Not a good time to be a tree!

Not a good time to be a tree!

Recently I did a breakfast show interview on BBC Radio Sheffield about street trees, public meetings, and widespread concerns. I was stressing that ‘yes’ there is a need to manage the street tree resource, but it should be done carefully and considerately. Importantly, the present strategy of dealing with the public through notification for the lucky few, but no real consultation, was unacceptable.

Sheffield Star 1,200 trees face the chop Jan 2014

I mentioned the great Oak at Deepcar / Stocksbride as an example. However, Councillor Jack Scott assured everyone that all the residents were now happy with their replacement sapling! Sadly, the interview was very brief and I had no chance to respond to Jack’s assertions. Apparently, the 300-year old tree was felled because whilst it had stood the test of recent hurricanes, it had rot. Well, here is the news, all 300-year old trees will have rot but it is not necessarily a problem. Sometimes it may be but not always. Furthermore, the tree can safely be reduced to a less vulnerable but sustainable size. Jack was adamant that the local people were now pleased with their ‘replacement’ sapling (actually just a commercially grown oak sapling planted like so many others and in a different site – so not really a replacement at all), and that their tree had gone to a local craft worker to make furniture. Indeed, there was now no problem at all and nothing to be concerned about.

Nevertheless, my Deepcar correspondent Mike Parker chipped in however, with an extract from the latest edition of Look Local regarding the “ancient” oak in Stocksbridge; and it is (sorry, was) a real monster. Mike wrote: ‘Please find attached a scanned image of an article that I sent you info about on a previous occasion; from which you will see that it has now been felled. Though it is interesting to note the “lumberjack” standing on a branch of a supposedly diseased tree seemingly to no detriment to himself.’

Stocks Oak0001 - Copy

The godfather of ancient woods and trees, Cambridge Don, Professor Oliver Rackham, has stated that one great old oak is worth 10,000 planted saplings. Well, Jack and AMEY had better get planting then as they have a lot of ground to make up! My spies tell me that the recent AMEY and City Council meeting to speak to the public was what they described as ‘the usual lame excuses and a lot of ducking and diving by those in authority.’ Issues like consultation rather than notification, adherence to long-established local policies on trees, importantly, the effective assessment of trees of historic / heritage importance (like the Deepcar giant), and above all, asking what local people want and demand, were all raised at the packed Green Party meeting that I addressed in October 2014. These have all been ignored with zero progress to date. A key issue too, is the impervious mechanisms of communication when problems arise and the poor quality of responses to the public questions about issues and concerns. Heritage trees are being felled with little understanding of their unique status and worth, and with totally false statement and assurances about replacement. These are not the Victorian planted trees which AMEY and the Council talk about, and which themselves can be both a problem but also a wonderful asset to the city, but are historic monuments which are irreplaceable. In some cases they may have to go, but this should be in the light of an exploration for alternatives which maintains the tree in situ; above all, if one of these trees goes then it should be done with the stark and honest realisation that it cannot be replaced. Presently, the professionals and politicians dealing with this do not even recognise the heritage trees in the first place. A final gesture of ignominy that local tree historians have objected to, is that once felled, the tree stumps are ‘ground out’  to leave not evidence that they ever graced our urban lives. One suggestion from Jack at the public meeting meeting was that a plaque could be put it the location where the magnificent tree once stood. I imagine something like: ‘Here was a magnificent irreplaceable giant – a unique part of our history and natural heritage – but it was old and a bit decayed, so we cut it down, ground it out, and made it into a chair – enjoy. By the way, there is one up the road and round the corner, which if you come back in 300 years or so, may be something like‘. This situation is ongoing and causing huge concern. Combined with on-going threats and problems for local woods with the M1 Services, the Handsworth Fire Station in Bowden Housteads Wood, HS2, and even conservation projects gone wrong such as at Greno Woods, means that overall, it is the worstfor trees and woods that we have experienced in over 30 years.

Ian Rotherham, Writer, Broadcaster, Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change

Look Local, Oaks Avenue Stocksbridge



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26 Responses to Not a good time to be a tree!

  1. christine handley says:

    Hi Ian.
    Following on from your post – although it doesn’t have statutory powers (or anything like) – I’d urge everyone who is concerned about their local heritage / historic trees to go onto the Ancient Tree Hunt pages on the Woodland Trust website. Ask them to have a look on their interactive map and if your tree doesn’t feature then record it (form available on website) and send your records to the ATH. Most of Sheffield isn’t recorded and if it was the ‘powers that be’ may at least have another ‘thorn’ to contend with. It is ironic really when it was only a couple of months ago that another branch (ouch) of the Council – tree officer – was asking via Sorby Society newsletter for records of historic/ ancient trees. I wonder if anyone has a. responded and then b. at the Council / Amey actually looked at the information?
    The tragedy is that for most, there is a singular lack of appreciation or recognition of the timeline and heritage that these trees represent. If they can’t recognise the value of a 300 yr old open-grown oak (which according to Ted Green was only in the first third of its life) then there is even less hope for old coppice stools and the veteran hawthorns that Oliver Rackham gets so enthused about. And, that it was a result of our first ‘Sheffield woodland conference’ 20 or so years ago that the Ancient Tree Forum was formed because those attending were so impressed by Sheffield – dread to think what members would make of it now. But, we may have chance to find out next month when some of the ‘luminaries’ (Ted et al) are in Sheffield for our ‘wilder by design’ event.
    Watch this space ……

  2. Technotronic says:

    The Picus tomograms that Amey said (back in early February) they would commission – “due to public reaction, and the prominent nature of the tree and its associated amenity value, further investigation has been arranged i.e. Picus tomography” – may go some way toward the justification of removing this tree. If decay was particularly extensive, such evidence could certainly justify very severe pruning or removal. I did suggest to Amey at least leaving the dead stem in situ to aid biodiversity objectives (as such trees potentially provide extremely scarce habitats for a variety of rare species, as well as more common ones).

