Trees are an important conservation & amenity resource and should be preserved. If a tree has to be removed due to disease or danger then it should be replaced -maybe by twice the number. These were the key thoughts at last nights Town Development Forum which looked particularly at the local authorities ‘tree policies’ through the eyes of the current Climate Emergency. Somerset County Council has a ‘duty of care’ to take reasonable steps to manage its tree stocks and so when the last avenue of historic cherry trees became threatened in Bridgwater’s Hamp Green Rise, Bridgwater Town Council (which owns almost no trees bar a few in a couple of cemeteries) stepped in to set up a ‘Tree Summit’. A packed meeting of tree experts, members of the public and councillors thrashed out the issues and made recommendations back to Town Council which would put pressure upwards on the Local Authority branches above it.
Leader of Bridgwater Town Council, Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover) said “As a result of this meeting it is clear that there is a need and a will to not just save existing trees but to replant where they are lost and to do more than that, to create public urban spaces populated by even more trees. In great numbers. Trees and urban greening play a key role in Reducing harmful pollutants which are deposited into the atmosphere by industry and transport. Doubling tree cover could reduce the concentration of fine PM10 particles by 25% .Urban trees reduce the heat and air conditioning costs of building, in turn making savings on annual energy consumption and cutting down air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels. Trees cool our cities and towns – Trees lose moisture from their leaves and, coupled with the shade they cast and the heat reflected upwards from their leaves, significantly reduce summer temperature in towns . Trees reduce the risk of flooding – they reduce surface water runoff, which can overload drainage systems, and lead to flash flooding by around 60% compared with asphalt . Carbon – Co2 is released into the air primarily by burning fossil fuels. One of the key ways in which carbon can be ‘locked up’ is by trees and forests, which store up to 25% of the world’s carbon . UK forests and woodlands act as a carbon sink and remove about 10 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere every year. I’m sorry to speak like this, but the more we teach these scientific facts about the environment the more it will become understood and accepted. And I think it is. And by an increasing number of people. This all puts trees, their future and our future at the heart of our climate change agenda and we have to take this seriously and now.”
Cllr B Smedley welcomed everyone to the forum explaining that the topic for this forum had come about because of concerns raised at the proposed felling of trees in Hamp Green Rise and what implication this might have across the town. As a key policy area for Bridgwater Town Council is the development of a policy to tackle Climate Change, the potential loss of trees had therefore become very important.
He introduced the SCC Team, Karin Harwood, Ben Coles and Rebecca Clark, who gave a comprehensive presentation on the SCC Highway Tree Management Policy.
- SCC had to manage 21,041 Highway Trees along 6500km of road. 5267 were in Sedgemoor.
- SCC had a Revenue budget for this set at a mere £93k and therefore within SCC policy was no replacement option but there was a review pending
- SCC Duty of Care – There was a regular inspection of trees every 5 years but some at risk were inspected annually
- SDC (among other districts) had a SLA to operate on behalf of SCC in their area and had a different policy of replacement.
- Health and Safety has to over-ride any other consideration and primary objective is to maintain public safety.
Crisis in Hamp Green Rise
Of the 10 trees in HGR, 5 have been identified as having the disease Ganoderma Australe-a white rot decay in the stem and roots). The extent of the disease meant that these trees could not be saved. The 5 trees affected were identified outside the following house numbers trees outside No 19 – No 33 – No 37 – No 50 –All are terminal + a 5th outside ‘Gingers’ at junction with Taunton Road looks healthy but there is severe damage at base, likely caused by cars. There is a clear separation between tree and pavement and the tree is almost at the point of falling.
The remaining 5 trees in HGR are in decline and deterioration may be exacerbated if we have a hot summer. Some of the trees have been pruned but a previous contract for tree pruning with SDC had been terminated as trees were not being inspected whilst they were pruned. With contracts such as these, often problems are not picked up at an early stage.
The Public take centre stage
The meeting was opened up to the public who questioned the officers for almost 2 hours trying to find a solution not just for Hamp Green Rise but across the town.
- Would pruning help to save the trees.A. No. It is considered that pruning the remaining trees could hasten their demise.
- Could the health of the tree be improved by removal of the tarmac around the base?A: the tarmac is permeable. Heat of tarmac can bring up moisture from below. Historically trees have been planted in tarmac. New way of planting is to leave a gap around newly planted trees.
- Have you considered the risk factor to air quality by removing the trees entirely? A. Yes. All the factors were well known, from their qualities of removing particulate absorption, providing canopy cover and reducing air temperature. However, at the moment there was no SCC budget for replacement of trees.
- Can risk be mitigated by supporting/propping trees?A: No budget for propping up trees and it is not practical. Although the trees are relatively small, they weigh heavy and any prop would take up the whole pavement and would in effect shut a footpath down. Also, it is not policy to prop up a dying tree.
- What about trees in people’s gardens which overhang and become an obstruction?A. Notices can be served on trees which are obstructing the highways, cycleways or footpaths.
