Redland Hill street trees felled by the Council. Why? An explanation…

We have now received an explanation, via a local Councillor, for why the trees on Redland Hill were felled – see our recent blog – Redland Hill street trees felled by the Council. Why?As we are anxious to update the record as soon as possible, we have decided to make it public. Here it is, received just yesterday:

Contractors removed some of those trees along this strip in error. The contractor is planting replacements free of charge (hence the blue markers) [small posts painted blue, which we noticed had recently been inserted in a line along the wall – just visible in the image below].

The history I’m told goes as follows: 

The tree officer selected and marked the specific trees to be removed with a green paint spot. The thinning out was necessary due to the lack of space on the narrow strip of verge. It is good arboricultural practice.  It has been suggested this row used to be part of an old beech hedge, this isn’t the case because the trees removed were a mix of species, ash, sycamore and elder.

Unfortunately other trees, without the green spots and which were scheduled to remain, had previously been marked up with orange paint spots. It was made clear to the contractor’s manager when they met the Council’s tree officer on site which trees were to be removed and which should stay. 

The contractor’s team leader who subsequently carried out the felling work had not been given the full information from the manager and felled all the trees except the large Beech on the corner. The felling was also done much quicker than expected which is why the Councillors weren’t notified in advance thus compounding the error.

[The Trees and Allotments Manager] has discussed this communication error with the contractors and they have agreed to replace the trees that were incorrectly felled (i.e. the orange spot ones). The new replacement trees will be much better suited to the location than the original species. The new trees are birch with a very narrow and upright form. This will be much more suited to the narrow planting location and should have potentially less conflict in the future with pedestrians with pushchairs and will be easier to maintain next to the highway.  They will all be planted by the end of tomorrow.”

Here they are…just planted…and we are very pleased to see them.

The view after planting – 13 birch planted in six groups

We have asked the Council to comment. We await their response, though we see that they have already commented to BristolLive.

Councillor Clive Stevens (and ex-Chair of Bristol Tree Forum) commented: “Although conspiracy theories are more fun to read about, sometimes it is due to a good old fashioned cock-up. Lessons to be learned on communication with the public which I think was the main theme of the Tree Forum’s original blog is the need for more and better consultation. That applies to many things the Council does. If the Government decided to increase the duty to consult on tree works lets hope they provide some extra money to pay for someone to do it. And secondly, often the Council takes a while to respond and in this case probably because they wanted to finalise the solution first; its the same department dealing with Stoke Lodge and ex Wyevale Garden Centre situations and probably a hundred or so other active planning applications all with tight deadlines which take priority.”

As a precaution, we have asked the Council to take urgent steps to protect the last remaining beech tree on the boundary wall with a Tree Preservation Order. This is partly because of what has happened, but also because we have had to advise the Planning Department that someone on the site has dumped a large amount of builders rubble and other materials on the tree’s roots on the other side of the wall from the tree. Clearly this important tree (the last vestige of a historic hedge which probably predates both the wall and the buildings nearby) is still under threat and needs protection.

We are sad to have lost what was once a significant aspect of one of the approaches to the Downs, but are pleased to see the whole sorry saga resolved. We hope that lessons have been learned and look forward to watching the replacement birches grow and flourish.

Bristol’s i-Tree Eco survey is published

The study has revealed that there are some 600,000 trees growing in Bristol – and that they are worth £280 million to the city.

The study, the initiative of a partnership between us, Bristol City Council, the Woodland Trustand the Forest of Avon Trust, saw the latter work with 29 volunteers and local partners to help uncover the remarkable story of our Bristol trees.

Using the latest i-Tree Eco 6 model, the survey ran between May and September 2018 and has revealed that Bristol’s trees store around 360,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and remove about 14,000 tonnes more each year – equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of some 9,000 cars.

The study also found that Bristol’s urban forest is worth around £280 million. This includes the cost of replacing the trees, plus the value of all the carbon stored in all the wood.

Each year trees in Bristol provide environmental services worth around £1.6 million, removing about 100 tonnes of air pollution and reducing flood risk by soaking up some 90,000 cubic metres of water thereby preventing this from running into drains and saving us about £140,000 annually.

