Everyone from all sides of the political spectrum is talking about planting trees. We fully endorse this, but it will take time for these new trees to mature. In the meantime, retaining existing trees will have the biggest immediate effect.
We propose that
There needs to be genuine community engagement in Bristol’s tree management decisions. The council needs to listen to communities that want to save trees, not just to those who want to remove them.
Urban trees (planted or self-sown) have a tough life. Many bear the wounds and scars of previous damage or interventions. These trees, though they may not be perfect, should be valued for the ecosystem services they provide and retained with appropriate and careful management wherever possible.
Alternatives to felling must be given priority, whether for street trees, or for those threatened by planning applications, or for other trees in the public or the private space.
We need to strengthen planning policies to help retain trees on development sites by building around them, especially when the trees are on the edge of the site.
Veteran and ancient trees require specialist management to ensure their retention whenever possible.
When surveys identify trees that present a risk, there should be consultation about the range of options available to mitigate the risk. This should always balance risk with the benefits the tree provides. Felling is only ever a last resort.
If trees must be felled, then more trees need to be planted to replace them. This should be based on well-established metrics used to calculate how to increase (not just replace) the natural capital of the lost tree.
Click here to print acopy of the manifesto. Candidates are welcome to download and use to support our aims.
Our Blogs contain many examples of the sorts of issues that have caused us to write this manifesto.
As you are aware, we have been expressing our continuing concerns about the welfare of the trees growing at Stoke Lodge Park and Playing Fields for the best part of a year now.
At the moment, our particular concerns are threefold:
The potential for damage to trees caused by pedestrians being obliged to pass over their root zones and under their canopies since Cotham School erected its boundary fence last year.
The potential for damage being caused to the trees growing within the new fence being caused by the school’s grass mowing regime.
The potential for damage to trees caused by vehicles passing over their root zones and under their canopies.
To a large extend, our concerns about issue three may have been allayed by the school’s adoption of a new access point at the eastern end of the fields, but we will have to see how this develops.
As for the other two issues, we attach images showing how the very muddy and disturbed path running around the outside of the school’s fence is causing disruption to the root zones of a number of trees – these are not all the trees being affected by this.
These images show how the current mowing regime encroaches within the root zone of one of the Turkey oaks inside the fence.
Here is a video which shows the mowing issue more clearly.
In our view, something needs to be done about this before any damage being caused becomes irreversible.
Can you advise me what action the Council plans to take to protect these trees, please?
Bristol has declared a climate emergency. There is an urgent need for all council departments to re-think the way that they work.
At the time of writing, four of the trees in this image have been felled (two Norway Naples and two Indian Bean trees on a different plot). The value of the five maple trees along Lower Ashley Road was calculated at £200,000 using CAVAT. Local residents are desperately trying to save the three remaining maples.
This blog discusses six changes that are desperately needed to protect trees on development sites.
Planning Decisions regarding important or TPO trees should be considered by committee and not delegated to one officer.
It is practically impossible for local residents and other stakeholders to wade through all planning documents online. Planning Officers must highlight important tree issues and have a duty of care to act positively in favour of trees.
Bristol should implement policies to retain trees on development sites in the way that has been done in London, Oxford and elsewhere. This includes enforcement and a presumption to retain trees at the edge of development sites.
An emergency number to address immediate tree felling issues.
It is a false choice to say that we can either have social housing or trees. With clever designs, we can retain existing trees and have better social housing.
Replacing felled trees, even when applying the Bristol Tree Replacement Standard, is second best to retaining existing large urban trees. We get the benefits from existing trees now – we have to wait decades for their replacements to grow.
Over the last six months there have been half a dozen articles in the local press and now one Guardian article about the shocking planning decision to allow removal of five Norway maple trees with Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) on Lower Ashley Road, one of the most polluted streets in Bristol. There have been two meetings with the mayor who also visited the site and there is now a vigil by protesters on the site: police have been called on several occasions. All this indicates a planning process that has marginalised local residents and failed to take into account the value of the trees.
The Bristol Tree Forum appreciates the efforts by Mayor Marvin Rees to try and resolve the situation after the event. He visited the site and then convened two meetings in City Hall which he chaired. We have been impressed by his serious engagement and the way that he has brought all the interested parties into the room and handled the discussion. But, as we think he would agree, this is the wrong way around. Discussions such as this should happen before the planning decisions are taken so that there is community engagement in the decision making.
