream.
Its limbs had been deliberately cut and the tree was disposed of in the water.
Such action is a bye-law offence with a maximum penalty of a custodial sentence and a fine of £5,000.
Normally, when culverts are blocked they can be cleared by using suction pumps or high- pressure water cannons.
However, the tree was so large it had to be cut up inside the culvert and removed by hand, bringing added danger to the workers.
In total, more than half-a-tonne of debris was removed.
North East Flood Risk Manager for the Environment Agency Ian Hodge said: “The worst-case scenario if we hadn’t done this work is that water in the Cotting Burn culvert would have backed up, potentially flooding a significant number of homes and businesses.
“Heavy rain while we were working made the operation more dangerous as the water levels in the culvert began to rise, but thankfully we got the blockage removed in time.
“I would appeal to anyone working near a watercourse to dispose of waste in the proper way. It is very costly for us to remove it and it could have had very serious consequences.”
The operation was further complicated because the culvert is one of the last remaining strongholds for the endangered native white-clawed crayfish and workers had to take extra care not to harm any of them.
The blockage was reported to the Environment Agency by Northumberland County Council during a routine inspection.