Bristol’s tree canopy cover is currently around 12%. However, experts believe that this figure needs to increase substantially to help us combat the effects of climate change and air pollution, and protect biodiversity and promote our health and wellbeing. 

Bristol’s One City Plan, published in January 2019, is calling for tree canopy cover to be doubled by the end of 2045. That means adding another 1,316 hectares of new trees by adding around 53 hectares of new tree plantings annually for the next 25 years. This is an ambitious goal, but it could be achieved if everyone in Bristol planted just three new trees each.

Bristol’s Deputy Mayor, Councillor Asher Craig, said:

We have identified a need to increase the city’s tree canopy cover in order to enhance Bristol’s urban environment and provide a wealth of benefits. We are calling upon all citizens and businesses in Bristol to show their support for urban trees.

I am delighted that our partnership was recognised at the recent Street Trees Awards, as it shows we are moving things in the right direction.

Mark Ashdown, Chair of the Bristol Tree Forum said:

The Forum would like to commend Forest of Avon Trust for all their hard work and dedication to this important project. This report helps set the base line for the One City Plan’s goal to double Bristol’s tree canopy cover by 2046. It is an ambitious plan, but with the full support of Bristol City Council – ensuring that planners and developers always think ‘tree’, making sure that enough land is set aside for tree planting, protecting existing trees and ensuring that adequate funding is made available – we can all secure the future of Bristol’s urban forest and help Bristol’s citizens lead healthier, happier lives.

Jon Clark, Executive Director of the Forest of Avon Trust said:

I would like to thank the volunteers who helped us with this study, which makes the case that Bristol’s trees have a really important role in mitigating the growing impact of climate change in the city as well as in managing the health impacts of vehicle and wider CO2 emissions. Looking after the trees we have now and working with communities across Bristol to plant many more of them will make the city a healthier, more sustainable place to live and one in which people will be actively involved.

The Woodland Trust’s South West External Affairs Manager Catherine Brabner-Evans said:

Intuitively we know trees are good for us. They are the green lungs of our city. Urban trees bring life and colour, connecting us with nature, reducing stress, and boosting our mental health. Now we can also demonstrate the economic value of some of the services that trees provide. It is vital we protect our beautiful urban canopy and plant for future generations.

If you would like to help us plant, protect and care for Bristol’s trees, please complete our five-minute survey HERE. The survey closes on May 3rd, 2019.

To request a pdf of the full iTree Bristol report or to ask any questions about the study, please contact us or email Jon Clark at the Forest of Avon Trust.

Redland Hill street trees felled by the Council. Why?

Until a few weeks ago there was a lovely informal stand of trees along Redland Hill, which is a busy road that I walk up twice a day to get to the Downs.

As it used to look – Google Street View – July 2018

Rush hour stationary traffic belches out pollution and the trees provided some respite.  I have watched over the years as several of the old beech trees were removed.  They were probably once part of a beech hedge that predates the existing buildings (and the wall): now only one is left.  Instead, an informal collection of ash and other trees grew in their place.  This was a great place to see Broomrape, a parasitic plant that grew at the base of some trees.

How it now looks…All gone – just one lonely beech and some street furniture left to improve the view.

There was no consultation of any kind with the community. One day the trees were there, the next they were gone. Without any involvement from the Bristol Tree Forum, the local councillor or the local community, we can only guess why the trees were removed. Perhaps it was concerns about the nearby wall.  A careful examination shows that there are no obvious cracks, even close to the one remaining beech tree.  Was a proper engineer’s survey done? In days gone by a Bristol City Council Tree Officer defended a tree, similarly close to a garden wall, that the owners wanted to cut down, even obtaining an engineer’s report. Even if there were substantial damage to the wall, other options were possible, such as thinning out the trees (only some were marked with green paint) or laying them as a hedge as was recently done in Redland Green.

…just sawdust, rubbish and some ivy (now hacked down), nothing else.

Of course the removal may be for a different reason. Maybe what the developers really wanted to do was to create views for their flats and successfully put pressure on the council? Perhaps the pavement will be widened?  Or perhaps the area will be dug up for services. I don’t think the removal of trees was in the planning application.