Planning Decisions regarding important or TPO trees should be considered by committee and not delegated to one officer
That we have got to this stage shows a serious failure of both Bristol City Council Planning policy and its implementation. The decision to remove the trees was taken in 2015/16 by one planning officer as a reserved decision. It did not go for to the Planning Development committee for a considered decision. Looking over the documents it doesn’t seem that any time or thought was given to the trees. The Arboricultural Report provided by the developer does not even state whether the trees had TPOs, and indeed there is no discussion of the TPOs in any of the documents in that planning application, with the only mention on the “constraints” page. In 2015, The Bristol Tree Forum commented in opposition to the proposal but even the BTF was unaware that the trees had TPOs. Whilst BCC insists that the decision was “valid”, without a mention of the TPOs there was insufficient information to allow intelligent consideration of the proposal, so we question that decision. Sufficient information for intelligent consideration is one of the fundamental principles of a “proper consultation” as decided by Lord Woolf*. The first mention of the TPOs in a document is in the Officer’s Report outlining the delegated decision.
Unfortunately this is not an isolated failure: trees all over Bristol are being unnecessarily sacrificed as a result of applying ideology from the 1960s. For example a single planning officer gave the green light for the removal of some 25 trees on the Redland Girls School site, in a conservation area, despite the fact that the removal is purely for landscaping.
It is practically impossible for local residents and other stakeholders to wade through all planning documents on line. Planning Officers must highlight important tree issues and have a duty of care to act positively in favour of trees
Important tree issues need to be highlighted and openly discussed during the planning process. Planning Officers already implement policy regarding flood risk, traffic management and other construction matters. The Bristol Tree Forum is asking that tree protection is included too as is done in other local authorities (Examples are Oxford and Islington, below). In addition, trees on or near active development sites must be properly protected.
We see applications with no information on the Bristol Tree Replacement Standard calculations, or obviously incorrect information being supplied. Documents such as these should be rejected by the planning officer.
An emergency 24-hour number to address immediate tree felling issues.
Bristol is at risk of becoming known as a Mad Max world now that unqualified people are wielding chainsaws from ladders above passing pedestrians with no enforcement consequences, often on public holidays, sometimes in the evenings and even at night. A proper approach for addressing this problem needs to be developed in collaboration with the police. It is unfair to send a single tree officer on their own to deal with issues of public order. Multiple phone calls and sometimes hundreds of emails to numerous council departments very quickly overload already overstretched council officers. It is no good passing the buck to the Health and Safety Executive. Therefore we need one emergency Bristol City Council number.
Bristol should implement policies to retain trees on development sites
Where possible we should build developments around existing trees. There should be a presumption to build around existing trees and particularly to retain trees at the edge of development sites.
The developer’s arboricultural report for Lower Ashley Road states that “In order to retain the trees within any new scheme, the front of any new building will need to be sited a minimum of ten metres from the existing site boundary”. We have heard this assertion stated by developer and planner as “the ten metre rule”.
There are many examples where mature trees are retained close to new buildings, in London, Oxford and elsewhere. This must become commonplace in Bristol too. A Trees and Design Action Group article describes the construction of the Angel Building (Islington, London) around existing mature trees. No cowboy chainsawing there. Instead extreme care was taken in a project that was led by landscape architects. For example:
Deliveries needed to be conducted on a daily basis. To enable this, the Tree Protection Plan (TPP) and Arboricultural Method Statement (AMS), developed by appointed tree specialist JCA, in coordination with the project landscape architect and the council tree officer, proposed the use of a porous load-spreading cellular confinement system (Geoweb) braced with timber frames.
All existing trees were irrigated during the two-year construction period following a sporadic pattern imitating rain. Because irrigation was fed with calcium-rich London tap water, the system was fitted with filters to avoid increasing the soil pH.
It is a false choice to say that we can either have social housing or trees.
Although the 2015/16 planning approval that is being used to justify removal of the trees was for student accommodation, the current proposal, still under consideration, is for social housing that Bristol desperately needs. We are surprised that, despite this new undecided application, the developer is still able to undertake work under the old approved application which they no longer intend to pursue. Shouldn’t the slate be wiped clean so we have a chance to revisit the whole plan with the trees still in place rather than be forced to decide without them?
