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Still the tree stands

April 4, 2012

This is the view looking out to the bottom of our garden. It’s facing west so the sun sets behind these stately boughs. Pretty isn’t it? These shots were taken from upstairs but from ground level there is a Robinia in front of a silver birch in front of these two trees (an oak and an ash), which frame and layer the view. It makes for an appealing outlook at the end of a garden that sits near the edge of a vast urban sprawl. I am guessing they pre-date the house (there is a broken string of old, large trees running behind this road of houses) and are probably remnants of the wood that once stood here. These houses have been here for around 80 years so the trees must be older than that.

Those who follow me on Twitter will know that 4 weeks ago we came home from a weekend away to discover that a neighbour was about to remove the tree on the right. I took these photos on consecutive days from my phone when I was feeling sad that the view might be about to change irrevocably. The scene decided to be particularly poignant in response.

The news had me in a bit of a panic that such a large, old tree was suddenly going to be chopped down. Why was it being removed – was there a good reason? Had it been given proper thought? Had the right advice and permissions been sought? What kind of precedence would this set for the other trees (another tree – I think an oak – had only just been razed to the ground a bit further down the road a few weeks previously)? What were the implications of its removal on the health of the adjacent oak, for wildlife and on the appearance of the area?

Trees and tree felling can be such a contentious and emotionally charged issue. Many people are probably quite happy for trees to be protected, as long as this doesn’t apply to ones in their own back garden. I don’t believe felling a tree is intrinsically a bad thing. It is not always to the detriment of the environment or character of a place. In some instances it is the sensible thing to do. It may be dead, dying, diseased or dangerous. Removing a tree could be part of a larger plan in the management of an environment or garden. I have worked in gardens where taking a tree out has been the right decision even though there may be consternation from visitors and residents in the area. But I do think a mature tree, that has been standing there for a longer time than your house, that supports wildlife and contributes to the personality of a place and has taken 80 years to reach this state deserves a bit of consideration and should not be destroyed in a single day under what may be groundless reasoning.

Today the tree is still standing. Just. It has survived two dates where tree surgeons have been booked to come and fell it.

The first date for the tree’s demise was averted when I went round at the eleventh hour to try to find out from my neighbour why it was being removed and whether they had sought permission from the council first (I myself had no idea whether it was protected or not and could not get through to anyone useful at the council at such a late hour – i.e. 4pm).

The next morning there was blissful silence. Chainsaws failed to appear. My questions had prompted them to postpone the chop.

I eventually got through to the tree officer at the council who came over to take a look. They made a decision to put a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) on it (the oak on the left was already covered by one). They could, of course, have decided it had no value and was not worthy of being saved. Then it was a matter of waiting for the TPO notice to come through.

The following week I had a voicemail from the neighbour to say a second date had been set for the tree to be felled. This was again thwarted when, the next day, notice arrived from the council of the proposed TPO.

The neighbour was less than happy. We had a 5-10 minute conversation on the phone during which she was ranty and irrational and then she hung up on me.

A few people have said that I was brave or I did the right thing. Some believe I should ‘mind my own business’ or not get involved. But the thing is, it is my business. It is the business of all of us. No, it’s not my tree and it is not on my property but it certainly does affect me, and my property come to that. We all have to live in this environment, and I want the environment we live in to be a green and healthy one. All I know is that I felt sick when I found out the tree was coming down. The reasoning for it to be destroyed did nothing to convince me. I would have felt much worse if I had sat back, said nothing and just watched as an 80+ year old tree, that may not have been causing any harm, was felled in a day.

If the tree is a danger to people or property then of course it has to go. I’m just glad that careful consideration plus sound and valid reasons must now be given first before this old tree can be permanently removed. Just a bit of thought. That is all I ask.

Some tips:

  • If there are any trees important to you in your garden or surrounding landscape and you think they may be under threat, check their TPO status early on – don’t wait until they may be chopped down.
  • Planting trees is a wonderful thing to do but please plant responsibly. If you are planting a tree in a small garden make sure its ultimate size and vigour is appropriate for the distance you are planning to site it from the house. I read somewhere (unfortunately I have forgotten where) that as a general rule you should plant your tree at least as far from the house as its eventual height will be. If you are unsure of what to plant then seek advice first.
  • Don’t move into a house with a large or potentially large tree in the garden if you don’t want to manage it or live with it. Check before you move in to a house whether any of the trees on your land are protected or if you are in a conservation area.
  • Be wary about removing a tree because you think it is causing a problem. Unless there is imminent danger from structural failure, hasty action could cause more extensive damage in the future. Seek independent advice from a qualified arborist as well as a building surveyor if you think your tree is causing a problem.
  • Before carrying out work on a tree check with your Local Planning Authority that the tree is not protected by a TPO or in a Conservation Area.


Guide to Tree Preservation Orders

Advice on trees near buildings from the RHS

The Tree Council

Forestry Commission

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rama Lopez-Rivera permalink
    April 4, 2012 4:28 pm

    Haha nice! Bet your neighbour was pissed. But if the the Tpo never came through, would you have chained yourself to the tree?!

    • April 4, 2012 4:44 pm

      Hi Rama. I have no idea what I would have done! Although I can’t see me chaining myself to a tree! If it it had come to it on the first day I would have gone out to talk to the tree surgeons to see if they or the owners had checked permissions with the council first. If it had happened whilst waiting for the TPO I guess the only thing I could have done was not allow them on to my property (they were intending to access land on our property to remove the tree) and then try to get the tree officer from the council over asap (although getting through to anyone on short notice is nigh on impossible!).

      • Rama Lopez-Rivera permalink
        April 4, 2012 4:51 pm

        Well I ‘m sure you now have a very happy tree! From the photos, they look like they were meant to be together. Well done!

      • April 4, 2012 5:02 pm

        They do don’t they? We’ll see… As I told the ranting neighbour – they can oppose a TPO notice. Plus a TPO doesn’t mean a tree can’t be lopped if there is good reason for it to be.

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