J

At this time, with the threat of Ash die-back disease we should be looking to keep healthy ash trees in case by chance they turn out to be the ones that are resistant. Cutting down healthy ash trees is misguided.

The money that was spent cutting down these trees should have been used for planting new street trees, something that Bristol City Council says it has no funds to do. I’m guessing more money will now be spent to tarmac over the area where the trees once were. 

Bristol City Council should have thought differently. For example, it should have enforced a root protection area for the last remaining beech tree. This was apparently not done and I guess we will see that last tree fail in the next ten years.

At present, Bristol City Council refuses to consult over tree felling decisions, despite requests from the Bristol Tree Forum for a decade. It is almost as though the council thinks there are no inhabitants in the urban forest and that they always know best. Unilateral decisions such as this show how important the government’s proposal is to require local authorities to properly consult before removing street trees

Bristol has an ambitious plan to double its tree canopy by 2050. Yet all over Bristol, on an almost daily basis, tree canopy is being lost – for multiple reasons. Just in the local area, about half a dozen really large trees have gone and the canopy cover has decreased. We did manage to get one new street tree, in the middle of Redland roundabout but it took a four year battle and the help of our local MP to get it planted. Trees are lost very gradually in our bit of Bristol and are often not replaced.  So the change in canopy is not obvious. Fisheries biologists have coined the term “shifting baselines”, where each generation sees only minor negative changes. But the effect over a long period is substantial.

As Professor Corinne Le Quere has said, “actions to tackle climate change have to penetrate all the decisions that we take in society”. We are hoping that we can get this point across to the decision makers in Bristol City Council.

The Bristol Tree Forum will now be campaigning for these trees to be replaced.

Vassili Papastavrou.

Consultation – Protecting and Enhancing England’s Trees and Woodlands

Communities to have a greater say in protecting local trees…?

The Government has announced plans to create greater protections for trees in urban areas. The proposals would ensure councils can’t cut down street trees without first consulting their local communities.

The measures are intended to reflect the important role trees in towns and cities play in improving our health and wellbeing, as well as providing crucial environmental benefits.

The proposals include:

  • making sure communities have their say on whether street trees should be felled with requirements for councils to consult local residents.
  • responsibilities on councils to report on tree felling and replanting to make sure we can safeguard our environment for future generations.
  • giving the Forestry Commission more powers to tackle illegal tree felling and strengthen protection of wooded landscapes.

Interested parties have been invited to participate in the consultation. The proposals are based on the December 2018 paper, Protecting and Enhancing England’s trees and woodlands.

If you want to submit your own response, you will need to do so by 28th February 2018.

Here are Bristol Tree Forum’s responses to the questions asked:

Should a duty for local authorities to consult on the felling of street trees be introduced?

Yes.

It has been argued that it is too onerous for tree officers to consult on every single felling. Bristol Tree Forum believes that there are often alternatives to felling which should be considered, especially given how difficult it is to re-create canopy once it has been lost. Clearly, there should be consultation on a management plan to manage street trees. In other words if the goal is to stabilise canopy loss and even increase it, then a cost-benefit analysis has to be done to see if this might better be achieved by retaining an existing tree and managing its defects, or felling it and replacing with several new trees. The key is to consider street trees as capital assets. Thus, the cost of their replacement should be included in any management programme.

In addition, there should be consultation over planned major highways works to ensure that the minimum number of trees are lost, as well as taking the opportunity to maximise the possibility of planting new ones during the works.

Do you agree with the proposed scope of the duty to consult?

No.

Street trees form just one part of the urban forest.

Giving just street trees special protection without also protecting the wider urban forest and allowing consultation on all issues affecting the place of trees in the whole urban space, will result in the fragmentation of policies affecting the way the urban forest and its contribution to green infrastructure is managed.

Do you agree with the government’s preferred approach of a closed consultation with trigger point?

No.

These are the three consultation models proposed (the government’s preference is for option C):

Our preferred option is Option A: Full Consultation.

Placing notices just on trees will only inform those who happen to pass the tree and might or might not then take an interest.

