Council no longer manages trees on educational sites

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.

The TPO trees and canopies

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.

The original plan – the fence passing through the root zones of many protected trees.

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.

Digger in amongst the TPO Ash roots

It soon became clear that the contractors had neither been advised of the TPO status of the tree nor of the proper methods to use when working within tree root zones as set out in BS 5837 (Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction – Recommendations), or in the NJUG Guidelines for the Planning, Installation and Maintenance of Utility Apparatus in Proximity to Trees. This was despite the Council being aware of, and engaged with the school’s plans.

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.

Driving over the walnut’s roots on the way to mow the playing fields

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.

The eastern Turkey oak

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.

More details can be found here.

Before the Elders were felled
The aftermath

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.

Hundreds of trees threatened at Hengrove Park

The Council’s Development Control A Committee will meet at 6 pm on Wednesday, 16th October at The City Hall to decide the fate of more than 850 parkland trees. We have submitted this statement:

Hengrove Park is just under 51.5 hectares in area and contains 545 mapped trees comprising 37 species. There are many more unmapped trees also growing there.

These trees have a Capital Asset Valuation of Amenity Trees (CAVAT) (One of a range of tools recommended by The Trees and Design Action Group (TDAG) for valuing trees and green infrastructure ) value of at least £5.2 million, a valuation which is based on measurements of the tree diameters made at least 10 years ago. In the meantime, the trees will have continued to grow, making the current CAVAT value even greater.

The Bristol Tree Forum (BTF) was not consulted about the proposed development of this site, which will result in the removal of hundreds of these trees. Many local residents have submitted comments expressing concern about this aspect of the development.

BTF’s starting position is that trees should not be felled if at all possible, and that everything that can reasonably be done to avoid this should always be considered before a felling decision is made. If trees must be felled, then compensatory planting should be undertaken in such a way that there is no net environmental loss.

In order to implement the Council’s recent declaration of a climate emergency, increase net biodiversity and help double tree canopy cover, this development needs to be redesigned to fit around the existing trees, not remove them.

The current documents make various assertions as to the numbers of trees to be lost and the calculations for replacements required under the Bristol Tree Replacement Standard. This can be addressed by the imposition of our proposed planning conditions (see below).

Implementing Bristol’s declaration of a climate emergency

Bristol City Council was the first UK local authority to declare a climate emergency. As Professor Corinne Le Quéré FRS has said, “Actions to tackle climate change have to penetrate all the decisions that we take in society.”

The Government’s 25-year environment plan states that it will strengthen existing requirements for net gain for biodiversity in national planning policy. As it is, we have calculated (appendix 1) that this scheme, if permitted, will result in a net environmental loss of just over £3.65 million – Our CAVAT valuation of the trees potentially lost to this development is nearly £3.8 million (point 8 of Appendix 1). If the figures for tree felling relied on by the Council are accepted, then the figure will be much higher.

Bristol also has ambitious plans to double its tree canopy by 2046. If it is to implement this, and is serious about its declaration of a climate emergency, and wishes to achieve a net gain in biodiversity, then developments like this need to be radically rethought so that we build houses around existing trees rather than felling them, thereby avoiding or at least minimising the loss of our precious existing tree stock.

In addition, we note that the plan is also to remove a row of black poplar trees, a key landscape feature of the site. This is contrary to Policy BCS9 of the Bristol Core Strategy.

Conflicting figures for the calculation of replacement trees under the Bristol Tree Replacement Standard

The figures for the number of trees to be felled differ within the various planning documents and the BTRS calculations are confusing. We address this in detail at Appendix 1.

A technical note (23rd September 2019) identifies 859 trees to be felled, to be replaced by 1,280 new trees.  Elsewhere in the note, a table lists the values given for each BTRS category, which come to a total of 181 trees to be felled with 294 replacements. The table produced at paragraph 5.5.17 of the Environmental Statement Addendum gives different values again – 674 trees to be felled with 986 replacements.

These serious discrepancies need to be resolved before the Committee can form any clear idea of the impact of this development on the park’s trees. We propose a number of planning conditions, set out below, to ensure that the BTRS calculations are correctly made.

We are also concerned to read the Tree Officer’s report which states “As a number of the proposed trees are extra heavy standards it is considered that these can count as three new trees and overall the BTRS is met”.  This is simply wrong. The BTRS contains no such protocol.

The care of replacement trees after planting

Many trees that have been planted as a result of large schemes like this fail because they are not properly looked after.  A recent example is the Metrobus scheme, in which large numbers of trees were planted but have failed, probably due to lack of watering or, in some cases, vandalism. As far as we are aware, Metrobus (the developer) has not given any indication that it will replace these lost trees.

