The street trees add a lot to the attractiveness of our area, but we may be in danger of taking them for granted. It’s easy to think that the loss of one or two trees won’t really matter but, until recently, trees were being felled faster than were being re-planted. It’s more important than ever to look after the trees we’ve got and not encourage insurance companies to press for their removal.
When QPARA first formed an Environment Group back in 2004 Brent’s street tree policy was unclear. In fact until Irfan Malik joined the Streetcare team and commissioned a survey in 2003 of all Brent’s street trees no one really knew how many trees there were. When we compared the situation on the ground with that survey we found that 43 trees had been lost in 3 years. This is a large number over our area (more than 2 trees per street, on average). Every year we liaise with Streetcare to ask for trees to be planted in our area and to suggest suitable locations and species.
During 2021, QPARA’s Street Tree Working Group and the QPARA Street Reps created digital maps of every road in the QPARA area, detailing the existing trees, gaps, and much of the street furniture. These are updated regularly by the Street Reps and give us a unique insight into the health of our street trees. We now know as much, if not more, about our street trees as the council.
When Queen’s Park was first built, there would have been trees evenly spaced at a rate of one tree for every two houses, on the boundary line. Most of these were removed in the middle of the last century to allow the GPO to install telephone junction boxes in the pavements, and they were replaced with unsuitable species.
The reason for the large number of mature plane trees in the area is that plane trees could withstand the high levels of air pollution around the beginning of the 20th century. This made them the ideal London street tree. However, they are only now planted on our wider roads (Victoria Road, Brondesbury Road, Brondesbury Villas) because of their massive size. Regular pollarding (removal of all the branches) is necessary to control them (see Maintenance below). Compare them with the plane trees in the park, which have been allowed to develop a natural shape.
Brent did not have a clear policy about species until 2004. This resulted in unsuitable trees being planted, which now need a lot of pruning. These include many flowering cherries with massive trunks and roots which lift the pavement. These cherries are grafted onto different rootstock (i.e. roots and a stem from a different species) and there are now some monsters along our streets. We’re told that the new cherries (for example on Kingswood Ave) won’t grow in this way.
Interesting species which have been planted include manna ash (Fraxinus ornus), small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata), ornamental pear (Pyrus chanticleer) and hawthorn species (Crataegus prunifolia and Paul Scarlett).
QPARA suggested the use of resin (water permeable) for use in tree pits in order to strike a balance between retaining trees and providing a good pavement surface. When Chevening Road was re-paved in late 2009 the use of resin enabled all the plane trees to be retained and a high quality job to be done on the paving. We’re grateful to Brent council’s highway engineers, who liaised with us while these works were done.
Brent have had a Street Tree Management Policy since 2004. Download the 2017 edition here.
Under it, they undertake to:
- Regularly inspect trees,
- Grow a wide range of trees,
- Keep trees unless there are good arboricultural, environmental or risk-related reasons not to do so,
- Prune/manage trees at differing frequency depending on species and condition and where they are growing,
- Take account of street lighting when planning tree planting,
- Not prune or remove trees because of complaints relating to things such as leaf fall, sap, birds, sight lines, insects (see Policy 3.3).
If a street tree dies within two years of being planted, Brent’s contractors (currently Gristwood and Toms) are required to replace it free of charge. While we hope to keep all our new trees alive, and residents have a key role to play in ensuring they do by watering them regularly between spring and autumn, it is also important to track when trees are planted, so we can ensure they are replaced if they don’t make it to two years old.
Both plane trees and horse chestnuts have suffered from disease in recent years. Athracnose has caused plane trees to suffer early leaf loss but is not generally fatal. Horse chestnuts have suffered from a nasty combination of bleeding cankers and the unwelcome attentions of the horse chestnut leaf miner caterpillar, Cameraria Ohridella. This has unfortunately proved fatal for two of the horse chestnut trees on Salusbury Road.
These are the biggest threats by far to street trees. Ever since damage caused by subsidence has been covered under buildings’ insurance policies, there has been a growing tendency for insurers to blame any cracks in buildings on nearby trees and ask councils to cut them down. This unfortunate scenario has been played out time and again round here. Householder sees cracks in a wall (this does happen without trees being to blame because of the construction of our houses and the nature of the clay soil they’re built on), contacts insurers to claim cost of repairing and redecorating. Loss adjustor visits, spots tree (even at some distance from house), asks for removal of tree. The Council, nervous of costs of defending a claim, takes the course of felling the tree and promising a replacement.
We have several detailed (and depressing) examples of this type of ill-informed “convenience” and unnecessary tree felling.
QPARA have been active in urging Brent to require firm evidence of the presence of roots (by the digging of test holes) rather than just accepting that trees are to blame, and in urging crown reduction (pruning) rather than felling. A young tree is no replacement for a mature tree in terms of amenity value (how it looks), habitat value, ability to absorb carbon dioxide and provide shade and cooling for nearby buildings.
In 2007 the Greater London Authority produced a report on London’s street trees aptly called “Chainsaw Massacre”. One of its findings was that Brent was one of the boroughs with the highest levels of tree removals due to subsidence claims (16% of all trees removed). Over the five years to 2007 Brent had removed 1,500 trees but only planted 1,000.
“Councils should do everything within their power to prevent the loss of street trees, but where the loss of a tree is unavoidable, replacement trees should be planted in suitable and agreed locations within the same vicinity”One of the recommendations from “Chainsaw Massacre” 2007.
It is Brent’s policy to replace trees which have been removed and we will continue to remind them to do this.
What we can do as individuals. Don’t rely on loss adjustors whose role is to save money for insurance companies. Insist on advice from a competent architect, surveyor or engineer. Don’t panic if you see cracking in your house as most cracking is not structural. Read more in our September 2009 QPARA Newsletter.
Following discussions with QPARA, Brent now has arrangements in place whereby any tree which is lost as a result of residents’ insurance claims will be replaced free of charge by the Council.
QPARA members are encouraged to water newly planted trees in their streets. Newly planted trees often have a water bag attached that can be filled and will provide water for a while. Sometimes there is just a tube, feel free to pour as much water into this as it will take, it doesn’t matter if it spills over.
It’s also important thing to check if the tree is stable (over about 3 years). If the tree appears to rock in the ground (i.e. roots are loose), the tree may need to be supported to prevent it falling over. As the tree gets a bigger head, the wind catches it and rocks it until the roots loosen. Contact Brent if this is happening, they can provide a support for the tree.
Newly planted trees will be attached to a stake to keep them upright. As they grow the tie can become tight, to the point where it starts to cut into the trunk. Feel free to cut any tie that is that tight.
There is a link to a report form for street tree issues at the bottom of the Brent Council tree web page.
Trees in Gardens
In our area you need permission to fell or prune a tree whether it is in your front or back garden. The only exceptions are trees with a trunk not exceeding 75mm or 3inches in diameter measured 1.4m above ground and fruit trees.
Brent’s very helpful Tree Officer is Lawrence Usherwood (email@example.com, or telephone 020 8937 5247) who will be happy to advise you. Lawrence came to one of our meetings and explained that he’s happy to discuss tree queries, to come and look at trees and discuss felling (where there’s a good reason for this) or pruning. Brent do have power to impose a fine of up to £20,000 for destroying a tree, so it’s not worth taking the risk.Update?
You can also contact Lawrence if you think that a tree should be protected by a Tree Preservation OrderUpdate?
For enquiries about trees, there is a link to a contact form on this Brent Council webpage.
There are only seven trees in our area protected in this way, but if you think that a significant tree may be at risk, please contact Brent.
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