Proposed Tree Works at Vicar’s Brook

Friday, April 10th, 2009. 1:40am

Trees on Vicar's Brook

Cambridge City Council is about to fell a series of trees on Vicar’s brook, the stream which runs from Brooklands Avenue across the green areas called “New Bit” and “Coe Fen” and on to the river Cam.

A notice at the site states:

Cambridge City Council manages trees on the Parks and Open Spaces on a cyclical basis. The trees on this space have been inspected by a competent and qualified arboriculturalist and work is proposed.

Reason for work:

The trees along the brook are to be managed. The Environment Agency requires that the brook and its banks are kept clear of vegetation so that flow is not impeded at times of flash flooding.

Proposed Works:

All fallen trees will be cleared from the brook
All trees and saplings growing in the brook will be removed
All trees and saplings growing on the sides of the brook will be removed
Selected trees and saplings on the banks, that are dying, will be removed to prevent their failure into the brook

All the trees and saplings to be removed or pruned are marked with tape and paint.

While the notices suggests that objections or representations ought be made in writing to the council’s Director of Environment and Planning or by email to kenny dot mcgregor at cambridge dot gov dot uk by the 10th of April some people have responded by writing on the notice itsself.

Responses on the notice:

  • Leave trees alone
  • Don’t mess with the NATURAL – FOOLS
  • This is avoidable and evil!
  • Can’t you leave any nature natural?

I believe and hope that the statement on the notice saying that “all trees and saplings growing on the sides of the brook will be removed” is an error, and some of the more established trees will be left. I can see that a number of substantial trees are not marked with tape even though they are growing in the brook or on the sides. Within the last couple of weeks the City Council have even planted new saplings on the sides and banks of the brook, closer than some trees which are marked to go, it would be crazy if they were to fell those.

I hope that the statement that only those trees marked with tape and paint are to go takes precedence over the other descriptions of which trees are to go. I also expect that the notice ought read “Tape or Paint” as there are very few tress marked with both.

I do not believe all the trees and saplings on the banks which are marked with tape are dying.

I agree the brook ought be clear – it has to flow otherwise it risks flooding, however some minor obstructions are not a major problem. I’d have thought that if all our drainage ditches in and around the city were perfect concrete channels we’d have a much bigger problem with flash flooding, it is a good thing that the brooks, streams and ditches take up some water in floods.

While the environment of the brook is shaped by man, it does have a natural feel.
Trees on Vicar's Brook

I recall tape being on various trees on the brook for many months, however I only saw the notice today. I do not know if councillors have been told of the proposed works, but there has been no public statement.

If anyone has, or does, formally object then it is likely the final decision will be made by an elected councillor (or a committee of councillors). I wonder if the timing of this notice is intended to sneak this work in before a new democratic decision making process for trees on the city council’s green spaces comes in.

A website recording the state of the brook in 2005 states that its depth varied between 10-30cm due to minor dams made of sticks etc. There is a suggestion that the presence of trees creates a darker area where other, vegetation, which might be more likely to block the brook in a flood cannot grow. Felling trees and adding light might result in a situation which needs more maintenance than what we have now.

Interestingly that report also says native crayfish were recorded in the western section of the brook in the 1960s.

17 comments/updates on “Proposed Tree Works at Vicar’s Brook

  1. Dan Carter

    The plans for Vicar’s Brook seem typical of what is going on around the city: “if in doubt, chop it down”. I can remember no flash flooding in this area, which in my understanding occurs in areas which have been stripped of their tree cover. In any case, we need as many trees and sgrubs as possible to maintain higher levels of insect, and therefore bird life near the city. Is it possible that the “competent and trained arboriculturalist” hired by the Council is not interested in issues such as biodiversity and local tradition? I remain highly suspicious and urge others to express their doubts also.

  2. Anne Garvey

    Dan Carter is absolutely right. This tree carnage has to stop. What is going on . Global warming must mean hotter summers where shade is at a huge premium. This clearing policy is complete madness and sanctioned by the ‘experts’ at every turn. Are the Council remotely interested in the views of the average citizen who want a bit of tangly wilderness, God knows, there is little enough of it left to us. I do think that come May elections, we shall have our chance to express what we feel about the chain saw massacre of the very few trees and shrubs. By the way, the Plane tree which was killed on Jesus Green was compensated by £500. That was a year ago. When is the replacement going to be planted. Some of us cannot really wait as long as the Council have planned, these twigs they’re replacing mature trees with will only be a decent size in the year 2060.