    Amey, clearly have some room for manoeuvre in such decisions, particularly when deciding to act in compliance with section 96 of the Highways Act 1980, which is the section they quoted to me as one of the reasons for removal: the other reason being “the nature of decay associated with Laetiporus sulphureus” (odd, since at that point the tomograms had not been commissioned and a detailed inspection of the tree – using instruments – had not taken place).

    It would be interesting to know the extent of the cavity that was present within the tree. I wonder if the Council or Amey will make them available to view online? After all, the citizens of Sheffield ultimately paid for them.

    What the Council needs is to formally adopt a city wide Tree Strategy, as recommended by the “Trees in Towns 2” report commissioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government, published in 2008. According to the main author of the report – Dr Johnston – community involvement – namely education, consultation and participation – should be at the heart of a tree strategy.

    Since we do not have one, the next best thing is for citizens of Sheffield to view the council’s draft “Statement of Community Involvement” (the last one was adopted in 2006) and leave your comments and recommendations, via the following link:

    Be quick, as you only have until 17 April 2014 to comment on the Consultation Draft!

    “The Statement says how we [the Council, and agents acting on behalf of the Council] will consult people and organisations on the preparation of local planning policies and on planning application decisions”.

    I do not recommend people register the whereabouts of their favourite trees with the Ancient Tree Hunt, as ATH recognition does not afford legal or physical protection and the tree will attract an increased number of visitors, thereby increasing the likelihood of arboricultural intervention (such as pruning or felling), in accordance with risk management. In addition, greater numbers of visitors can lead to vandalism and, where the ground is unsurfaced, compaction of the soil, which is likely to severely reduce the availability of nutrients (food) and water for root uptake, leading to greater susceptibility to disease, crown die-back and arboricultural intervention: in short, you are likely to greatly reduce the life expectancy of the tree through increased visitor numbers, as well as reduce the quality of the visitor experience, not least because risk management measures are likely to involve restriction of access within the vicinity of the tree. You are better campaigning for such veteran trees to be “scheduled” as a “Green Monument”, in order that they receive a similar kind of “protection” as that provided to Scheduled Ancient Monuments (“SAMs”).

    For more information on tree matters, visit Stocksbridge Community Forum:

    Please also note that greater visitor numbers may also result in unsurfaced ground being surfaced within the vicinity of the tree, thereby creating problems for tree roots and tree health, particularly where an arboriculturist has not been involved with the work and supervised development at the site.

    • jillbutleratf says:

      We would all agree with you Technotronic that a Council needs a good tree strategy but that should start with identifying the most valuable trees to the community. Surely the way the community can do that is via the Ancient Tree Hunt recording system? How else will a Council know what trees are best appreciated by its electorate? It would be better to deal with increased visitor traffic (lots of positive ways to do this) than for trees not to be fully appreciated and lost due to lack of concern.

      • Technotronic says:

        jillbutleratf ,

        Sorry for the delay in my response. I’ve been a little busy of late. The procedure for formulating a tree strategy has public education, consultation and participation at its heart. There are very many different ways of doing these things, and those responsible for draughting the document would have to decide which methods and techniques to employ in undertaking of these tasks, given all circumstances of the case. In this day and age, thanks to the world wide web, it is not too difficult to do such things relatively cheaply. Advice is provided in the Trees in Towns 2 report. You can find out more about various methods and techniques by taking a look at the following links:

        The Community Planning Handbook: How people can shape their cities, towns & villages in any part of the world (Earthscan Tools for Community Planning) [Paperback] (ISBN: 978-1844074907):

        The draughting of a tree strategy is not about protecting certain woodlands or trees, but about setting out a framework to help ensure compliance with various policies, legislation and regulation. It is also intended to ensure that aims and objectives, and the methods and techniques used to achieve them, accord with current best practice guidance and recommendations (which include community involvement).

        At present, there is no legal or other form of protection that can lawfully guarantee trees or woodlands will not be destroyed, regardless of how much the public like them. Even a tree strategy will not do that (or a tree preservation order: “TPO”), but it would represent a go-to document for all stakeholders; an aid to guide decision making; a document against which progress – be that positive or negative – could be measured and responsibilities clarified. All that said, the Forestry Commission (who are also stakeholders) do have the power to ensure that even privately owned woodlands are managed in a sustainable way (With regard to Smithy Wood, the public should be making representations to the nearest Forestry Commission Forest District Office). It should be noted that statutory undertakers (e.g. those responsible for the provision and maintenance of road/rail/waterways/electric/water/gas) are generally exempt from controls, by legislation.

  3. Technotronic says:

    Just out of interest, exactly how has the age of this oak been determined? To the best of my knowledge the tree has variously been reported as being 270 years old and 300 years old. Now, if the tree had a basal cavity (a hollow within the base of the trunk), it will not have been possible to be quite so accurate in dating the tree, even after felling it (unless one of the primary roots remained at the point of union with the trunk). I believe the tree did have such a cavity. In the attempt to date the tree, you could probably find the tree on an old map or find mention of it being planted, or use some general method of calculation. However, going back over 200 years, the tree was probably not even of sufficient size to warrant a mention in any document and no general method of calculation is any more accurate than the informed estimate of any experienced arborist. I do not disagree that the tree could have been around 270 years old or, at a push, even around 300 years old, but why do commentators feel the urge to be quite so precise with age, as it really makes little difference whether you are a few decades one way or the other with regard to assessment of value (be that amenity or economic)?

    Ian, just out of interest, how did you arrive at an age of 300 years for this tree?

  4. Technotronic says:

    To quote from “Trees in Towns 2: a new survey of urban trees in England and their condition and management″, on the importance of a tree strategy document:

    A tree strategy is “the most significant indicator of a planned approach to management”…”Those LAs that have not got an existing tree strategy and are not in the process of developing one, need to make this an immediate priority”…”Even the existence of a specific tree strategy does not always imply that this is an appropriate document to drive the LA’s tree programme. How the strategy was developed and what detailed policies and plans it contains will determine this.”

