I mentioned yesterday that a few years ago I had a run in with our local council over tree felling and I thought I would dig out a piece I wrote for a now defunct forum called Save Our Trees. This was an OBOD scheme instigated by Philip, which aimed to put people who had threats to their local trees, in contact with others who had been or were, in the same boat, and to be a repository of information on what to do. Unfortunately it never really got off the ground and after a couple of years was put into mothballs – it is still out there on the ether somewhere! It was a shame it never took off as there thousands of people who would like to do something to save and protect their local trees. There should be a network all over the country made up of groups like this one in Bristol described by Vassili Papastavrou. Imagine what a national movement like this could achieve!
“At the end of our road there used to be two tall grey poplar trees. They were about a hundred feet from our house, on the footpath outside the bungalow on the corner. If you’re not familiar with grey poplars they’re a very fast growing tree, tall and graceful with leaves that are a silver grey colour on the reverse. One of their most endearing features is that even on a still day the leaves seem to attract whatever breeze there is. They constantly tremble and flicker, showing flashes of silver like a shoal of fish and they make the most amazing whispering noises. Sat in our garden you could hear the trees murmuring and on a windy day they would be roaring like a crowd.
I work part time and get home at about half past one. One day I arrived at the house to find a team of workmen sawing at the trees. I felt the ground lurch beneath me and immediately ran down the road to find out what was happening. The trees were diseased and had to come down according to the foreman. Plus the old couple who had just moved into the large, expensive detached bungalow on the corner had complained that the trees were unsafe and that a branch might fall and injure someone, oh and the trees were pushing their wavey lap fence out of line.
Hmm… I stomp back home and tell my husband who is unimpressed. We have lived here thirteen years and yes branches do fall off occasionally in high winds but thin whippy ones about five foot at most. They’re designed to shed to protect the main limbs. I ring the council and the workman’s boss, the Tree Officer is out of the office, I take his mobile number and leave a message. I wait half an hour. The saws continue. I can’t think what to do.
Working for a neighbouring council I then realise what it is that really gets up council workers noses, what I most dread the public doing at my office. I unleash my local councillors, all three of them, from two different parties. After an hour I am told that the felling would be put on hold until the councillors could meet the Tree Officer the following morning.
The Tree Officer finally deigns to call me back and says the trees are dangerous, prone to dropping limbs, of no value, and should never have been planted where they were. The road was too busy, and no, the council had no duty to inform anyone when a tree was to be felled unless it would affect their property. He immediately gets my back up. I have seen the trees, the foreman admitted to me that there was no sign of disease, and to cap it all my boss is the Tree Officer’s equivalent in the neighbouring borough and doesn’t think that the poplar is a particularly dangerous tree.
The next day the work begins again. One tree had been cut back so much there was no way of saving it anyway, and the other had to come down too. I had already asked about replacements and was told that they would put one tree in. I write to the Chief Executive, telling him how upset I am about the felling and asking him to plant a mature, native, pot grown, tree. The Tree Officer writes back to me and says that there will be a replacement from an approved list – all non native ‘specimen’ trees and that non of the neighbours will have a choice except the elderly couple who caused the felling in the first place. (not that they would actually be able to see the tree because of the leylandii edging the garden)
They chose a Paper Birch and a 15 – 20 foot tree was planted the following autumn. It has not really done very well since it went in. I think it probably needs a bit of love, sometimes I can’t help myself and it gets a few resentful feelings directed at it, which is not very fair on the poor thing.
We still miss the trees dreadfully, if I go to the field end of our road I can go and listen to some of their relatives but it isn’t the same as having them with sight and sound of your home. The old couple are still referred to in our house as Mr and Mrs Tree Murderer, I know it’s childish but it makes us feel better. They are the only people to benefit as their house value has gone up – it makes you wonder.
What I learnt was that my OH or I should have chained ourselves to the tree to stop the work at once. The councillors were very helpful and supportive but didn’t have enough time to work. If you are dealing with a council officer apply pressure from two sides by contacting the Chief Executive (their ultimate boss) and local councillors. Do not take any waffling, they will try and blind you with science, but they are not always right. If I had learnt about the tree felling beforehand I would have done more, got the press and neighbours involved. There is something wrong about councils being both the poacher and gamekeeper regarding trees. On one hand they give out tree protection orders and prosecute people for felling but on the other hand they themselves can clandestinely cut down whatever tree they want.”