    Well done again Richard for helping bring attention to the latest enormity

  3. Paris Hague

    St George’s Trust (Heritage and Nature Conservation) wre alerted to the Vicar’s Brook felling plan by a chance visit of one of our Directors.
    Our e-mail objection was rejected: we were told on the eve of Good Friday 9th April that a hardcopy objection specifying all the trees and with a name , address and signature had to be at the Guildhall by 16th April. So our rep is visiting today: a 167 mile round trip.
    We noted several important points:
    1. The City Council has acquired this land by default: it was Common Land for grazing (self sufficiency)
    2. The Brook is inundated by several drains from private properties which are almost undoubtedly causing any flooding
    3. There is most likely a plan to widen and dredge the Brook as a drain, which, to be honest, is its current use – take a look at the outlets around the Chaucer Road footway at the Brook
    4 . There are almost none of the flora species which the Information Board proclaims actually left on site: the Fen has been over-mown and is being managed like a municipal park
    5. As a natural wetland this area should have EU protection and when in its original state was probably SSSI status with red data list species
    6. This could all be reclaimed for posterity if a group could wrest possession from the Council on behalf of the people.
    Finally, the quite interesting papers relating to this will be on our website from tomorrow Fri 17th April

  4. Richard Article author

    It is excellent to hear that a formal objection has been made. Hopefully this will result in full, rational, reasoning for the works being produced by council officers and a decision being made by an elected councillor (or a committee of them).

    Currently the reasoning is unclear, and internally inconsistent.

    None of the trees to be felled would impede the flow, in flood, as much as the pipes under this bridge:

    Pipes under bridge on Vicars Brook

  5. Paris Hague

    We registered our formal objection today 16th Aril at 4pm, after a two hour journey! The City Council had made things difficult: on their public notice they invited e-mail comments, but then insisted that everything must be sent by post or delivered by hand. They gave us only two working days to comply, because they sent this demand on the eve of Good Friday,just as the Easter holiday started, leaving us only the following Tuesday and Wednesday to frame a full 14 page document for direct delivery.

    Their groundwork activity is unfortunately very typical of the current style of public environmental management, i.e. interventionist, heavy machinery, employment opportunities, budget preservation, “public safety” measures, potential development area when the immediate fuss from Nature Lovers has died down.

    There is something odd about the felling proposal since the stated deadline was actually Good Friday.

    In our experience, plans that are engineered to hit a public holiday often go unchallenged, so we would regard this plan and its intended outcome, whatever that may be, as a contentious issue.

    We would like to encourage everyone who feels upset by local plans to write a letter or e-mail stating their views to the Council. If they don’t receive any objections, the Council will just carry on regardless and assume everyone is happy. This may seem a bit simplistic, but we are all responsible for their actions on our behalf and therefore must remain vigilant.

    With your permission, we would respectfully encourage anyone who would like to regain Common Ownership of the Fen to join our lobby via Campaigns at:

    We are willing to help private campaigners on a voluntary basis on any environmental issues if we are able to do so.

    Many thanks and congratulations to Richard Taylor for his excellent blogsite and public spirited ethic in this Big Brother era of the world.

  6. Paris Hague

    I hope you got on well tonight if you went along to the full Cambridge City Council Meeting.
    We phoned the City Council yesterday to see if our objection to the Vicar’s Brook/Coe Fen tree felling had been registered, thus putting the item on the 29th April’s Planning Committee agenda next week.
    Lo and behold, the item was nowhere to be seen. This presumably means that the objection has not been accepted, presumably because our photographic record was not regarded as a distinct enough specification of which trees were affected by the felling order – they wanted maps and measurements, we assume.
    Why so? Isn’t it enough to know the address of these trees and to photograph every single one of them and include it in the objection? Can the City Council specify which humans these trees are going to fall on?

