There is a Black Pine (a Pinus nigra) in the back garden of 32 St John’s Road, Clifton, BS8 that its current owner wants removed. Its size suggests that it is probably at least 100 years old. If anything, and given the amount of management it has survived, it is more likely to be about 140 years old as it is very similar to the Black Pines on the Downs which were mostly planted around 1880. It has been protected by a Tree Preservation Order since 2005.
The tree is not easily seen from St John’s Road, but if you go round the corner to Chantry Rd and look north between the back gardens you cannot miss it. It is magnificent! 20 metres tall, with a stately crown around seven metres wide and a stem diameter of 85 cm.
The applicant no longer wants us to see the arboricultural report, based on an inspection of the tree in January 2017 (submitted with a recent application, but now withdrawn) which does not agree that the tree needs to go. Even though its previous management has been less than ideal with some resulting damage and there are the usual signs of ‘decay’ associated with the tree’s age, the tree is in ‘fair condition with no risk of imminent decline‘.
The surveyor goes on to observe that ‘The tree is a prominent specimen within the local landscape with high visual amenity. Being evergreen its prominence increases during the winter months, when the surrounding deciduous trees have lost their leaves.‘
He concludes ‘In my opinion the tree may be retained in the short to medium term…I recommend that it is inspected annually and after periods of extreme weather’.
Despite this, the owner wants it gone and has even persuaded some of their neighbours to support the application, with complaints of the fear of it coming down or losing its branches, and the inconvenience of fallen pine needles and possible blocked gutters.
The new National Policy Planning Framework document (July 2018) has the following definitions at Appendix 2: Glossary.
Ancient or veteran tree: A tree which, because of its age, size and condition, is of exceptional biodiversity, cultural or heritage value. All ancient trees are veteran trees. Not all veteran trees are old enough to be ancient, but are old relative to other trees of the same species. Very few trees of any species reach the ancient life-stage.
Irreplaceable habitat: Habitats which would be technically very difficult (or take a very significant time) to restore, recreate or replace once destroyed, taking into account their
age, uniqueness, species diversity or rarity. They include…ancient and veteran trees….
Paragraph 175 (at page 51) of the framework states:
When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should apply the following principles:
c) development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists;
Paragraph 2.17.6 of DM17: Development Involving Existing Green Infrastructure – part of the Bristol Local Plan echoes this:
Due to their characteristics and value, Aged and Veteran trees are considered to be of relatively greater importance than other trees and even trees of a similar species. Aged trees, by definition, have developed characteristics associated with great age and often have particular landscape and townscape value. Veteran trees are considered to have particularly important nature conservation value. Both will often have significant visual amenity, and potentially historic and cultural importance. As such their loss or harm will not be permitted, and the design and layout of development will be expected to integrate them into development.
Whilst this application to fell the St John’s Road pine is not, perhaps, strictly ‘development’ in the way that these policies intend, the principles they adopt must surely still apply.
A tree in a private space is not the exclusive preserve of those who happen to own it at any given moment, to stand or fall as whim dictates. We all benefit from trees, whether publicly or privately owned, and our planning law recognises that.
The St John’s Road pine probably has a CAVAT value of around £96,500, but this hardly begins to describe its true value to us – the delight it gives when first seen, the web of life it sustains in its branches, trunk and roots – never mind the carbon it has sequestered or the pollution we have dumped it has absorbed or the oxygen it has generated!
The pine may not be an ancient tree, but it is certainly a veteran tree, with all the characteristics that our national and local planning policies describe. Its value to the wider Bristol community has already been acknowledged by making it the subject of a Tree Preservation Order and requiring permission to be granted before anything can be done to it.
Bristol’s Mayor, Marvin Rees has challenged us to double tree canopy cover from around 15% to 30% by 2050. If we are serious about achieving this, then we must also resist these ad hoc attempts to remove trees like the St John’s Road pine.
The current planning application may be found here – 18/04039/VP | Austrian Pine (T1) per TPO No 940 – fell. | 32 St Johns Road Clifton Bristol BS8 2HG.
If you agree with us, and object to this magnificent pine being destroyed, please lodge your comments saying so on the planning website using Comments tab in the link above asap.