    As detailed in Sheffield Council’s “Sheffield’s Great Outdoors: Green and Open Space Strategy 2010-2030″ document, the Council is committed to producing a “Trees & Woodland Strategy”. This, in all but name, should constitute a Tree Strategy. However, to date (OVER FOUR YEARS ON), Sheffield is still without such a strategy.

    Sheffield’s Great Outdoors: Green and Open Space Strategy 2010-2030 is available via the following link:

    Has the strategy been abandoned for good? One was prepared some years ago now, but not formally adopted. I wonder why?

  5. Technotronic says:

    Just wondering, does anyone know what happened to the wood from the Melbourne Rd veteran oak? I note that both the cord wood (short lengths of wood from the crown) and the bole (trunk) were removed from site, but have failed to appear on the nearby green, further along the road. Perhaps making eco-piles with the cord wood was considered too much of a potential fire hazard? Was it sold as fire wood or wood chip? As for the bole, I thought the intention was to return it to the community; it would have been in keeping with national and local policy to leave it as close to the site as possible, intact: i.e. on the nearby green, where it would have contributed toward attainment of biodiversity objectives and could have been used as a play log and educational resource.


  6. Interesting ideas. I think the timber has been used. One approach with this historic trees is to leave the trunk intact and in situ as an historic marker – even a living one. This is deemed too expensive and it is easier to claim a planted sapling is a ‘replacement’.


  7. Technotronic says:

    Sad, but true. It is difficult to know for sure without seeing the results of the detailed tree inspection, but I think this tree was most likely felled just to save money and boost Amey’s key performance indicator figures (e.g. number of trees in “poor” condition felled; number of new trees planted). After all, the tree had been a “hindrance” to users of the highway for >100 years and had not stirred any significant level of objection to its presence by users of the highway. Current policies and arboricultural and forestry best practice informs those responsible for making decisions about whether or not to remove street trees to not just consider the cost of maintenance, but the wider benefits the trees provide, both locally and beyond, by way of ecosystem services (and, occasionally, goods). Amey did claim to have taken the “associated amenity value” of the tree in to account, and “public reaction”. However, these are just two components of a multitude of factors that should have been considered. It would be interesting to know which amenity tree valuation system was used, if any, and the outcome of the valuation. From experience, I know that using such a valuation system for a tree of such character is likely to result in a valuation in the tens of thousands of pounds range, or greater.

    What I really don’t get is all the secrecy. Why didn’t Amey say precisely what they were doing and why? Surely it wouldn’t have harmed to let people know …it may even have helped rebuild voter confidence in local government.

  8. Technotronic says:

    By the way, I have been in correspondence with Councillor Jack Scott (Cabinet Member for Environment, Recycling and Streetscene) about the Tree Strategy. He had not even realised there was a commitment within the “Sheffield’s Great Outdoors: Green and Open Space Strategy 2010-2030″ document to provide and deliver a “Trees & Woodland Strategy”, despite its significance and place within the Local Development Framework (preferably as an adopted Supplementary Planning Guidance document) being clearly detailed in diagrammatic form on page 15.

    This is what Cllr Scott had to say:

    “We do not presently have a strategy solely for trees. My view is that this wouldn’t be very helpful given they are an intrinsic part of the broader environment and ecology. However, I am confident that we have adopted very good practice in this area.”. “…In my view, current documents are sufficient.”

    Obviously, Cllr Scott considers himself to be some kind of authority on matters of arboriculture and urban forestry, unlike his government, who commissioned the “Trees in Towns 2” report, so as to inform and guide local and national policy and arboricultural/urban forest management decisions and practice.

    It looks as though Sheffield is set to continue without a Tree Strategy of any kind, at least while the current party is in control. Therefore, it will be more likely that mistakes will be made as the approach to management of the city wide tree population will lack a consistent approach to decision making. It will certainly struggle to demonstrate a systematic and integrated approach.

    Last month, I noticed a number of mature ash trees of large diameter were felled (assisted by a crane) in Oughtibridge, on the bank between Chestnut Ct and Langsett Rd South. From memory, all but one of the trees was healthy and structurally sound. The land was developed several years ago with the building of several rows of flats at the foot of the bank. Clearly, the planning department failed in implementation of its duty, under Section 197 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, “to ensure, whenever it is appropriate, that in granting planning permission for any development adequate provision is made, by the imposition of conditions, for the preservation or planting of trees”.

    A Tree Strategy, with a systematic approach to tree management, would have helped ensure a consistent approach in both the Stocksbridge and Oughtibridge cases mentioned here, and the mistakes that occurred in both cases would, in all likelihood, not have occurred, provided those responsible for implementation of the strategy were familiar with its content and committed to its implementation.

  9. Technotronic says:

    With regard to the report from the detailed inspection (performed on 27th January 2014) of the Melbourne Road veteran oak.

    Here are some excerpts from the report:

    “The results of the Tomography indicate that the extent of decay did not breach t/R ratio of 30/70%, the point at which fully-crowned trees become dangerous…”

    “…the following management options were considered:

    A. Removal and replacement if highway safety obligations prevent safe retention in the carriageway.

    B. “Heavy” reduction of the existing crown volume (approx.. 30%) and instigation of a long term heritage tree management strategy with annual inspections. The installation of line markings and/or bollards to highlight tree encroachment and guide traffic.

    Following much determination, option A was considered most appropriate”.

    The recommendation for annual inspection is perhaps a little excessive, given that the tree was apparently healthy; oak is well known to be particularly successful in hindering the spread of microbial infection within its parts; oak is also well known to be successful in compensating for loss of cross-sectional area, through the production of reaction wood (termed “adaptive growth” in the British Standards), which effectively maintains structural integrity (of stem/branch or root), enabling plant parts to have a safety factor greater than that of most mammal bones (Mattheck et al., 1993).

