A ‘SIGNIFICANT’ number of homes were put at risk from flooding after a tree was dumped in a culvert in Morpeth.
The Environment Agency sent an emergency response team to clear debris after the blockage in the Cotting Burn was reported after a routine inspection by Northumberland County Council.
The blockage was caused by a 15ft tree wedged under a water pipe, trapping debris that floats downstream.
The agency is now appealing for people to dispose of waste properly as the limbs of the tree had been deliberately cut and the tree dumped.
The maximum penalty for a bylaw offence such as this is a prison sentence and a £5,000 fine.
Normally, blocked culverts can be cleared by using suction pumps or high pressure water cannons, but the tree was so large it had to be cut up inside the culvert.
This posed additional danger to those carrying out the work as they removed more than half a tonne of debris.
The operation was further complicated because the culvert is one of the last remaining strongholds for the endangered white clawed crayfish, and workers had to take care not to harm them.
North east flood risk manager 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 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.”