- Reference was made to the Persimmon build along the A39. Fumes from development could be mopped up by trees. Health and safety needs to improve the air that people breathe. People are ill and dying of air pollution related illnesses.A. SCC have declared a state of climate emergency and are currently developing a Climate Change Policy (Responsible Officer: Paula Hewitt).
- Will the felling of the diseased trees help to protect the others?A. No, this is not relevant.
- The importance of Hamp Green Rise is about the street scene? The SCC policy is about risk and cutting trees – this is the wrong way. It should be about preserving and protecting the street scene.A. The policy is not just about removing trees. Wherever possible, the policy is to maintain trees.
- What is the evidence that trees are a risk?A: Satisfied that the state of the trees was such that they posed a significant risk. Visual tree assessment is accepted practice. The angle that the trees are leaning places additional pressure on to the wood of the tree.
- Would new trees be planted back in the same position? Would new trees be at risk of same disease?A: Trees are often replaced in the same site. However, single species planting is not best practice. Trees are not prone to these diseases when they are fit and young.
- Other than budget. Is there any reason why trees should not be replaced in Hamp Green Rise?A. If trees were to be replanted in HGR would need to make sure that they were the right species.
- What can be done if in the future, evidence can be gained of root severance from works to underground services undermining tree roots?A. Evidence would need to be gained but the public are advised to contact SCC Highways immediately with photographic evidence. They are totally reliant on members of the public reporting damage and vandalism to trees.
- Are EDF replanting trees they have felled as part of their works around the town (Bath road)?A. the development consent order required them to replace trees. What the consent order failed to do was to replace like with like.
- Developers usually plant very small trees. Do the authorities have powers to specify conditions?A. small trees will often exceed growth of a larger tree and establish in the ground better. A crucial element is the water regime, which is often neglected.
Next Steps for Hamp Green Rise Trees
- SCC say decision has been made to remove the trees following inspection.
- There is no SCC consultation requirement for trees at risk of falling over -however, Residents will be notified of date which trees are due to be felled.
- Trees will be removed by SCC within the next 2 months, dependent on capacity of the contractor.
Whilst there is no replanting policy, SCC offered to work in partnership with town and district councils to assist with the cost of replanting if the costs are undertaken by Town or District Council. In such cases, SCC will waive licence fees, ensure that when trees are removed, all roots will be removed and a wider tarmac planting provided prior to new planting. SCC will repair the tarmac and put it right. In such cases, the Town/District takes over responsibility for the first year. After that, SCC will regain responsibility. This is because a young tree will need watering and this is best managed at a very local level. A replacement tree would need to be robust as possible to deter vandalism.
Approximate costings of replacement trees
Source: Bartrums/Hilliers Height: standard – up to 1.8m high. £166 per tree, Stakes, backfill, ties – £31.50 per tree Irrigation tube – £15 per tree, Root barrier 36.64 Licence fees (waived for replacement planting by Town/District Councils) Total cost– up to £250 per tree.
Recommend mixed species planting. Medium sized trees which will cope well and complement each other aesthetically. Cherries/native trees/trees which will cope well with climate change.
Could EDF help?
Other options considered included Community Impact Mitigation funds through EDF.traffic impacting on Hamp Green Rise via increased lorry movements on Taunton rd A38.
Recommendations from the meeting
- BTC to immediately seek EDF sources through SCC for replacement of the Hamp Green Rise trees due to proximity to acknowledged through-route (A38 Taunton road) with mitigation need already established.
- BTC to be recognised by SCC as a key consultee in all major tree actions that affect Bridgwater communities
- BTC Policy will aspire to the replacement of trees in line with its emerging Climate Change policy.
- BTC will work closely with SCC to exert pressure regarding their tree planting policy in line with their emerging Climate Change policy.
- BTC to work with SDC and other partners to realise a policy of tree replacement and increased planting
- BTC to urgently identify possible sources of funding to re-instate trees in Hamp Green Rise, including sponsorship and possible matched funding in co-operation with Clean Surrounds
- BTC to promote a policy of tree planting in all new developments.
- BTC to work with the community and SCC to seek resources through tree funding organisations. Ben Coles (SCC) to provide BTC with potential funders of tree planting.
- Any trees provided by BTC would become the responsibility of SCC after 1 year
- BTC to develop and adopt an increased urban tree policy as central to its Climate Change strategy
These recommendations would go forward to the next Bridgwater Town Council meeting for adoption at the earliest possible opportunity and acted upon.
Cllr Li Gibson will be holding the first Bridwgater Town Council ‘Climate Change’ Forum at the Town Hall on Monday 17th June at 7pm. She can be contacted directly on firstname.lastname@example.org . Li says “Trees and other plants in our environment reduce human stress, which in turn creates better mental health and prevents environmental diseases such as cancer.Trees are homes for billions of animals, birds and insects who need trees, and other vegetation for their survival. If you remove or reduce any link in this biodiverse chain, which human activity is causal, imbalance and the death of species will ensue, be it plant or animal”