    It would appear that the detailed inspection was only commissioned to create the impression that those responsible (both Amey and the Council) were attempting to do things the right way, after initially taking a decision to remove the tree without a necessary and appropriate hazard assessment and subsequent informed risk assessment. To my mind, what has happened has been an appalling and unacceptable waste of taxpayer’s money. It is a shame that those concerned cannot be issued with some form of proportionate financial penalty.

    Hopefully, lessons will have been learnt from the appalling way in which the whole process was handled. It is unfortunate that the local community will have to suffer the consequences of a decision making process in which they had no part. Such old veteran trees, particularly oak, are extremely rare along our city streets.

    The final decision on the future of the Melbourne Road veteran oak should have been taken by an arboriculturist (as defined within British Standard 3998).

    A copy of the tree report has been sent to Cllr A.Brelsford.


    Mattheck, C., Bethge, K. & Schafer, J (1993) Safety Factors In Trees. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 165, p.185-89.

  10. Avril Critchley says:

    Hi Ian Just to let you know I will not be able to come to your FOBS talk on May 12th. Since Feb. I have been in hospital twice with fluid on the lung. This was removed but then they found I have peritoneal cancer. I am receiving Chemo,( carboplatin ), side effects not good!!!! I have to be careful not to catch infections from people. My next session is on MAY 12th. On top of this I have lost my dog( tumour), my boiler was leaking, the main water pipe is leaking and my oven is giving up!!! George always said things go wrong in 3s!!! Lots of people in the community are helping and things are being sorted. I will be carrying on trying to save our trees etc. If you want things passing round I can do that for you. Smithy Wood sounds very bad now. Hope you have a good weekend.


    Sent from my iPad


  11. Technotronic says:


    You may have noticed the steep grassy bank between the railway station in town and Park Hill Flats (the “listed” blot on the landscape, at the top of the bank)? Well, that is where the new arboretum will be.

    You can view the details at the following link, and download associated documents (the planning application reference is: 13/00794/RG3):

    From what I gather, some planting has taken place. It is interesting to note that when planning permission was granted, in May 2013, by issue of the “Decision Notice”, the sixth planning condition stated

    ” The trees to be retained… shall be protected in accordance with the recommendations made in British Standard 5837: 2005…”.

    However, that British Standard was revised and withdrawn in 2012, superseded by BS 5837 (2012) “Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction. Recommendations”.

    Let’s hope that all planning applications will henceforth ensure that only current industry-specific best practice guidance and recommendations are specified when draughting planning conditions.

    Both the *Development Services* and *Building Control* departments have been notified of the error, so there is really no excuse for them to be using an out dated standard for tree protection on future development sites. Well, as of today, at any rate.

    If an arboriculturist had been involved in draughting the conditions, as is necessary to aid compliance with the Town and Country Planning Act (1990) section 197 duty, this error would not have occurred.

    Excerpts from BS 5837 (2012):

    “Use of this document

    This British Standard takes the form of guidance and recommendations.
    It should not be quoted as if it were a specification and particular care should
    be taken to ensure that claims of compliance are not misleading.

    Any user claiming compliance with this British Standard is expected to be able to
    justify any course of action that deviates from its recommendations”.

  12. Lee Swords says:

    ” Having met onsite at Bowden Houstead Woods with both Clls Scott and Brammall as well as Ted Talbot and John Gilpin I am sickened at the lack of vision shown by our elected representatives and have nothing but pity of misters Gilpin and Talbot as well as the members of their respective departments as it must be the most horrendous of fates to be overruled and overseen by such a collection of half-wits and no-marks as SCC”

  13. Technotronic says:


    With regard to the Melbourne Road veteran oak (Stocksbridge) – removed on 1st April 2014 – and with regard to arboricultural management in general, a set of questions (Q) were presented to Councillor Scott (Cabinet Member for Environment, Recycling and Streetscene and Councillor for Arbourthorne Ward) some time ago. The six questions were e-mailed to Cllr Scott on the 30th April 2014, with question 6 amended and resubmitted on 1st May 2014. Answers were received by e-mail on 27th August 2014, provided by Deborah Hallam, acting on behalf of Jack Scott.

    Provided restrictions on posting do not limit my attempt to share these questions and answers with you here, the questions (Q), answers (A) and questioner response to answers received (QR) will appear below, in subsequent postings (the blog does not permit posting of all material as a single posting).

    • Technotronic says:

      Question 1 for Cllr Scott:

      With regard to the Melbourne Road veteran oak, when you made the comments reported in The Star (published on 23/1/2014) and Look Local (published about the same time) newspapers, you were reported as saying “Over the last eight, years the health of the tree has been getting progressively worse.” Link to article:

      Q1) What measures and indicators of tree health were used to inform and support your statement?

      Also, you were reported as saying “We are currently in the process of carrying our further assessments to identify the extent of the disease, and associated risk to the highway”. Other comments in the news articles, attributed to you, firmly indicate that any works to the tree would be as a result of concerns for the safety of the highway and its users.

      All trees are subject to a programme of visual inspection by qualified arboricultural inspectors. At contract commencement in August 2012, Amey commissioned an independent tree inspection company to undertake a full condition survey of all 36,000 highway trees.
      This is now repeated on a frequency of roughly every 4 years as a condition / asset survey covering 25% of our tree stock per year.

      Upon inspection, in August 2013, this tree clearly showed evidence of dieback, as well as fruiting bodies being present in an open cavity to the North elevation of the tree, which were photographed accordingly. As is not unusual for an Oak tree of this age, all of these indicators are physical manifestations evidencing that there was decay within the lower stem.

      This tree had a history of heavy crown reductions, which, although we do not have historical work sheets to confirm, it would be reasonable to assume that these were most likely undertaken to mitigate an existing loss of structure within the heartwood of the lower trunk.

      This, coupled with the manifestation of the Laetipous suggested that the extent of the decay previously managed by means of crown reduction had further spread within the lower trunk.
      Your former colleague, Mr Istvan Horanszky, who you will be aware from personal experience, is an extremely knowledgeable and competent individual undertook this particular inspection, and made recommendations accordingly.
      These findings were then verified by our own qualified arboricultural inspectors from within the Council’s technical team.