At the very least, the notice should be published online.  This should not create an undue addition bureaucratic burden on Local authorities, as most will have tree management systems already in place that can be adapted to facilitate the automatic publication of these notices.

In this way those with a wider interest in the protection of street trees, such as Bristol Tree Forum and other community groups, will have an opportunity to engage in the process and offer comments and insights which those living locally (an area of just 100m2?) who are invited to make ad hoc comments in particular instances might not necessarily be aware of.

In any event, defining ‘local residents’ as just those living inside a 100m2 area is very unlikely to include all those who might take want to make a comment. For example removing a single tree from among many planted along a street is likely to be of interest to all the residents of the street, not just those living within 100 metres. Busy roads, where street trees are vitally needed, often have few residents. Another reason why it is necessary to involve local groups in consultation.

In what circumstances do you think a tree should be exempt from the duty to consult?

Only dangerous trees which present an immediate danger (‘immediate danger’ will need to be very carefully defined) where work is urgently needed to remove that danger should be felled without prior consultation. 

In all other circumstances, trees can be (and should have been) progressively managed in line with well-established risk management processes which will monitor any risk over time as it develops.

Even dead trees have a place in the urban biosphere, and may not necessarily need to be removed just because they are dead but do not present an immediate danger.

We are also concerned that, if the duty to consult is too widely exempted, it will undermine the wider purpose of this policy to require public bodies to consult.

In any event, all consultations should be “proper” as defined by Lord Woolf in R v North East Devon Health Authority, ex parte Coughlan [2001] QB 213 (para 108):  “…To be proper, consultation must be undertaken at a time when proposals are still at a formative stage; it must include sufficient reasons for particular proposals to allow those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response; adequate time must be given for this purpose; and the product of consultation must be conscientiously taken into account when the ultimate decision is taken…”.

Do you think it is appropriate that trees of special historic or cultural significance are subject to a more rigorous consultation process?

Yes.

Do you agree with the criteria for designating a tree of special historic or cultural significance?

Yes.

Are there any other categories which should be included?

Trees falling within the definitions of Ancient and Veteran trees as set out in Natural England’s standing advice, “Ancient woodland, ancient trees and veteran trees: protecting them from development” should also be made subject to a more rigorous consultation process. For this to be effective, Local authorities will need to develop registers of ancient and veteran trees.

Also Trees subject to a Tree Preservation Order or growing in a Conservation Area where the Local Authority does not consider that a prior planning application is required because the proposed works fall come within Permitted Development Rights (or for any other reason) should also be included. See, for example, Bristol City Council’s response to Cotham School’s proposal to erect a fence around Stoke Lodge Playing Fields in such a way that trees protected by a TPO would be damaged; Bristol City Council did not require the school to make a planning application for prior consent to work in and around these trees because the works (it decided) fell within the school’s permitted development rights. The Council’s approach, which seems to be unique across the UK, has had the effect of denying the community an opportunity to make representations or offer comments as it would have been able to do had a planning application been required.

There also needs to be a process to allow TPOs to be put on important trees that are on public land, and to facilitate the process of consultation when this is being done.

Do you think that the duty to consult will have any negative impacts on development?

No.

Should consultations be done on an individual basis or in groups of trees where, for example, trees are planted in the same location?

The duty to consult will depend on the circumstances. In some cases it may be more appropriate to impose a duty to consult where a group of trees is likely to be affected – say a wood, copse or grove or were some or all of the trees in a given street are under consideration. In other circumstances, it will be sufficient to consult where only an individual tree is under consideration.

In addition, there should be proper consultation regarding the management principles to be taken into consideration when making a decision on any tree or group of trees.

Should a duty on local authorities to report on tree felling and planting be introduced?

Without open access to such decisions there is no way for communities to engage with decisions either on a case-by-case basis or in a wider and more long-term context where trends and outcomes may not be immediately visible but evolve over time.

Reports on planting should stipulate the size of trees, tree species and the category of spaces where they have been planted (e.g. streets).  Planting one street tree is several hundred times more expensive than planting a whip in a park, but it is not simply a numbers game.

Which trees would it be useful to report on?

