Every tree near to every property in the land presents some risk. Mainly, people accept the potential risks trees might cause, and don't start a lengthy legal process to destroy them.
I know I'm not the only person to have been following with interest the protests in the village of Irton, near Scarborough. The protests are in response to a judge's ruling that a beech tree on the village's main street should be felled.
Everyone who thinks trees enhance a place should care about this case.
The tree had been protected by a Tree Preservation Order, but these can be overruled, as this one has been, by the judge's verdict that the tree is a 'public nuisance'. The tree was due to be felled last week, but a spontaneous protest by Mark Snow, who climbed up into it, prevented this happening. So far.
The tree is likely to be felled sometime soon, and we should all be bothered. This is probably just the start of it. If you care about a particular tree in your neighbourhood and it's close to someone's wall, or a drain – as it probably is – practise your tree-climbing skills ...
This expensive dispute began because of the concerns of one household. The householders who moved in to the property closest to the tree. The house isn't a listed building. It's a late 20th century/early 21st century house. Nothing special. The owners submitted a planning application to redevelop the site, a few years back, so they clearly don't see the house as anything special either.
Yet it – or its drains, or its boundary wall – are now judged to be of more importance – by someone who did what they're paid to do, and made a decision, after a long-running and somewhat bizarre battle. So the tree is coming down.
The tree is well-established, well-shaped, healthy, and has been a focal point of the street for many decades. You don't have to be a hippy tree-hugger to appreciate a handsome tree that you maybe pass every day on your way to work. We've always had an appreciation of trees – back in our ancient history, and now – and plant them as a sign of hope for the future, and commemoration of the past. Because we know that they're a living thing that outlives us. Well, usually.
Unless they're near the boundary of a property later bought by someone who mounts a legal battle to have them felled.
Established trees often do find their way into our old cracked drains, and under walls. Old walls tend to bend and flex and accommodate tree roots. Modern walls perhaps don't. Drains and sewers are often repaired and renewed, perhaps because of tree root damage, perhaps because they're old and cracked and needed replacing anyway.
York has many handsome trees planted very close to buildings. Some of the buildings are ancient and valuable, of far more significance than the modern block at Irton. With trees far older than the Irton tree, close to walls and buildings of far more significance, we seem to have managed to deal with potential problems caused by tree roots.
But perhaps everyone who lives close to an established tree should get legal advice, and apply to have it chopped down. Your local authority may be panicked into falling in with your wishes, as they can't afford to fight you, or don't realise that repairing the drains might be a cheaper option.
... on the part of the householders, and on the part of the local authority.
'North Yorkshire County Council fear the tree could cost them thousands of pounds should it cause damage to nearby property', said the Scarborough Evening News, back in June 2007. A spokesperson said: 'Our survey shows there is potential for the tree to do damage to boundary walls and drains for which we would be liable.'
The householders whose actions began this sorry saga seem to see the tree as frighteningly destructive. The planning application evidence over the years suggests that they've wanted the tree removed since shortly after they moved in, and have a list of complaints. Many people are a bit frightened of 'things that grow big' anywhere near their property. It's a shame the householders who began this saga didn't realise they had a fear of trees and their natural growth habits before they moved into a house next to a big tree.
The result of all this fear? – a shocking waste of money, bad feeling all round, and the imminent felling of a perfectly healthy tree. Bonkers, isn't it.
It may be too late by the time you read this – but give support to the people of Irton who have shown such community spirit. If it's too late for their tree, fight hard for yours. Always have the confidence to question what 'experts' say. In this case and others.
- What is the point of a Tree Preservation Order?
- How can the wishes of one household override the wishes of so many others?
- If trees close to buildings are so much of a 'public nuisance', why don't we just chop down all the trees close to buildings/boundary walls/sewers? (Possibly because we'd have no trees left in our towns and villages?)
I knew that Irton tree was impressive ... now it's tweeting, and not just from the birds that sit in it.
The beech tree in Irton was felled today after a long campaign to save it. Yorkshire Post: Tree battle ends in a climbdown but not a surrender.
For more information see the Irton Tree Foundation website.
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Page compiled 26 September 2011. Last updated: 14 January 2012.