      At request, an independent inspection coupled with an non-invasive acoustic decay detection (Picus Sonic Tomograph) was then undertaken to establish the extent of the decay, the results of which you have already been made privy to.

      The Melbourne Road oak was an “unusual” street tree, in that it was a very old “veteran” tree. In the time before the Council’s partnership with Amey, none of the highway tree maintenance managers had received any formal academic arboricultural education and precious little formal training. Poor decisions were occasionally made, but nothing quite so misguided as the felling of this veteran oak. The guys I knew, including Istvan, certainly are capable of inspecting and assessing the vast majority of Sheffield’s trees. However, when it comes to the inspection, assessment and risk assessment/management of veteran trees, unless SCC staff have gained experience of working with veteran trees and have undertaken and successfully completed a level 3 (reference to the National Qualifications Framework) course of formal academic education in arboriculture, they are likely to lack the knowledge, understanding and experience necessary to meet the standards expected and required of competent arboriculturist when assessing and making recommendations for the management of veteran trees . See BS 3998 [2010] and BS 5837 [2012]) for definitions of the words “competent” and “arboriculturist”.

      Excerpts from BS 3998:
      “Competent person:
      person who has training and experience relevant to the matter being addressed and an understanding of the requirements of the particular task being approached…” …”A competent person is expected to understand the hazards pertinent to the task being carried out and the methods to be implemented to eliminate or reduce the risks that can arise…”

      “ Arboriculturist:
      A “person who, through relevant education, training and experience, has gained recognized expertise in the care of trees”.

      “veteran tree:
      Tree that, by recognized criteria, shows features of biological, cultural or aesthetic value that are characteristic of, but not exclusive to, individuals surviving beyond the typical age range for the species concerned
      NOTE These characteristics might typically include a large girth, signs of crown retrenchment and hollowing of the stem.”
      All arborists working in accordance with current industry best practice and guidance are expected to do their best to comply with the aforementioned British Standards, in addition to the guidance and recommendations included in other publications, some of which will be mentioned, for your benefit, below.

      There was no major die-back – or lesser die-back – evident in the crown (when viewed from the ground) in the days immediately prior to felling, nor was there any evidence of recent works to the tree. I contacted Amey by e-mail prior to felling and gave my thoughts on the tree. I was led to believe the e-mail was forwarded to Istvan.
      Rather than repeat my appropriately educated and informed opinions, I advise and request that you take the following information in to account when reviewing whether or not the recommendations and actions undertaken thus far, with regard to the Melbourne Road veteran oak, were proportionate and appropriate.

      Excerpts from The National Tree Safety Group (2011) Common Sense Risk Management of Trees: Guidance on trees and public safety in the UK for owners, managers and advisers (published in Edinburgh by the Forestry Commission: Forestry Commission stock code: FCM 024).

      Excerpt from page 44 :
      the term “defect” can be misleading, as the significance of structural deformities in trees (variations from a perceived norm) can be extremely variable. Indeed, deformities can be a response to internal hollowing or decay, compensating for loss of wood strength and providing mechanical advantage, allowing the tree to adapt to wind and gravitational forces. With inadequate understanding, so-called defects may be erroneously confused with hazards and, furthermore, hazards with risk – so unless the risk of harm arising from a hazard is properly taken account of, management can be seriously misinformed, potentially leading to costly and unnecessary intervention.
      NTSG definition: “a defect in the context of the growing environment of a tree is a structural, health or environmental condition that could predispose a tree to failure”.

      Excerpt from page 53:
      It is inappropriate to react to tree defects as though they are all immediately hazardous. Growth deformities and other defects do not necessarily indicate structural weakness. When noting features that might indicate a likelihood of weakness or collapse, it is important that concern for risk of failure is restricted to events likely in the near future. trees exhibit a wide range of such features, and the scope for interpreting their significance is complex, particularly when considering the likelihood of non-immediate failure. for example, anomalies in tree growth may indicate internal decay and hollowing; but anomalies in form may be attributable to the tree having compensated for the decay, by mechanically adapting to natural processes.”

      An excerpt from page 33 of Read, H.,(2000). “Veteran Trees: A guide to good management” (IN13). Peterborough: English Nature (Available as a series of free PDF documents at ; you can also view this publication online at ):

      “Laetiporus sulphureus (Figure 15) break down only the dead wood. This decays the centre of the tree but leaves the outer, living layers intact. While this may not be desirable from the point of view of a commercial forester, the tree is not harmed and may actually benefit. Decay and hollowing are part of a nutrient recycling process.The tree can make use of the products of wood decay within the trunk by producing aerial roots from its above ground parts, which grow into the rotting stem. A hollow tube may respond differently from a solid trunk in high winds and not necessarily more likely to snap provided its walls are not so thin that buckling occurs”.

      I should, perhaps, mention that when an oak gets as old as the Melbourne Road veteran was, the cross-sectional area of its trunk largely consists of “heartwood” (i.e. it largely consists of “dead” wood: the greatest majority of cells are dead). There may only be a few millimetres or a couple of centimetres of living wood (“sapwood”), surrounding the heartwood. Hence the necessity of a detailed inspection, and subsequent report, by a competent arboriculturist such as that undertaken by the guy commissioned to do the Picus tomography (such work is usually done by an arboricultural consultant, as many contractors do not have the relevant education, training or equipment).
      Provided a tree has sufficient vigour, it has the ability to compensate for any loss of cross sectional area within its body and maintain structural integrity, permitting it to have a safety factor greater than that of most mammal bones*, in accordance with the Axiom of Uniform Stress, also known as the ‘Constant Stress Axiom’. Since the work of Dr Alex Shigo (in the 1970s: Chief Scientist for the U.S. Forest Service) it has been known that trees are able to “compartmentalise” decay, effectively walling it off from uninfected wood and severely hindering or preventing its outward spread in to healthy wood, thereby “buying” the tree time to compensate for the loss of cross-sectional area through the production of better quality, thicker annual growth increments (“tree rings”). Bulges and swellings can be indicative of such growth. It is my opinion that the Melbourne Road oak was likely to have been of sufficient vigour to compensate for loss of cross-sectional area, given the length of shoot extension growth evident prior to felling (and absence of any sign of ill health).