All trees in the Local Authority’s tree stock need to be reported on and mapped. 

This might be on a tree-by-tree basis (such as street trees), or where clearly definable canopy areas can be mapped, and it is impracticable to survey every tree within the canopy. In many cases the importance of trees lies not just in their individual existence, but also in the contribution they make to overall tree canopy cover (TCC).

Please explain the reason for your answer.

Trees do not just serve an aesthetic role or provide visual amenity in the urban environment. Increasingly it is recognised that they also provide significant environmental and health benefits – carbon and pollution capture, rainfall run-off and heat island mitigation together with acknowledged health benefits are just some examples. It is now widely accepted that the effective management of urban tree stocks to enhance these effects has become an essential tool in helping public authorities and urban communities to mitigate some of the negative effects of living in the urban space.

So, if there is no understanding of what a Local Authority’s tree stock is, then there is little prospect of taking advantage of what it can and might offer.

What information do you think local authorities could gather and hold?

The data maintained by Bristol City Council and available as open data via its web page Open Data Bristol and its ArcGIS servers is a model of how Local authorities  can gather and hold information about their tree stocks.

How could local authorities present this information?

See our answer to question 16. There are many other similar examples across the UK.  By publishing its base data (preferably built on a consistent national data model structure) about tree stocks in an open access data format. Local authorities can also enable community engagement and so allow more sophisticated and enriched knowledge systems to be developed by local communities.

For example, Bristol Tree Forum has developed its sister Trees of Bristol web site which provides a much richer, interactive experience for users than is available just by presenting the raw data.

Should national Government play a role in collating and managing information?

Yes.

By publishing national best practice standards and devising a standard framework whereby data is gathered, including ensuring that the data generated is available through publicly accessible open data platforms and formatted to be machine readable.

Do you agree that Tree and Woodland Strategies help local authorities and the public to manage their trees and woodlands?

Yes.

Would best practice guidance be sufficient for local authorities and the public?

No.

Best practice is very important and must be encouraged, but without a legal framework which obliges Local authorities (and other public bodies) to comply with their obligation to consult and which gives communities a prompt and inexpensive way of obliging them to do so, there is little or any prospect of success.

Do you agree with the suggested content for best practice guidance for Tree and Woodland Strategies?

Yes

Government should produce best practice guidance to support local authorities in drawing up, consulting on and publishing their Tree and Woodland strategies to enable them to take a long-term, strategic approach to these resources, and provide another route for them to set out their tree policies clearly to the public and so increase transparency and accountability.

Do you support these measures?

Yes.

But there should be additional measures such as those addressed in this response.

The Stoke Lodge Lucombe Oak wins Bristol Tree of the Year 2018

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the inaugural Bristol Tree Forum’s Tree of the Year competition is the Lucombe Oak, submitted by the community group We Love Stoke LodgeThe Lucombe Oak was a clear winner with 584 votes out of the 1,269 confirmed votes cast for the eleven entries. 

We Love Stoke Lodge is an informal community group of local residents based around Stoke Lodge, a 26-acre park and recreational area in Stoke Bishop in the north-west of Bristol.

The group writes:

The Lucombe Oak is a cross between a Turkey Oak and a Cork Oak. It was first raised by an Exeter nurseryman, William Lucombe, in 1762. It is unusual in the fact that it keeps its leaves over winter. The story goes that William Lucombe was so attached to his special oak that he felled the original specimen to provide wood for his own coffin and kept the boards under his bed until he died. However, he lived an exceptionally long life, dying at the age of 102 years, by which time the planks had decayed in the Devon damp. To quote an article from Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, this showed ‘that Lucombe knew more about growing trees than preserving them’. On his death timber from one of his early propagations was used to make his coffin instead.

Notwithstanding the tree’s fascinating history, so many of our community hold treasured memories of this tree dating back over four generations. At a recent community picnic those in their nineties sat alongside primary school children of today talking about the best picnics they have had under our beloved tree and sharing tips on how to climb it wonderful branches. This tree is the meeting point for many sports and well-being groups. Its branches shade baby groups, yoga classes, families and friends from the sun (and the rain) every day – as it has done for hundreds of years ! This tree is a not just located in the centre of our community, it is part of it.

