Thursday, 30 July 2009

Chainsaw Massacre’ leads to public outcry

“Haringey Council kills more trees than vandals do.” Thus spoke Mary Craine, former chair of the Tree Trust, at Monday night's public meeting, held on the subject of street trees by Haringey Green Party. It was a well-attended event, as it seems that trees provoke all sorts of strong reactions in people.

We called the meeting because residents in Stroud Green have repeatedly told us that they have worries about the street trees in their ward. The phrase “brutal pollarding” was used again and again, with additional concerns raised regarding the council’s replacement policy and the issue of subsidence.

The replacement issue is an interesting one. Only 3 out of the 19 wards in Haringey had less trees planted in the period of 2007-8 than it did in 2004-5. One of those three wards was Stroud Green. In 2004-5, 75 trees were planted in Stroud Green. In 2007-8, only 10 were planted – with only a pitiful 3 trees planted in the ward 2006-7. This may be because less trees were felled in this ward than in others. Or it may be that less trees were planted there, full stop. (Note that I haven’t called these newly planted trees ‘replacement trees’ – as Mary Craine said last night, “’Replacement tree’ should be struck out of the vocabulary”).

Replacing a broadleaf tree such as a lime, a plane or an oak, which may live to be hundreds of years old, with a very ‘snapable’ ornamental, which will never grow to a great height, is clearly not a good deal. The idea is that it will be less likely to cause subsidence (more of which later). However, broadleaf trees do a far better job of mitigating the effects of climate change, they create a natural canopy, thus slowing down the fall of rain and reducing the likelihood of flooding, and they also create a beautiful, calming ‘treescape’, much loved by resident. Indeed, one resident told me he moved to Stroud Green in the 1980s – and has stayed there ever since – precisely because of the beautiful avenues of trees. (Pollarded stumps don’t quite cut it).

The pollarding is done mainly to stem the tree’s growth and make them less likely to cause subsidence. In 2003, London Boroughs had 25 million pounds-worth of subsidence claims brought against them. However, in Ken Livingstone’s ‘London Tree and Woodland Framework’ it is stated that less than 1% of the trees in London are responsible for damage to properties. There are a myriad of causes of subsidence, but the ‘blame the tree’ brigade tend to shout the loudest.

There are lots of tests which should be done before a tree is blamed and slaughtered. The operative word here is ‘should’. Because of a lack of political will, (that’s why we need Green councillors!), a lack of money and a lack of people, shortcuts are inevitably taken.

A plethora of other problems threaten street trees, including the council’s tendency to use strimmers and ‘sit-on’ mowers (thus damaging the bark at the base of the tree), plus not bothering so much with ‘after-care’ when a tree is planted. Add to this the problem with the sub-contractors who carry out the tree works not being regulated, and, as Mary Craine put it “street trees are vulnerable trees, wholly dependent on people.”

So what can we do? Pete McAskie, target ward candidate and parliamentary candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, suggested that rather than coming and pollarding every tree in a street, every other tree could be pollarded on a visit. This would lessen the visual impact. This suggestion was commended by Peter Corley, the present chair of Haringey’s Tree Trust.

Anne Gray, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Tottenham, said “There is no time like the present for including communities in looking after trees.” Rather than paying private contractors to fell, pollard (and possibly damage) our street trees, Anne suggested that we could train young people to become tree surgeons and possibly promote the formation of a local municipal enterprise or cooperative to provide tree care services. Experience shows that the more a community is involved in the planting and the maintenance of a tree, the more they will protect it from vandalism.

We’ll be taking forward a list of questions we’ve compiled having scrutinised Haringey’s Tree Strategy document. Last night’s meeting was the start of a campaign to bring street trees higher up the council’s agenda. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow…

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