Congrats to The Guardian for publishing an excellent G2 cover feature by Patrick Barkham raising serious alarm about the situation of urban trees. According to Barkham, an inquiry by the GLA will report next month on what it calls the "chainsaw massacre" of the capital's seven million trees.
Trees are battered by lorries, underminded by utility companies, threatened by new development and by health and safety legislation that make home owners and councils alike nervous about any mature tree that just might shed a limb at the wrong time. The insurance industry is blamed for making subsidence such a big peril in home owner's minds and both parties find it easiest to blame street trees.
This is a story that I know well enough, having spent five years editing Tree News magazine, during which time we must have had hundreds of desperate people calling on us to try and help them stop their favourite local tree (or trees) being cut down for no good reason. Such was the level of concern that we realised this was a national issue of great importance and covered the subject intensely. We also got directly involved in several major campaigns - winning some, losing others.
Campaigning to save a tree is a desperate and emotionally charged business; you wake up in the middle of the night, exhausted, wondering how much longer you can keep up the fight, and knowing that you are now responsible for whether the tree lives or dies.
You can still find the article I did on Network Rail, who were carrying out a nationwide cull
of mature trees near the tracks in order to deal with the 'leaves on the line' issue. Churchyards have had their trees demiated despite the guidance laid down by the Church of England which encourages their preservation of God's little acre. Everywhere it seems, our treescape is being damaged at the same time that we are all being encouraged to plant new trees. But its the older ones that we need to look after.
Successive governments have been very slow to recognise the problem and the existing tree campaigning groups are not set up to really tackle the problem either - because they don't have the resources or the inclination. The Ancient Tree Forum will help if they can to bolster a local campaign if the tree falls inside their remit and their site gives some useful background information.
But most tree issues are fought by lone and local campaigners for whom, at present, there is no proper advice and back-up to support their efforts. In my view it really needs a new web-based organisation who can both monitor the scale of the problem and provide the legal and media advice necessary for a successful outcome.
Sometimes trees do have to be removed because they genuinely do pose a danger but far too many are disappearing because of the percieved rather than real threat they pose. Councils would do well to check the legal precedents: as long as it can be demonstrated that a tree has been under active management, the council is legally protected if branch drop should crush a car or hurt a child.
In many councils, the care of trees is a minor issue. The Tree Officers are often trying to manage a huge area with limited resources and trees are a minor consideration when it comes to planning matters.
We urgently need to maintain our urban trees which add such value to urban life. All political parties should give this issue a much higher priority. By all means pour money into tree-planting schemes (and aftercare) but maintaining our mature trees is of equal if not greater importance.
'Urban Eden' lobby group fights to save CMK's trees (Milton Keynes Citizen 4 April 2007)
Planners blazing a trail for expansion are taking out city centre trees like a hurricane through a pine forest, according to critics. New lobby group Urban Eden is claiming something in the order of 4,000 trees in Central Milton Keynes alone are endangered through schemes to overhaul boulevards and make them more bus friendly. Many had already gone. Its mapping of the alleged devastation, supplied exclusively to the Citizen, makes a tally of more than 1,300 trees already axed, 750 with planning permission for felling, some 2,200 at "strong potential risk" and a further 280 in town squares at "serious risk".
'Those who walk under trees are at risk from these terrorising inspectors.' Simon Jenkins. (The Guardian November 17, 2006)
Farewell to the leafy suburb (The Telegraph. 23/10/2004). Insurance companies pay out millions every year to settle subsidence claims. What they want, increasingly, is to cut the prime offenders down to size. Bad news for trees, says Sarah Lonsdale
'Why Tianeman Square could go from red to green' (The Guardian).
[See architect's concept (right)]
'A plan takes root: City to plant more than 100,000 trees' (Boston Globe)