      Oak is one of the best trees at “compartmentalising” decay and compensating for it: hence the often quoted Peter Collinson (1776) on the life cycle of English oak and sweet chestnut. “Three hundred years growing. Three hundred years standing. Three hundred years decaying.” Veteran trees require a detailed inspection (i.e. using instruments) because trees of such age are generally of much lesser vigour than trees of a much younger age, so are less able to compensate for loss of cross-sectional area through the production of reaction wood (the proper term for the compensatory growth which results the appearance of swellings, bulges or ribs, etc.) and thereby are less able to evenly distribute loads (such as result from leaves, fruits and growth, snow or wind) over the entire surface of the plant.

      With regard to previous tree works, they may well have been “undertaken to mitigate an existing loss of structure within the heartwood of the lower trunk”, but if that was the case, it was to retain the tree, having realised that it could be safely retained – and at precious little financial cost, if you factor in the value of ecosystem services afforded by the tree. I should point out that the presence of heartwood decay is not necessarily a problem; extent of decay could be: you have to factor in the age, health, vigour and species traits of the tree, as well as the species traits of the pathogen, amongst other factors, in order to make informed decisions. In reaching a decision as to the future of the Melbourne Road veteran oak, it is not evident that these variables were appropriately considered, as would have been necessary to inform tree management decisions, in accordance with current arboricultural industry best practice and recommendations.

      Prior to the Council’s partnership with Amey, there was a severe knowledge deficit within the Highway Tree Maintenance section when it came to the inspection and assessment of veteran trees (not least because there are so very few along city streets), let alone trees with cavities. Until as late as around 1994, the section were still being instructed to carry out the then out-dated practices (out-dated since the 1989 publication of BS3998) of topping and limb removal using flush cuts (the latter occasionally still a practice when I left: less than a decade ago).

      Mattheck, C., Bethge, K. & Schafer, J (1993) Safety Factors In Trees. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 165, p.185-89.

  14. Technotronic says:

    Question 2 for Cllr Scott:

    Q2) Given that the detailed tree assessment did not indicate that the tree represented an unacceptable level of risk to the highway or its users, and that tomograms did indicate relatively successful compartmentalisation of decay (certainly sufficient from a safety perspective), and adequate compensation for loss of cross-sectional area (through the production of reaction wood aka “adaptive growth”), precisely for what reason/s was the tree removed?

    The recommendations of both the independent and Amey tree inspections showed that a movement to heritage tree management would entail sacrifice of the existing aesthetic of the tree by means of removal of the full crown and flowing branch structure in factor of preserving the stem for habitat value.

    A proactive management schedule to prevent crown retrenchment would be required to retain the stem in this form without allowing the canopy to reform, coupled with annual progress monitoring of the decay until this reached a point where even removal of the stem would be required.
    Given the encroachment of the stem into the carriageway, which both the independent and Amey inspections highlighted as a formal highway obstruction, to retain the tree as a highway obstruction, whilst losing all of the amenity value by removal of the crown, it was felt by all parties that removal and replacement from a highway safety obligations perspective were the first and preferred option.

    I can assure you that this decision was not reached without significant and considerable wide ranging debate of all available options both between Amey and the Council as well as lengthy and detailed discussions with numerous specialists, independent experts as well as appropriate conservation officers.

    The tree could have safely been retained, with a beautiful, aesthetically pleasing crown, by crown reduction, as defined in BS 3998. The tomogram results (gained on 27th January 2014), and subsequent Report Summary suggested that the likelihood of structural failure of the stem was so remote as not to be reasonably foreseeable in the near future. They also indicated that the tree had successfully compensated for loss of cross sectional area of the stem and/or that extent of decay within the stem had not progressed to the extent that structural integrity had become compromised to the extent necessary for structural failure to be reasonably foreseeable. In short, the risk level of damage to property or injury to people was low, not high, and could have easily been reduced further by sensitive management. The tree did obstruct the highway, which is certainly sufficient reason to permit its removal – in fact necessitate its removal, if you are sticking to the letter of the Highways act. However, it has, in all likelihood, been obstructing the highway, to the extent it did at the time of felling, for around 100 years, and traffic has been as it is at present for at least thirty years. For much of its life the tree has been an obstruction to the highway. There was certainly no urgent need for removal: its presence did not compromise highway safety to such extent that removal was necessary. The installation of bollards, as suggested in the Report Summary was a sensible idea. Also, it is worth mentioning that even the presence of a lone oak stem of such size has amenity value, particularly when the bark falls away.

  15. Technotronic says:

    Question 3 for Cllr Scott:

    Q3) What has become of the timber and cord wood (branch wood)?

    In an e-mail dated 13/2/2014, Amey made the following statement ” …However, due to public reaction, and the prominent nature of the tree and its associated amenity value, further investigation has been arranged i.e. Picus tomography. The results of which will enable our Arboriculture Asset Management team to evaluate more accurately the extent of decay and, possibly, offer an alternative management option.”

    A significant amount of timber was utilised to create a bench and sculpture in conjunction with children from local schools. The remaining timber will be in Olive Grove depot and is likely to be recycled into the biomass industry.

  16. Technotronic says:

    Question 4 for Cllr Scott:

    Q4) Which recognised method/s were used to assess associated amenity value and, provided such information exists, would it be possible for you to e-mail me a copy of the assessment, including results please?

    Large, old “veteran trees” provide a range of valuable ecosystem services including amenity (as briefly mentioned in various key documents such as British Standard 3998 (2010), BS 5837 (2012), the National Tree Safety Group publications on risk management, and the Trees in Towns 2 report).

