Bristol Tree Forum blog

Bristol Trees in Crisis II

Bristol’s street trees saved?

We heard last night at the Mayor’s Cabinet Committee that the Council has agreed to consult about its decision the stop maintaining Bristol’s street trees. This will take place after the General Election has been held. Hopefully this means that the decision will then be reversed, though this is not certain.
As for tree planting, this can continue but it must now be ‘fully funded’. This means that the sponsorship cost will rise from £295 to £765. We are told that this is so that the tree can also be cared for over the next 15 years. If a tree is being planted at a new site (i.e. is not replacing another tree lost), then, if a specially constructed tree pit is required, the cost of this will also need to be funded. This could easily add another £2,000 to £3,000 to the planting cost.
This is good news, but it is likely that many residents are going to find the new cost prohibitive. It also raises the prospect that some street trees are being cared for while all the others are not, which seems rather ridiculous when you think about it!
If you agree, or want to be consulted, please make your thoughts known by contacting your local Councillor and emailing the Mayor.
You can also Contact us here at Bristol Tree Forum to register your support and offer to help defend Bristol’s public tree spaces.
Please spread the word and forward this blog to others interested in saving Bristol’s trees.

Bristol’s trees in crisis!

With Bristol City Council’s budget cuts, two decisions have been made regarding the management of Bristol’s treescape that make no economic sense, and threaten the reputation of the City as a Green and pleasant place to live and locate a business.

With Bristol City Council’s budget cuts, two decisions have been made regarding the management of Bristol’s treescape that make no economic sense, and threaten the reputation of the City as a Green and pleasant place to live and locate a business.

Decision 1: Slashing of street tree management budget

  • The budget for managing street trees has been cut by nearly 78% from £240,000 to £53,000.
  • As a result there will be no pollarding of street trees or removal of epicormic growth around the tree.
  • Emergency cover outside normal working hours is no longer being provided through the tree management contract, despite having no cost benefit.
  • Tree management will be limited to felling to address safety risks, despite greater initial costs and the long term consequent loss of tree sites – felling costs the same as 16 years of maintenance.  As a result, Bristol’s street tree population will rapidly fall into decline as they are steadily removed, never to be replaced.

Decision 2: No planting of street trees, either replacement or new, even when cost neutral

  • Bristol City Council has operated a number of innovative schemes allowing residents or community groups to sponsor replacement or new street trees. Despite fully funding the planting, and maintenance for two years, such planting will no longer be permitted.
  • At the moment, when a tree is replaced in an existing tree pit it costs £295. This covers regular watering until the tree is established and two years maintenance. If the trees dies whilst establishing itself, it is replaced at no extra cost.
  • If the Council can be persuaded to change its mind about not planting new trees, then this cost could to increase to the £765 that developers are required to pay – the overall costs of planting a tree and maintaining it during its lifetime. Planting a tree at a brand new site could add around £2,000-£2,500 if a special tree pit needs to be installed.
  • Currently there is huge support from the community for replacing lost trees. Around £200,000 of developers’ money is set aside for this purpose, Metrobus is committed to planting 200-300 trees as part of their planning condition, and Bristol University has donated funds to plant 60-100 public street trees.
  • It makes little sense, in times of budget constraints, to renounce external funding sources that fully cover planting and maintenance costs.

These decisions are a false economy for Bristol City Council

  • With no pollarding of street trees, increased tree growth will lead to more subsidence claims against the Council, and create more highway damage, pavement trip hazards, and infrastructure damage.
  • New tree growth from previous pollarding points will become unstable, increasing the probability of personal injury and property damage claims against the Council.
  • Just a couple of additional subsidence or injury claims could negate the Council’s entire “cost saving”.
  • This short-term decision makes no sense – if a tree can be maintained for some 16 years – the one-off cost of felling it, then surely it makes better economic sense to spread this inevitable cost and maintain the tree rather than fell it as a short-term ‘solution’ – a ‘solution’ which loads all the costs up front and will lead to greatly increased and unavoidable expenditure in not very many years time?

These decisions will threaten Bristol’s reputation as a Green City

These decisions were taken with no consultation with stakeholders

There has been no consultation regarding these decisions with other Departments within Bristol City Council, who will have to deal with the foreseeable consequences, with insurers, who will face additional damage claims, Avon and Somerset Police, who will have to address public order consequences of mass felling, or Bristol Tree Forum, with its wide-reaching understanding of tree issues.

What you can do

  • Contact your Councillor and email the Mayor and demand that these decisions be overturned.
  • Contact us here at Bristol Tree Forum to register your support and offer to help defend Bristol’s public tree spaces.
  • Spread the word and forward this blog to others interested in saving trees.

