Five Mature Trees Under Threat on Empty Common


Wednesday, March 4th, 2009. 12:05am

Trees to be felled on Empty Common
Trees to be felled on Empty Common

Cambridge City Council are proposing to fell five mature Leyland cypresses on Empty Common, the area containing allotments to south of Brooklands road by Hobson’s Brook. Already we have seen the highly controversial felling of many trees along the brook in this area on the grounds of improving the biodiversity of the watercourse though letting more light get to it.

Explaining why the trees are set to be felled the council’s principle tree officer, Diana Oviatt-Ham, has written: “the trees do not require felling on arboricultural grounds. The trees were considered inappropriate for the location”.

Some allotment holders are in favour of the fellings as the trees remove moisture from the ground and cast shade on the allotments which reduce their productivity. There have been objections to the proposed felling including a petition containing 282 signatures. It is this petition, and the fact “Two objectors visited the office frequently and campaigned in the local press for the retention of the leylandii” which caused council officers to halt the work, though this happened only after one of the five trees had been reduced to a “totem pole” (That’s how the council’s report describes it). One of the campaigners has previously commented on my website about the proposals. The Executive Councillor for Arts and Recreation, Julie Smith has now been asked to make a decision on the fate of the trees, in turn she has asked for the advice of the Council’s Planning Committee which is to meet on the 4th of March 2009.

The report to the planning committee appears to take no account of the fact mature trees are being felled, to be replaced with new trees. The report states the proposed work will result in: “The short term loss of 5 trees, but long term improvement in the environment” and “whilst the Leyland cypress filter and absorb pollutants, the new deciduous trees will perform this function better” however there is no indication of the number of years considered “short term” or the timescale for the new trees to become as good as the current trees at providing a barrier to traffic.

I think this is an interesting development, we have seen huge objections to the city council’s programs of tree felling which have repeatedly been devised and approved by officers with no input from elected councillors. It is excellent that, though late, Julie Smith now appears to be getting a grip of her responsibilities. It will be interesting to see if she adopts a similar process before the trees which it is proposed to fell on Jesus Green and Midsummer Common are lost.

I am very impressed with, and enormously in favour of, the new planting in the area which is to include five replacement native, deciduous trees, an additional tree on to screen the view to the road and three fruit trees, an oak tree and 30m of native hedge on the eastern boundary of the allotments. I think fruit trees are clearly appropriate for the environs of allotments, and welcome the native planting particularly the proposed oak, planting a new tree specifically to screen the view from to the road when existing trees are doing that effectively appears irrational though.

Healthy Trees Already Cut Down by Hobson’s Brook:

Tree Felling - Hobson's Brook, CambridgeTree Felling - Hobson's Brook, Cambridge

Click here to download the council’s report on the fellings to be presented to the planning meeting on the 4th of March. (PDF)

This article may be updated in light of developments.

3 comments/updates on “Five Mature Trees Under Threat on Empty Common

  1. Richard Article author

    The planning committee meeting on the 4th of March 2009 decided to recommend the trees be felled.

    Ideally Cambridge City Council would publish a “decision notice” rapidly after every meeting noting simply what was decided.

  2. John Lawton

    Hi Richard, thanks very much for following up on this issue.

    As chairman of SOS Cambridge (Save Our Green Spaces), I met the allottment holder who was protesting about the fellings, and visited the site.

    I can understand her unhappiness because the Leyland cypresses are large, but these specimens do dominate their area of the site, and suppress the growth of other trees. It will take some time but eventually the new trees will establish, and in my opinion this will be an overall improvement.

    The felling along the brook sides is very unattractive. I am bemused to read comments on improving biodiversity, because frankly the brook is a rubbish dump, and looks very dead. I assume the trust will be doing the required rubbish clearance and dredging of dead leaves to give more water depth and to enable flow that should then restore long term health.

    The problem with the councils tree works is that so often the areas that they are working in have been neglected for decades. This means that there are a lot of mature trees which may be in need of replacement, but there are few younger trees already established to take their place. So we experience mature tree loss, and gain very small new trees.

    I believe that a better scenario could be to plant addidional trees on a continuous, periodic basis, and then remove mature trees on a slower more measured manner. Indeed a tree officer recently admitted that some trees earmarked for felling on MSC could last more time. New trees are rarely planted in the same place as removed trees so this policy seems practical.

    I am impressed by the council tree officers, the difficulty is really down to budget. It seems that the budget for non- highway trees is relatively small and speaks of a lack of committment by the council for the greening of the city, presently it is a policy of managed decline.

  3. John Ionides

    The felling of these leylandii are going to Scrutiny today. My current thoughts on the subject are outlined on my blog

    I agree that leylandii are not to everyone’s taste but I feel that much greater importance should be attached to how residents feel about them. Beauty – and to an extent usefulness – are subjective and we should be wary of imposing our ideas of these concepts on other people.

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