In our view, any replacement planting must be done under British Standard BS8545:2104 (Trees: from nursery to independence in the landscape) with a detailed specification in these terms being made a condition of the development. This should include a clear obligation placed on the developer to replace trees which fail within, say, five years of planting.

Planning conditions requested by BTF

The information that has been used to undertake the BTRS calculation is both incorrect and two years out of date.

If the Committee allows this proposal to proceed despite this, we request that the following planning conditions be imposed:  

  • No felling and replacement of any of the trees on the site should take place unless and until an updated survey is undertaken and the actual numbers and DBH values of all the trees (both individually and in groups) identified for felling are ascertained.
  • The BTRS replacements required are agreed with the Bristol Tree Forum and a Planning Arboricultural Officer.
  • All tree planting conforms with British Standard BS8545:2104 (Trees: from nursery to independence in the landscape).
  • A condition of the development includes a clear obligation on the developer to replace trees which fail within, say, five years of planting.

Here is the full statement we have submitted – BTF Full Statement, plus the one page summary that we have been asked to submit for the committee meeting – BTF Summary Statement.

We also link to the Statement submitted by Treespect which we wholly endorse.

You can link to the Council’s application here, via our BTF Planning Portal – 19/02632/PB.

Appendix 1

The application of BTRS requires that the trunk diameter (called Diameter at Breast Height, or DBH) of each tree identified for felling be measured. This measurement is then used to calculate the number of trees to be planted as replacements for the felled tree using this table:

This planning application is based on a tree survey that was undertaken some time in November 2017 and set out in an Arboricultural Impact Assessment dated May 2019. Part of this survey was updated in Appendix C of an Environmental Statement Addendum dated 4th September 2019. However, the DBH values have not been changed, so these values are now two years out of date. The trees will have grown in the meantime.

There is also a technical note dated 23rd September 2019 which identifies 859 trees to be felled, to be replaced by 1280 new trees. The following table is produced on page 5 of this note:

However, the values given for each BTRS category come to a total of 181 trees to be felled with 294 replacements, not the totals shown above.

The table produced at paragraph 5.5.17 of the Environmental Statement Addendum gives different values again: 674 trees to be felled with 986 replacements. However, this excludes the number of individual trees within groups G1, G354, G355, G380 and G417, so it is impossible to make any like-for-like comparison.

Having collated the two surveys published in the Arboricultural Impact Assessment and in Appendix C of the Environmental Statement Addendum into a spreadsheet (click here to download), we note the following:

  1. 533 individual trees have been identified and their DBH values recorded. Of these, 167 are identified for felling.
  2. 43 tree groups have also been identified, 13 of which are listed for removal or part removal.
  3. Save for groups G347, G347b and G347c (which have 5, 24 and 7 trees respectively in them) the number of trees in each group (or the number of trees to be removed) is not given.
  4. Save for groups G347, G347b and G347c (which have 5, 22 and 7 DBH values respectively listed), only one DBH value is given for each group.
  5. If we assume one tree per species listed for each unnumbered group,[1] then 228 trees in total are identified for felling.
  6. This produces a BTRS value of 294 replacement trees (again, if we assume one tree per species for each unnumbered group and that all these trees have the same DBH[2] as that given).
  7. Of the trees surveyed, 176 are given an ‘Estimated Remaining Contribution’ (life expectancy) of 10+ years; 46 have a life expectancy of 20+ years; and the remaining six have <10 years of life left. These 10+ and 20+ values are meaningless as they give no upper range. The CAVAT approach is to set life expectancy within these bands:
    • <5 years.
    • >=5 & <10 years.
    • >=10 & <20 years.
    • >=20 & <40 years.
    • >=40 & <80 years.
    • >=80 years.
  8. Applying a life expectancy of between 40 and 80 years and a CTI factor for Bristol of 150,[3] we calculate that the 228 trees we have identified for felling have a CAVAT value of £3,784,282. Using the same factors, the 294 BTRS trees (assuming standards with a DBH of 5 cm) would have a CAVAT value of £134,184, a net environmental loss of £3,653,652.

[1] We accept that each group probably contains more trees than our working assumption.

[2] We accept that the DBH values will vary from tree to tree.

[3] A CTI factor is applied to the base CAVAT value to account for population density. Bristol has a population of 459,300 and a land area of 10,970 hectares. This gives a population density per hectare of 41.9 and so a CTI Index of 150.


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.

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.

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.