Caring for the trees

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Councillor Jack Scott was interviewed along with me on BBC Radio Sheffield’s Breakfast Show, concerning the infamously felled oak tree in Deepcar (see my blog for more details). Jack said that all was well because not only was the tree found to be diseased and full of fungi, but a sapling was replanted (not of course in the same place – surely as we plant so many trees, any particular one cannot be a replacement for a heritage giant).

Indeed, we were assured that the local folk were now very pleased with their oak sapling. Furthermore, the good news continued as the felled tree was passed to a local wood-worker to make into furniture. This discussion followed a meeting held by Sheffield City Council and AMEY to present their views on street trees to around 12 people. I was told that at the meeting it was admitted that the heritage and landscape historic status of Sheffield’s trees, an issue raised by me at the packed meeting organised by the Green Party, was not considered or evaluated at all.

Yet this is at the heart of the tree debate – not all trees are equal. Decisions should be made on the best available information and should be open to discussion and public scrutiny, which they currently are not.

Ten thousand planted saplings do not replace a single 300-year old oak tree, a heritage specimen is not a tradable asset. Furthermore, and for Jack’s information, all very old trees will be full of fungi, and in fact many younger specimens too. Most of these fungi do no damage to the tree and many are vital to its survival. Even with trees that develop rots of various sorts, this does not necessarily mean they are dying or dangerous. It is something that simply comes with old age and in fact in many cases enhances the biodiversity interest and the conservation importance. (This is why Sheffield has its own Policy on Saproxylic Insects – and I wonder how many council members or officers understand this.

Sometimes a street tree may have to go, but that is only if other measures such as conservation pruning have failed. Trees may be hazardous or a nuisance, in which case appropriate consultations should take place and removal may be necessary.

However, whatever the action, this should be within the framework of policies, commitments, promises, and strategies established over several decades.

Cavalier approaches, which ignore local people, replacing consultation with notification (if you are lucky!), are totally unacceptable. Indeed, it seems that so far, not a single issue raised at the Green Party meeting on October 9 last year has been addressed.

n Sightings: Summer migrant birds are now pouring into the region, from ring ouzels, wheatears and whinchats in the uplands, to breeding lapwings on farmland, to willow warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and whitethroats in the lowlands. Watch and listen for cuckoos around traditional farmland like the Moss Valley, but especially in and around upland heaths and moors. Around Old Moor and Potteric, and maybe other reedbed sites too, listen for the booming bitterns.

On wet moors and pastures, snipe are drumming and lapwings tumbling.

Spring is a wonderful season.