    The Councils are getting away with envirnmental destruction by not even putting a Planning reference on tree felling work, making th item more difficult to track through committees.
    But our guess is that it will not even surface. These decisions are taken in secret by officers. Your money is buying in-house “experts” who will not brook external opinions, and will not allow third party expert reports which refute their own.
    Democracy does not apply to British trees.
    St George’s Day 23rd April 2009`

  7. Richard Article author

    As soon as the notice went up at the site there were objections written on it (click to enlarge):
    Site Notice - scrawled on

    As of today, those writing their objections on the notice have been bolder with:

    Site Notice - scrawled on

    It looks as if the council have either cleaned off the previous scrawled comments or replaced the notice.

    Formally objecting to tree felling needs to be made as easy, if not easier, than getting some sticky-back paper and a black marker and defacing the notice.

  8. JackP

    Not that it actually matters in the grand scale of things, but they have cleaned off the previous comments. If you look closely at the second photo, you can still see the ‘leave the trees alone’ comment at the bottom, just above the email address.

  9. Richard Article author

    A Report to Cambridge City Council’s planning committee on the 27th of May 2009 has been published.

    It reveals that the planning committee are going to be asked to advise the Executive Councillor for Arts and Recreation, Julie Smith, on if these trees ought be felled or not.

    I asked about the decision making process on the 28th of April but have not yet had a reply.

    Despite this not being a planning application members of the public, who are not formal objectors or supporters of planning applications can’t speak on it at the meeting. If the planning committee is to start considering non-planning matters routinely then this ought be changed. There has been much less public notification of these works than there would be for a planning application.

    The decision will presumably go to the community services scrutiny committee after it has been taken to the planning meeting. At that meeting any member of the public will be able to speak.

    A reader has pointed out that the report states Newnham ward councillors have been consulted; however the works are in Trumpington ward.

  10. Richard Article author


    I did not attend; I have asked officers what happened but they have not yet replied.

    I think the council ought publish “decision notices” as soon as possible following meetings so that wider public don’t have to wait until the minutes are released to find out what was decided.

  11. Richard Article author

    I have been informally informed, via a councillor, that as of today (5th June 2009) the Director of Community Services and Cllr Julie Smith are still considering their decision.

    My email to the council asking what happened at the planning meeting has not been responded to. They don’t have a culture of transparency and freedom of information.

  12. Kevin Symonds

    When the brook does flood (as it has maybe twice in the nearly 7 years I have walked to work this way) it naturally goes into the back gardens of Chaucer Road as all there really is between them is a land ridge which gets topped or soaked though. That’s totally natural, it doesn’t go up to the houses as they all seem to be on higher ground. But the new (really bad) new house right next to the footpath to Chaucer Road where the bridge above is had put big wooden panneling at the end of their garden. Surely this is a flood risk as well?
    I’m sure thats got nothing to do with the fact that when it flooded in October 2002 the water reached the spot where there is now an outdoor swimming pool?
    When it got rather high a couple of years ago I told the builders (who were amazed at the water going over the little bridge) that was what had happened and they didn’t know anything about it.

    They have a drain doing straight into the brook. In fact they have an extensive amount of underground drainage equipment (which has been replaced at least once whilst building due to mechanical equipment damaging it) costing over £10,000 a set (I heard) that I guess all trickles out into the brook. I don’t know if this sort of thing was taken into consideration at any point.

    One of my issues with all this, as well as what everyone else has said is that if they cared atall about trees blocking waterways they’d have cleared the trees that have been sagging into the main river itself, those smaller trees that are dipped well into the water or maybe even remove the tree that fell into the stream that leads under Fen Causeway up to Bella Italia. That was well over a year ago and causes debris and water blockage as well as impeding birds going up and down that stretch.

  13. Richard Article author

    The work is currently in progress. It appears the felling has started at the downstream end and is working towards Trumpington Road.

    Not all trees and saplings growing on the sides of the brook have been removed – the effect is drastic, but less extreme than it could have been. It appears that the banks have been reshaped and cut sharply in places.

    One side effect of clearing vegetation from the bank is that goats (and sheep?) grazing on Sheep’s Green now able to walk up the bank and continue the council’s work keeping the plants down. I expect this is an unintentional consequence of the work and the fence will now need repairing. I quite like the idea of the council’s tree officers using goats – I expect they’ll be cheaper than their usual contractors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.
Please consider saying where you are from eg. "Cambridge".
Required fields are marked *


Powered by WP Hashcash