Death by a thousand cuts

Without any public consultation, officers from Bristol City Council Highways department have decided to reduce the Council’s street tree maintenance budget from around £240,000 to just £53,000 – a cut of some 78%.

This is part of a overall package of measures that the council has adopted to enable it to cut its overall budget by £104 million by 2020, as required by the government.

As the consequence, the Council will no longer guarantee having staff available to respond to out-of-hours and non-emergency tree-related incidents, if at all.

The regime of pollarding street trees every two to three years has also been abandoned. The Council accepts that, as a consequence there is likely to be ‘an increase in successful subsidence claims brought against the authority’ as it will not have ‘implemented a reasonable cyclical pruning programme in accordance with prevailing practice…(Robbins vs London Borough of Bexley 2012). Have the Council’s lawyers been told?

The effect of this is likely to be that, if there are any safety concerns in future about a particular tree, then the default solution will be to fell it rather than proactively manage the tree by pruning or pollarding it.

The Council’s flagship tree replacement sponsorship scheme has also been abandoned so Bristolians will no longer have any way of replacing their lost street trees.

Bristol has more that 66,000 public trees, many of which are street trees. The inevitable consequence of the Council’s short-sighted decision can only mean that its population of street trees will, sooner or later, decline.

When challenged by Councillor Clive Stevens why these cuts were being implemented, the Council replied:

The council is facing significant budget pressures and has to cut back a number of services as a result of this…Tree roots can cause a trip hazard in the same way that a broken or loose paving slab can….The changes proposed largely bring Tree Maintenance in line with other highway maintenance routines, reacting to defects as we are notified of them. As with any asset there is a balance between short-term needs and expenditure and longer-term costs. With the highways maintenance budget as a whole we have tried to strike a balance for the needs of all asset types and likely costs of defects have been included in these considerations.

So there you have it, trees are just ‘asset types’ like paving slabs – subject to becoming defective, of no greater value and as easily replaced.

Really? Let’s hope our Bristol street trees have got the message and will behave themselves in future like their inert paving slab cousins!

Here are the details of the Council’s recent Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Commission  held last Monday, 24th April 2017 together with the Council’s answers to the questions raised. Here is the the Tree Forum’s Statement with Questions raised with the Commission.

Green space and our health

The evidence for physical and mental health benefits from contact with nature, such as reducing rates of non-communicable diseases is clear.

A range of bodies, including Government agencies, have promoted the potential physical and mental health benefits of having access to green spaces.

The evidence for physical and mental health benefits from contact with nature, such as reducing rates of non-communicable diseases is clear. So are the challenges for preserving and extending urban green spaces.

Green space is natural or semi-natural areas partially or completely covered by vegetation that occur in or near urban areas and provide habitat for wildlife and can be used for recreation. They are many and varied – from tree-covered streets & avenues to squares, play areas, schools, cemeteries, parks, woodlands, nature reserves and allotments.
Sadly, only half of us live close to green space. Green space is expected to decrease as urban infrastructure expands.

Key benefits include:

  • Physical and mental illnesses associated with sedentary urban lifestyles are an increasing economic and social cost.
  • Areas with more accessible green space are associated with better mental and physical health.
  • The risk of mortality caused by cardiovascular disease is lower in residential areas that have higher levels of ‘greenness’.
  • There is evidence that exposure to nature could be used as part of the treatment for some conditions.
  • There are challenges to providing green spaces, such as how to make parks easily accessible and how to fund both their creation and maintenance.

The W.G. Grace Beeches on the Downs

These seven Beech trees on Clifton and Durdham Downs are the last surviving vestiges of some 16 trees which were planted in the late 1860s as the boundary markers for the first Gloucester County Cricket ground. The boundary was also marked by fence posts in between the trees.

Dr W.G. Grace was, of course, the major mover in the creation of the county team and of the original cricket ground. However, they found that it was more or less impossible to establish a paying audience on the site so, after just one match, moved it to Clifton College where they could more easily charge – and have a much better pitch! Unfortunately that meant that they could only play in August during the college’s summer vacation, so they then moved to the present county ground in Bishopston.

Using the girths with the Trees of Bristol Age Calculator, the tree ages range from 85 to 180 years. There is a cluster of ages around 150 giving a planting date of 1867, but we wonder why the range is so large. Were a couple replanted and why is the tree by the southernmost end so much larger than the others at over 4.5 metres in diameter – especially as it does not appear on either map below?

The 1880s Epoch 1 map shows the cricket ground but does not show the trees – though we understand that they had been planted by then.