The developer, planners and others have presented a false choice stating either we retain the trees, keep the site derelict and leave 28 families homeless, or we remove the trees.
These trees are right on the edge of the development site. With clever designs, led by a landscape architect (not even apparent that one has been engaged for this project), and carefully constructed foundations (e.g. screw piling), the developer could build close to the existing trees. The result? Better social housing which benefits from existing green infrastructure and provides a more pleasant environment with some protection from the noise and pollution of this busy road.
Lord Woolf MR in R v North and East Devon Health Authority, ex parte Coughlan  QB 213,  3 All ER 850,  as follows: whether or not consultation is a legal requirement, if it is embarked upon it must be carried out properly; 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.
There are some 166 educational sites and 63 playing fields across the city. Together they cover over 560 hectares and form a significant proportion and an important part of the city’s open, green spaces.
Despite this, Bristol City Council no longer manages trees growing on many of these sites and their related playing fields. We are not certain, but we imagine that this situation has come about as a result of the decline in local authority control over state educational provision with the rise of independent Academies.
We issued a Freedom of Information request (FoI) to try to find out which sites remain under the control of the Council, but our request has been refused on the grounds that answering it would impose a significant burden on the council. Our more generic request at the end has also been refused on the same grounds.
The trees at Stoke Lodge Playing Fields
Recent events at Stoke Lodge and the playing fields there perhaps best illustrate our concerns and the potential threats to the many trees growing on land set aside for educational purposes.
The site was leased for 125 years to Cotham School in August 2011. Interestingly, the Council agreed to retain its responsibility for all the trees growing on the site. It also agreed to indemnify the school for any damage the school might cause to the trees and to insure against this risk.
Stoke Lodge Playing Fields are located to the west of the city in Stoke Bishop ward and cover some 8.7 hectares of open space. Historically they were part of the grade II listed lodge (now an adult learning centre) of the same name which covers about two more hectares and contains an arboretum of important trees (the survivors of a collection that formerly spread right across the historic lodge grounds).
Unlike most of the land around it, this part of Stoke Bishop is not in a Conservation Area. For some 70 years, the whole estate, which until recently had never been seen as a divided space, has been used by the local community and is designated an important open space. Nearly all the trees on the Stoke Lodge estate are subject to Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) which were placed on the trees in early 2012.
In the summer of 2018 Cotham School announced that it intended to erect a fence along the boundary of its leased land. They stated that they did not require prior planning permission to do so because they were exercising their statutory Permitted Development rights. After an initial dispute about whether the school could indeed use Permitted Development rights, in January 2019 work began to erect the fence.
It was at this point that the Bristol Tree Forum became involved after it became clear that the proposed route of the fence would pass through the root zones of a large number of important trees, many of which were the subject of a TPO.
There then followed a protracted period of back and forth representations while we and the local community fought to get the fence relocated to avoid damaging the trees. This was partly successful. Where it was not, we were able to insist that the methodology for erecting the fence where it still passed through tree roots was modified to minimise damage. Even so, it took the constant vigilance of the local community and BTF representatives to ensure that Cotham School did not ignore the conditions placed upon it.
Setting aside the issue of the siting of the fence, our primary argument has always been that TPO law requires a prior planning application to be made (and approved) before any work is undertaken that could cause damage to TPO trees. Initially, the Council rejected this argument, effectively stating the Permitted Development rights trump primary TPO legislation. It also argued that, anyway, it could not proactively prevent damage to TPO trees, but had to wait until the damage has been done, which is, frankly, absurd. We continued to challenge these interpretations and, eventually, the Council conceded our points, though only after the fencing had been completed.
Things then appeared to return to normal,except that the community was now largely confined the unfenced areas around the boundaries of the site. As a result, the trees around the boundary are being exposed to heavier traffic through their root zones. We are concerned that this may have a long-term, adverse impact on their health.
Then, in August of this year, and without any warning, contractors arrived to lay cable ducting across the site so that video surveillance equipment could be installed. Using a mini digger they immediately set about driving over and cutting through the root zone of a TPO Common Ash growing on the boundary of the site. Other non-TPO trees (some privately owned) were similarly damaged.
We lodged a complaint with the Council’s Planning department. As a result, enforcement proceedings were commenced and the school, whilst narrowly avoiding prosecution, was obliged to take remedial action to try to mitigate the damage caused to the tree. The council also felt obliged to remind the school of its obligations to TPO trees:
And this is a site where the trees are still under the ‘guardianship’ of the Council! What about those sites where the care is vested with the school?