The runner-up is the Brislington Brook Plane Tree, with 399 votes and submitted by Friends of Brislington Brook, a community group which works to enhance and look after the green spaces that are Nightingale Valley and St Annes Wood

The group writes:

This giant London plane tree that dominates an area of Brislington’s Nightingale Valley is, together with the nearby pack-horse bridge, one of the features that help define this unexpected green haven. Its trunk was once an open hollow, tempting the mischievous to light fires within it so a few years ago a local action group walled it up. This has given rise to a legend that a witch is entombed within. Many generations of Brislingtonians have picnicked in its shade, swung across the brook from ropes attached to its boughs or caught tiddlers beneath it. It has a symbolic significance: It’s tall, it’s strong, it’s seen adversity, it endures.

We would like to thank all those who submitted a nominee. We were delighted to receive such a varied and eclectic range of wonderful and inspiring trees, both living and dead. An inspiration for next year’s competition.

Our congratulations to the winner and the runner-up and thank you to all those who voted.

For more information about the competition and the votes cast for each entry, click on this link – Bristol Tree of the Year 2018.

Ancient and Veteran Trees explained

These two terms are in common use, but they have specific meanings when it comes to their conservation. All ancient trees are veterans, but a tree may qualify as a veteran without being ancient.  Most British trees increase in girth over their lifetimes by 2.5 cm a year. They grow faster when young, when in the open as opposed to woodland, and when in good soil rather than bad. They grow slower as they get older. Some species grow faster than average, such as Black Poplar, Plane, and Wellingtonia, and some more slowly, especially Limes and Hawthorns.

Trees are very good at vegetative reproduction, so that they are effectively eternal. Some create their own clumps, each tree being a clone. They do this by branches that arch down to the ground, root, and send up new vertical trees. The Tortworth Chestnut, which was regarded as ancient in King Johns reign, is a good example, but some of the limes on the Downs are doing this. Some trees send up new shoots from the base of the trunk which eventually replace the original tree. Many trees if cut to the ground, by storm or men, will promptly create new shoots, and this is the basis of coppicing which was a standard woodland management tool from at least Roman times. There is a Small-leaved Lime at Westonbirt Arboretum that now consists of a ring of clones about forty metres in diameter.

Ancient trees should be at least two hundred years old, and hence have a girth of more than five metres. I have measured 120 trees in Bristol with this girth, and there are many more in Ashton Court that I have not checked.   They matter because they provide a range of habitats to a range of species. They are always hollow, often squat,  having long since lost their upper branches, their hearts eaten out by fungi and beetles, full of nooks and crannies, and often clothed in lichens and ferns. They are most frequently Oaks, Sweet Chestnuts, Planes and Cedars.

Veteran trees are defined by their individuality. They will be mature, around 140/150 years old, about three metres in girth, mostly still standing tall. Fine, significant specimens of their species both in form and biodiversity. They are candidates to become Ancient, they may be starting to go hollow, and hence be of concern. They may need management to avoid their becoming top heavy, or developing a dangerous lean. They will stand out from other trees in their particular locality and may have planning protection as a consequence. They may also have special features of note, such as being multi-trunked.

Trees and Planning

The National Policy Planning Framework document (issued in 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.

Ancient Woodland. An area of woodland that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600 AD. It includes ancient semi-natural woodland and plantations on ancient woodland sites.

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 woodland and 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.

These guidelines apply whether the tree or woodland grows in a public or a private place.

R L Bland

About Richard

Veteran pine threatened with destruction

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.

St John's Rd Pinus nigra

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 by going to Welcome to Planning Online page, selecting Planning – Simple Search option at the bottom and entering 18/04039/VP in the last field at the bottom of the page. Press Search and , after a few moments, you will be taken to the Planning- Application Summary page headed ‘18/04039/VP | Austrian Pine (T1) per TPO No 940 – fell. | 32 St Johns Road Clifton Bristol BS8 2HG’.  The documents, including various comments made to date, can be found under the Documents tab.

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. We offer help navigating the Planning pages and with filling in your comments here.