Durdham Downs 1880

They do, however, appear the 1900 Epoch 2 map.

Durdham Downs 1900

These maps may be accessed by using the historic layers of Bristol City Council’s Pinpoint map.

South West alert: Sweet Chestnut Blight

This has just been received from Mark Prior Forestry Commission Area Director | South West England.

“I am writing to you with information about an outbreak of sweet chestnut blight in the South West and to notify you of four 5 km zones that are subject to movement restrictions.

Sweet chestnut blight is caused by a fungus called Cryphonectria parasitica, which gets into the trees through wounds or graft sites. Although oak trees suffer very little damage if they are infected by the fungus, they can spread it, so restrictions on movements of oak material are also required as a precaution.

Sweet chestnut blight was found in Devon in December 2016, initially south of Exeter. We wrote to our Devon contacts in January to inform them and again last week to let them know about two restricted zones; you may have seen articles in the forestry or local media about this. As a result of related survey and tracing work, we have now identified another zone in Devon and one in Dorset where restrictions are required. We are now writing to all our South West contacts to let you know what we are doing to manage the outbreak and to inform you about the movement restrictions.

Managing the outbreak

The Government is committed to doing all it can to prevent plant pests and diseases crossing our borders, and although we cannot eliminate all risks, we have stringent plans to deal with threats, and take prompt action when they are detected. To this end we work collaboratively with the international community, industry, NGOs, landowners and the public to reduce the risks of pests and diseases entering the country and to mitigate the impact of newly established ones. 

  1. parasitica is a quarantine organism, so the Government’s Chief Plant Health Officer has activated our contingency plan for such an event, in compliance with our obligations under the UK’s Protected Zone status for this disease. We and our colleagues in the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) moved quickly to implement the contingency plan, and in particular we have taken the following measures.
  • We have conducted an intensive survey of sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) trees within a 1 km radius of each site with a confirmed infection.
  • We have also carried out a targeted survey of sweet chestnut trees within 5 km of each site.
  • We are tracing and inspecting sweet chestnut trees at other planting sites that used stock from the same planting years.

Movement restrictions

UK plant health authorities have introduced a prohibition on the movement of sweet chestnut and oak material within four specific zones in Devon and Dorset. A prohibition on two zones in Devon came into force on Friday 24 February 2017. Two more will come into force on Thursday 9 March 2017, one in Devon and one in Dorset. The exact boundaries of all of these zones are shown in notices and maps on the Forestry Commission and Gov.uk websites (please scroll to the end of the notice for the map). The zones will remain in place until further notice and will be kept under review.

This prohibition is implemented by Plant Health (Sweet Chestnut Blight) (England) Order 178/2017. It makes it illegal to move sweet chestnut material including plants, logs, branches, foliage and firewood out of, or within, zones covering a 5 kilometre (3.2 mile) radius of the affected sites where sweet chestnut blight has been found. The same restrictions apply to oak within 1 kilometre (0.62 mile) of the same sites. Exceptions to this movement prohibition include oak or sweet chestnut material entering and exiting the zones without stopping. For example, the delivery of plants, logs or firewood which start and end their journeys outside the zones is permitted.

Exceptions may also be granted in certain circumstances by the Forestry Commission (southwest.fce@forestry.gsi.gov.uk or telephone 0300 067 4960), in the case of woodland sites, or by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Plant Health & Seeds Inspectorate, for horticultural requests (01904 405138 or by emailing planthealth.info@apha.gsi.gov.uk).

The Forestry Commission and APHA are working closely together to carry out tracing activity and inspecting sweet chestnut trees at other sites which may lead to more zones being established. Further advice will follow should this be necessary.

Further information and a symptoms fact sheet and pest alert are available on our website to help you know what to look for when inspecting your trees.”

Please pass on the message.

Finding a Bristol tree on the move

The Trees of Bristol web site provides an interactive guide to the trees in and around Bristol. Currently there are nearly 66,500 live trees recorded – about 67,500 when tree stump and planting sites are included. These cover over 1,000 species, varieties and cultivars in more than 2,100 sites dotted around the city, many within easy walking distance.

If you have a GPS-enabled Android Phone with Firefox installed (they are working on Chrome) or an iPhone with Safari installed, you might like to add this this location-aware page to help you locate and identify Bristol’s many remarkable trees whilst you are on the move. This page will load all the trees in a given area around the phone’s location. As you move, the map will show trees within the range you have set, highlighting and detailing the nearest tree to you.

Why not try it out when you are next out an about in Bristol. You will be amazed and the many, varied and beautiful trees what the city has to offer, even in the heart of the city.