On Thursday the 3rd of September I attended a public walk-round of Lammas Land with, Kenny McGregor, one of Cambridge City Council’s tree officers. Cllr Julie Smith, the Executive Councillor responsible for the City’s Green Spaces and local councillor for Newnham ward was present along with twelve members of the public plus two additional council officers and a dog.
I have written a previous article on Cambridge City Council’s plans to fell eighteen trees on Lammas Land, and have also reported on the West Central Area Committee where Cllr Julie Smith stated she had not approved the plans despite having insisted that all such proposals be approved by her before publication.
The walk around was an attempt to explain the council’s proposals. At the West Central Area committee Cllr Smith had directed officers to advertise it on notices on Lammas Land but this did not happen. A number of those who had come to the walk-around were unaware a formal consultation had been run and/or had missed the deadline for responses (which was the 10th of August).
It was a relatively windy day yet all members of the group, including Cllr Smith, were happy to stand under the trees which it is proposed to fell due to structural defects. It was made clear many of the trees “are not defective or in ill health”, they are being felled either because they are either preventing other trees from forming into perfect specimens, or will not grow in a perfectly formed manner themselves where they are.
Mr McGregor started by explaining that the council’s approach to tree management is guided by theories espoused by a Dr Claus Mattheck, particularly his guide to tree assessment which he said “would stand up in court”. The group were shown charts of symptoms of structural defects in trees. I have found PDF copies online here and here. The group were shown a tree which had a visible crack in the bark at the point a branch separated from the trunk, it was explained that as the trees grow and put on rings and increase their width these cracks, called “included bark forms” get worse.
When shown the first tree scheduled for felling due to such a “defect” members of the group asked the officer how long the tree had before it would split. He replied: “I can’t tell you but it will go eventually”, when pushed to estimate he simply said “it’s difficult to say”. Many of those present asked why the tree could not be left to see if the problem really did get worse. Others suggested taking the problematic branch off now. The tree officer replied that removing substantial branches was not possible due to the threat of decay entering though the cut off stem. This did not go down well with a number of members of the group who related their experience of trees living quite healthily after having branches removed. Examples of trees which had had quite major branches removed but were doing well were pointed out to Mr McGregor as we walked around Lammas Land. Mr McGregor said that these trees were “clones” and poor stock, he also said that all silver maple’s would succumb to such structural problems eventually. This was one of two maples with this problem scheduled for felling. (My objection to felling these, and other, trees can be read via this link)
Tree 40 was a young tree which had been damaged by mowers, the group was told there was no prospect of it “healing”. Those present wanted to ask the Cllr Smith (who is in charge of green spaces) about avoiding mower damage, she urged the focus to remain on trees, though did agree to speak to those responsible. The tree officer said that protective stakes would be installed when a new tree was planted.
A perfectly healthy cherry tree scheduled for felling was pointed out, it is to go as it is growing too close to a Chestnut. The officer was asked if he was confident the Chestnut would survive for a reasonable period and we would not soon be left without either tree.
The Large False Acacia Trees at the Newnham Road / Barton Road Junction
The tree officer initially told the group that these trees would not be felled. When I pointed out this was not quite what his written report stated he clarified his remarks to state that while he was happy from the ground, he did not know what might be found when the crown is reduced. A number of members of the group appeared unwilling to delegate the decision to fell to those performing the crown reduction (unless the tree was deemed so dangerous it needed to be removed immediately). It was suggested a case for felling, backed up by digital photos taken up the tree, ought be presented before a felling decision was made. The fact that the council officers had banged 10-12 large nails into these trees to perform a scan on them surprised many of the group.
I was surprised at the degree of passion for retaining the laurels along the Newnham Road edge of Lammas Land. The laurels were originally planted as shrubs in beds, but they have been allowed to grow unchecked and have become hefty woody “trees”. Mr McGregor explained the plans to replace them by stating that the council was : “trying to combat climate change by planting big canopy trees”. Do I even need write that the idea that the selection of species to plant on a bit of green space in Cambridge will affect the global climate is ridiculous?
During the walk even the council officer proposing felling the three laurels appeared to be having second thoughts; he appeared happy with the idea floated of trimming them back enough to enable more roadside planting. A number of people were in favour of coming up with a better plan for new planting along the side of the Newnham Road and while there were those strongly supporting the retention of the laurels, I think generally the opinion was that trimming them perpendicular with the road to create space for new road side planting would be acceptable.
About half way round Cllr Smith advertised a meeting to discuss the general principles and approaches to the council’s tree planting, the she confirmed this would be in the Parkside Pools meeting room at 18.00 on the 1st of October. She was prompted to mention this when there was discussion of replacing a tree with either a container grown or “bare root” tree. The officer explained that bare root trees were cheaper so he often put them in areas where they were more likely to get vandalised, but if they did take they tended to do well.
Near The Tennis Courts
The trees to be felled around the tennis courts were looked at. The main concern raised was how the screen between the courts and the road could be maintained. Most present thought it would be worth considering planting shrubs to achieve this, with one woman suggesting a willow screen (extending a line of coppiced willows already present). The group was told that this would require consultation with a different group of council officers as tree officers only deal with trees (and ivy), not other plants. With respect to a couple of trees here the council officers’ aim to have perfect specimens contrasted with the views of others present that the screening function of the trees was more important, irrespective of if they were misshapen.
Removing some trees particularly close to the courts might be challenging to do without damaging the courts.
One plum tree which was dropping fruit on the tennis courts is scheduled to go, a few of those present appeared happy to have it removed on the grounds of practicality – you don’t want a tree dropping loads of fruit on a tennis court. The officer’s opinion that the self seeded saplings in front of the tree would replace it, and were better situated.
The question of the value of the burrs on one of the trees to be felled on Fen Causeway were discussed, with the tree officer noting there had been some interest in them but saying they were not of any financial value.
There were no objections to the felling of some of the trees which are clearly in decline, especially those in heavily used areas an near the play equipment.
The group were told that three formal objections to elements of the work had been submitted, as well as a number of further comments on the proposed removal of the laurels.
I asked Cllr Smith if she was going to approve the plans the council’s tree officers had put forward. She said she would not, and would be seeking to amend them, she said she was particularly considering the fate of the silver maples and the laurels. She asked to meet the council’s tree officer to discuss them to see if they could be amended in advance of the planning committee deadline for papers on the 8th of September. She also suggested she might insist that where possible new planting takes place before felling occurs. The tree works proposals will go before the council’s planning committee on the 16th of September, that committee will advise Cllr Smith who will have the final say on what tree works get done. (Had there been no objections then officers rather than elected councillors would not have made the decisions.)
I think that if the maples and the trees between the tennis court and bowling green are saved that would be excellent. If the laurels could be trimmed to allow new planting alongside Newnham Road that would also be a great outcome from the walk-around. If shrubs rather than trees can be selected to more effectively screen the tennis courts and replace the trees that too would be a reasonable option. I think the younger trees ought be replaced with ones of about the same size 3-4m, it was suggested this ought be possible. With all those tweaks, and an assurance the large false acacia are not under immediate threat of felling I think a schedule of proposed works which would obtain broad agreement could be devised.