Our concerns remain for the future health of those trees whose root areas had been invaded by the fence installation. We have also continued to express fears about other continuing threats to the trees arising as a result of other activities on the site. So far, our concerns have been ignored.
For example, continuing root compaction and branch damage is being caused to the Persian walnut growing by the gate close to the rear car park and to the trees growing beside the Parrys Lane entrance. This is the result of grass mowers and other service vehicles using these entrances to gain access to the site. We are told the access point has been moved to the Parrys Lane entrance, though that too involves vehicles passing over tree roots.
Historically, it looks like vehicles accessed the site from behind the Children’s Play Ground on the southwest of the site, so did not need to drive over any tree roots. The presence of the fence and lack of any gate there has now closed off that option.
The school’s contractors also continue to mow within the root zones of the two large Turkey oaks (BCC-77025 on the eastern end & BCC-77059 on the western end) that grow inside the playing fields fence.
However, the Council and the school decline to address these issues saying that they have made adequate arrangements to safeguard the trees.
STOP PRESS – 4th January 2020 – since writing this blog, Cotham School has felled a TPO protected Elder (plus five others) on the Eastern side of the playing fields and poisoned it with Glyphosate. We have informed Bristol Council Parks and Planning Departments and asked them to investigate. They advise:
“The felled Elder trees were not included within or protected by the TPO covering the adjacent Sycamore tree.
It is very unlikely that roots from the Elder trees will have grafted with the roots from the Sycamore tree. Also translocation of herbicide between grafted roots is very unlikely.*
We are not aware of any plans to fell the twin stemmed Oak beside the white shed at the eastern end of Stoke Lodge Playing fields.”
But, when we asked Parks if these works were done with their prior knowledge and agreement, or if the department had approved the application of Glyphosate to the tree roots, or if they had seen the School’s Aboricultural Management Scheme, they answered ‘No’.
It seems that the school had complied with their obligation to get consent from the Council, their Landlord, but that the Council’s Education Asset Management team had failed to consult Park’s specialist tree officers about the plans.
Cotham School has issued these FAQs – 33 to 38 in response to this issue.
The fate of other educational sites
In the meantime, we have no idea if or how other schools are managing the trees on their sites, or if the Council is consulted when they do.
Even though, in most cases, educational sites are still on Council-owned land, the Council only needs to be told if the trees have a TPO or are growing in one of the city’s 33 conservation zones (or, we assume, if the Council’s lease with the school keeps the management of the trees in the control of the Council – as was the case at Stoke Lodge).
Given that Bristol City Council does not normally issue TPOs for trees on its own land, arguing that it is a good landlord and will look after important trees appropriately, it is unlikely that trees that have been handed over on other educational sites will have been protected by a TPO. Perhaps the council should now review its policy where it no longer manages trees growing on educational sites in light of this history.
Certainly it seems that new tree planting need no longer involve the Council. For example we recently observed that several newly planted trees at Cotham School’s main site had died. It was only when we noted that the dead trees were missing from the Council’s tree stock data for the school that we learned that they were no longer responsible for the trees on the site. We have now been told by the school that the trees were planted as part of a recent development and that the failure of these dead trees will be ‘rectified’ soon. Meanwhile, it seems that these new trees are no longer selected, managed or mapped as part of the Council’s wider tree stock strategies and that the existing trees on the site are no longer the Council’s concern.
Presumably, similar arrangements are happening across the city with other educational sites being left to make their own, ad hoc arrangements to plant trees or not. Given that the One City Plan aims to double tree canopy cover over the next 25 years, it seems a great shame that this important land bank of possible new planting sites might have been excluded from helping to achieve Bristol’s plans.
We are also concerned that school governors (quite apart from lacking the necessary skills to manage the trees growing on their sites) may not yet have realised the full implications of the practical and strategic obligations that taking on such an important part of Bristol’s tree stock places upon them. As a result, they are likely to have to buy in (at our expense) ad hoc expertise, thereby possibly overlooking the wider strategic considerations that are needed when it comes to managing trees across the city.
This, coupled with the distinct possibility that well-meaning but unqualified Council officers may be making critical decisions about the welfare of trees on educational sites, makes for a very worrying situation.