    As has been previously outlined, discussions around the amenity value of this tree were held by officers from both the highways technical team as well as conservation officers. A full assessment was undertaken utilising the TEMPO model, of which you have already been provided details.
    Although it would be possible to supply you with details of officer’s recollections of the meetings held to discuss the amenity value of this tree (outlined in final lines of section 2), I am not in a position to provide you with physical assessments via email.

    TEMPO is an acronym for TREE EVALUATION METHOD FOR PRESERVATION ORDERS. The method is designed to help assess whether or not it is expedient to afford a tree, group of trees or woodland statutory protection. It is not designed to assess amenity value, or the value of ecosystem services (and possibly goods) afforded by the tree. A suitable alternative method needs to be found for assessment of these things, if management is to accord with current arboricultural best practice, guidance and recommendations, particularly when assessing veteran trees (which are very rare indeed along our city streets).

  17. Technotronic says:

    Question 5 for Cllr Scott:

    Q5) What measures does the Council take to ensure that these values are appropriately assessed and taken in to account during the process of reaching decisions for the proportionate and appropriate management of trees, particularly veteran trees?

    I can assure you that all trees are assessed by qualified and competent arboricultural inspectors in line with industry best practice guidance.
    What is key to note is that the Council has a number of legislative requirements which must be fulfilled in relation to trees in the highway environment, therefore a more risk averse approach should be taken, in line with HSE guidance, than would be expected in a forestry management setting given the increased likelihood of a highway tree falling and causing harm.
    All recommendations arising from tree inspections are independently verified by our own in house technical team to ensure that Amey’s works are proportionate and justified, which I am still confident in the case in this particular matter.

    From your responses to this set of questions, as well as your responses to previous e-mails, and with regard to the acts and omissions on the part of those responsible for taking arboricultural decisions, it is evident that both the Council and Amey are falling short of compliance with current arboricultural industry best practice, guidance and recommendations in a number of key areas, despite the intent, at least on paper, to accord with such. In my previous communications with you, I have highlighted both problems and potential solutions. You now have all you need to know in order to begin to formulate a standardised framework with protocols to minimise errors.

    With regard to the current guidance and recommendations of the Health and Safety Executive, you will find detail and references within The National Tree Safety Group’s publication (2011) Common Sense Risk Management of Trees: Guidance on trees and public safety in the UK for owners, managers and advisers (published in Edinburgh by the Forestry Commission: Forestry Commission stock code: FCM 024). This is available as free PDF documents at:

    An excerpt from p.20:

    “Very simply, a hazard is something that can cause harm and here, the hazard is a tree.
    Risk is characterised by reference to potential events and consequences, or a
    combination of the two. It is often expressed as a combination of an event’s
    consequences and the likelihood of it occurring. In this case, a potential consequence
    is death or serious injury. The important part of the assessment is the likelihood of
    either occurring.”

    An excerpt from p.22:

    “…With a UK population of roughly 60 million, this leads to an overall estimated risk of
    about one death in 10 million people per year from falling or fallen trees and

    So far as non-fatal injuries in the UK are concerned, the number of accident and
    emergency cases (A&E) attributable to being struck by trees (about 55 a year) is
    exceedingly small compared with the roughly 2.9 million leisure-related A&E cases
    per year. Footballs (262,000), children’s swings (10,900) and even wheelie bins
    (2,200) are involved in many more incidents”.

    An excerpt from p.24:

    “HSE refers to the role of perception in its Sector Information Minute (guidance for
    HSE inspectors and local authority enforcement officers) as follows:
    “The risk, per tree, of causing fatality is of the order of one in 150 million for all trees in
    Britain or one in 10 million for those trees in, or adjacent to areas of public use. However,
    the low level of overall risk may not be perceived in this way by the public, particularly
    following an incident.” “

    An excerpt from p.25:

    “the pressures on tree owners to follow a risk-averse approach have never been
    greater. Publishing a tree strategy which clearly indicates how these management
    decisions are taken and by whom allows a local authority to temper a risk-averse
    outlook. As the house of Lords select committee on economics has put it:
    “…the most important thing government can do is to ensure that its own policy decisions
    are soundly based on available evidence and not unduly influenced by transitory or
    exaggerated opinions, whether formed by the media or vested interests.””

  18. Technotronic says:

    Question 6 for Cllr Scott:

    Q6) What steps and measures, if any, will you take to ensure a consistent approach to tree hazard assessment and risk management and what steps and measures, if any, will you take to ensure that assessments of tree risk follow procedures that are in accordance with current arboricultural industry guidance and recommendations. For example, how will the Council ensure that risk assessment is informed by appropriate and adequate hazard assessment?

    The same three inspectors from Amey, whom I believe were previously your work colleagues, undertake all of the inspections. You will be aware from first-hand experience that these are all extremely competent arboricultural inspectors in their own right.
    From a consistency perspective, the same technical officers from the Council are responsible for sign off and verification of Amey’s inspection works.

    We have a number of controls in place around highway tree safety and risk management and adequate risk management of one of the cornerstones of this process, underpinned by our regular inspection and maintenance regimes to ensure highway safety in conjunction with retention of notable and historic trees wherever possible.

    Unfortunately as you will be aware, many of Sheffield’s 36,000 highway trees are already over-mature (independent surveys suggest up to 50% of the total tree stock falls into this bracket) therefore within our life time, and over the 25 years of the Streets Ahead project, some regeneration of the tree stock is absolutely essential to ensure that we are planting new trees now in a phased and responsible manner to ensure there will be mature trees for the future.

    This answer really doesn’t give any detail. Given my unique insight on the situation, I note that one of the key problems appears to be that you are reliant on inspectors that have received little formal arboricultural education and training, if any, in the tasks expected of them that are in addition to inspection, such as various methods of valuation (for ecosystem goods and services, including amenity value), tree hazard assessment and management and tree risk assessment and management, particularly with regard to veteran trees.

    There is no standardised framework in place to clarify responsibilities, guide assessment procedures and help ensure a consistent, appropriate, proportionate, approach to as tree hazard assessment and management, as well as tree risk assessment and management. Such a framework is needed, not least to help ensure compliance with numerous statutory duties, but to help ensure compliance with numerous national and local policy aims and objectives, which are spread across a wide range of hefty separate documents that nobody has time to look at, let alone the desire to implement.

    The Government and Council both have policies for greater transparency and community participation. These aims will be far more achievable within a clear framework that details aims, objectives, protocols and responsibilities. With regard to arboricultural management, in accordance with current arboricultural sector best practice guidance and recommendations, such a framework should be produced as a Tree Strategy document, which should also be “adopted” and serve as a supplementary planning guidance document. As I have mentioned previously, the “Trees in Towns 2″ report, commissioned by the Labour government, provided pointers on what should be considered when formulating a tree strategy.

    Excerpts from Britt, C; Johnston, M; Riding, A; Slater, J; King, H; Gladstone, M; McMillan, S; Mole, A; Allder, C; Ashworth, P; Devine, T; Morgan, C; Martin, J. et al., 2008. Trees in Towns II: A new survey of urban trees in England and their condition and management:

    “In many respects, the existence of a relevant [tree] strategy document is the most significant indicator of a planned approach to management…” (from p.158)

    “Those LAs that have not got an existing tree strategy and are not in the process of developing one, need to make this an immediate priority…” …”Even the existence of a specific tree strategy does not always imply that this is an appropriate document to drive the LA’s tree programme. How the strategy was developed and what detailed policies and plans it contains will determine this.” (from p.192)

    The final section of the Trees in Towns 2 document (Appendix 14) – pages 487 to 644 – consists of 12 case studies provided as local authority examples of best practice (believe it or not, one study looks at an aspect of arboriculture in Sheffield). The document is substantial, with a hefty price tag. However, it can be purchased for a fraction of the standard price (£13.63) at:

  19. Technotronic says:

    Closing comments from the Q&A session with Cllr Scott:

    Although we may clearly have to agree to disagree on the matter of this tree removal, I trust that the information provided above helps to give some assurances that due process was followed in this case.

    I had hoped for and expected a more professional approach to management of the city wide tree resource from the Council’s partnership with Amey. However, from these responses, it would appear that little has changed since the days prior to the partnership. In reality, the system and its constituent parts appear to be dogged by the same faulty acts and omissions. It is difficult to see how things will change for the better if that is the case. During my time with the Council (during the initial years of Istvan’s career in arboriculture) I noted a severe lack of arboricultural education and training at all levels, and a lack of supervision and scrutiny of arboricultural management by peers or others with greater knowledge, understanding, experience and levels of training. There needs to be recognition of the necessity of and for a programme of continued professional development, and adequate commitment and resources to ensure staff can partake in such a programme: detail, commitment and achievements should be outlined in a current tree strategy document. This would go some way toward being able to provide meaningful assurance of responsible arboricultural management.

    An NTSG excerpt:

    “the pressures on tree owners to follow a risk-averse approach have never been
    greater. Publishing a tree strategy which clearly indicates how these management
    decisions are taken and by whom allows a local authority to temper a risk-averse

    Oops, is that the second time I quoted these lines?

    In the days prior to the partnership with Amey, one of the biggest hindrances to sound arboricultural management by the Council, has been the practice of offering first refusal on job vacancies in arboricultural management positions (as well as other positions) to council employees, before welcoming and considering applications from beyond the pool of council employees. This has not ensured that the people best suited to the positions have had an opportunity to apply for the positions and be considered.

    Unfortunately, for me, your assurances are of little value or consolation, if any. However, I do appreciate you using the past four month period to find these answers and communicate them to me. Please note that all the documents mentioned above constitute current arboricultural best practice guidance and recommendations.

    I hope this is helpful.

  20. Technotronic says:

    It should be noted that in an e-mail dated 5 Apr 2014 (sent at 00:34) councillor Scott made the following comments:

    “We do not presently have a strategy solely for trees. My view is tat this wouldn’t be very helpful given they are an intrinsic part of the broader environment and ecology. However, I am confident that we have adopted very good practice in this area.”

  21. Technotronic says:

    Free conference tickets for this week…

    29th January 2015 | 1:45-5:00pm | Manchester, The Manchester Museum:

    Organised in partnership with The Red Rose Forest, this event features a planner, a civil engineer and an arboriculturist to discuss how using urban trees to deliver multiple benefits and returns on investment can contribute to Greater Manchester’s sustainable growth ambitions. The presentations and debates will draw from “Trees in Hard Landscapes: A Guide for Delivery”. The event is free but RSVP is required. Bookings & further details:

    “‘Trees in Hard Landscapes: A Guide for Delivery” is freely available to download:

  22. Technotronic says:



    It is a shame that the city-wide felling programme that aims to fell 66.7% of Sheffield’s mature highway trees within a five year period – half the highway tree population (18,000 mature trees) – wasn’t mentioned, or the fact that the city – “England’s third largest metropolitan authority”* – does not even have a tree strategy to guide and inform decisions.

    A tree strategy, like many other Councils have, but better, would help ensure that appropriate, adequate, balanced assessments are used to guide and inform decisions, and thereby increase the likelihood that acts and omissions will be reasonable, proportionate, defendable, based on sound evidence, and not unduly influenced by transitory or exaggerated opinions, whether formed by the media, lobby groups or vested interests.

    Really, given that the Streets Ahead project is a highway maintenance programme – a twenty-five year PFI contract – costing £2.2bn, using up to £1.2bn of Government funds (from the Department for Transport), it would have been rational, prudent and reasonable to have a tree strategy in place prior to the start of the contract, to ensure that assets are valued and managed in a responsible, sustainable manner, even if for no other reasons.


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