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I was invited by Marrickville Greens to go to watch the magnificent Lemon Scented Gum street tree in Cambridge Street Stanmore being chopped down by Marrickville Council.  For various reasons I declined, but I know I did not want this image imprinted on my memory.  I have come to love this tree & I am distressed about its loss.  To me, it was no ordinary street tree.

Marrickville LGA has some gorgeous trees, mostly in parks, though there are also good ones that are street trees.  However, we have thousands of butchered, stumpy & not good-looking street trees all over the LGA & it is noticeable if you look.

I think many of us have become desensitised to the ugliness of our street trees because their disintegration happens over time & we just get used to seeing them in this poor condition.  Leave the LGA & you immediately notice the differences.

This magnificent street tree is gone

The Lemon Scented Gum in Cambridge Street Stanmore was one of the better-looking street trees in the whole LGA & this is not an exaggeration.  Do I think this because I like Gums?  Yes & no.  I do like Gum trees, but I also like most other trees.  I am an all-round tree lover though I admit to preferring tall stature trees & especially trees which flower & provide food for insects, birds & animals.

I think it is necessary in an urban environment to think about wildlife when choosing trees to plant.  I also think we have a duty to provide food for these creatures who are losing more & more food resources every year.  If you don’t believe me, put out a birdbath in a safe place in your garden & watch how long it takes for birds to arrive.  They are short of water as well.  When we built a fishpond, the rare frogs of the area arrived within 2 days & there wasn’t other ponds around.  Where did they come from, we wondered.  If you plant flowering trees & shrubs that feed birds, they will come in droves & the air will be filled with birdcalls.

So for a tree of this magnitude to be cut down seems ridiculous to me.  The tree provided refuge for both wildlife & humans because it was a flowering native tree & its canopy significantly cooled the air in the street.  This is not a feeling I am used to when I walk the streets of my local area.  Mostly I cannot walk during the day because the streets are so hot with the heat reflected by the road & concrete.  I believe that as temperatures rise due to global warming, the heat island effect is going to get worse & we are going to bake.  City of Sydney Council recognises this & intends to plant 10,000 more trees in the CBD this year to counteract the heat.

I am aware the residents who wanted the tree removed said it was causing cracking to their house & Council felt hamstrung because of the potential of litigation.  However, because we do not have a Significant Tree Register, our public trees are vulnerable.  Cracking to houses can always be repaired & it is something we should expect when we live in 100 year old houses, which are built on clay soils & with poor quality mortar.  In fact, even renovated houses in the Inner West need regular work as they are always deteriorating.  It comes with the territory. That’s why many people prefer to live in modern units or project homes that are built on cement slabs.  As a norm, tree roots are not strong enough to lift a concrete slab.

Ordinary street in Chatswood with multiple large street trees- a very different outlook to our LGA

When we respect trees & fully appreciate their positive impact on our lives &  vital role in our civilization’s existence, if atmospheric levels of CO2 continue to rise as expected, then we will do everything we can to keep our mature trees that sequester large amounts of CO2.

The removal of this tree affects the whole community, not just the residents of Cambridge Street.  First is it one tree, then another tree & so on.  Before we know it, the whole streetscape is changed & not for the better.  It took 40 years for that tree to grow a 2.5 metre girth & it had at least another 60 years of life left in it.  Eucalypts often live 100 years or more.  All it took was 4 ½ hours for it to be gone.

The Marrickville Greens tried to get a stay of execution to try other methods to repair the cracking & fix the problem at ground level. The Labor & Independent Councillors had to power to grant this so that amelioration could be tried to give the tree a chance to be saved.  I would have conceded defeat if all avenues had been tried & agreed the tree needed be removed, but these avenues weren’t given a chance.   I am sure the Greens feel the same as I do.  This tree was also worth a lot of money to the community & especially to Cambridge Street.  Better to sell a house before a tree is cut down than after.

Our tree assets get voted out because of concrete, their particular species, because they are old, because, because, because.  I have not yet seen tree saving strategies voted in during council meetings, only the opposite.  Trees are seen as a nuisance & a liability.  The reality is: not having trees is a liability.

I will work with Labor & the Independents as well as the Greens if they are pro-trees & the greening of Marrickville LGA.  However, since I have started, I have noticed that support for my vision comes from the Greens & not from Labor or the Independents.  To be fair, Labor did reverse their decision over the Mackey Park Figs, but not until after a community protest of 300 people & an even larger petition.

Once again, regarding the Cambridge Street tree, the Greens voted to keep the tree.  Once again, the vote to remove the tree comes from the other counsellors.  Is it a pattern? Saving Our Trees hasn’t been alive long enough to be able to answer this question.

Frankly I was shocked when I read on the Greens website that:  Independent Councillor Dimitrios Thanos recently emailed Councillors & staff saying: “I’ll grab my chainsaw & meet the staff down there on the appointed day.” I just know he & I are not on the same page when it comes to trees.

Getting back to my intro, I didn’t want to go & watch the ‘Elle McPherson of trees’ be chopped down, but the Marrickville Greens did witness this.  You can read their posts about this tree -http://marrickvillegreens.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/risk-averse-council-condemns-stanmore’s-biggest-eucalypt-to-the-chainsaw/ & you can also view 2 photos taken today by the Greens at – http://yfrog.com/37y6 & http://yfrog.com/1ehcezj &

http://marrickvillegreens.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/stanmores-largest-gum-tree-turned-into-woodchip/

The Cambridge Street Stanmore Lemon Scented Gum tree is going to be chopped down soon.  I feel very sad about this.  During the Council meeting to decide the fate of this tree, the people who wanted this tree removed spoke about a large branch that fell on the street needing 2 people to carry it away.  The danger the tree posed from falling branches would have been one of the major factors why their request was granted.

Gum street tree in Petersham - 2 Currawongs have a nest in this tree

Gums trees do drop dead branches as a normal feature of their species.  Unfortunately, I think this is the reason why Marrickville Council appears not to not regard Eucalypts favourably.  Then include the fact that they grow tall & have a significant canopy.  In comparison to the usual street trees Council plants, Eucalypts are an anomaly.  I would guess the Gums are left over from the 1970s & before.

Suburbs like Petersham which have a lot of Eucalypts as street trees look fabulous as a result.  Everyone I have spoken to in this area always mentions the trees, most saying they were a major reason why they chose to buy in Petersham.  However, the Cambridge Street issue is likely to repeat itself for two reasons unless these are managed.

Firstly, building movement that causes cracking.  The Inner West is mostly clay soils & when there is drought (we have had a long one which is still continuing) the clay soils shrink. This results in movement of buildings & cracks to the walls, porches & paths, especially as most of the housing is 100 years old & the mortar used then was of very poor quality.

Roots of mature trees would have stopped growing years, perhaps decades ago. Often the tree has nothing to do with movement.  Arborists constantly have differing opinions about the impact of tree roots on house foundations.  Personally, I think it is too easy to blame the tree.

This Gum street tree in Brighton St Petersham deserves a medal for surviving pruning by Energy Australia for power lines

Even buildings that do not have a street tree out front can suffer from movement & cracking, especially during drought.  If your property is built on clay soil, removing most or all the trees on or around your property is unlikely to prevent further house movement.  It is a fact of life in the Inner West.

To minimize cracking to your house during drought, you need to water thoroughly along the exterior walls on a regular basis.  If you keep the soil moist, the clay will not shrink & your foundations are less likely to move.  Many people have concreted their yards, so they will definitely have house movement & cracking, drought or no drought.  If you already have cracking, you can assist by watering around the building to get the moisture back into the soil.  Our front door, which had started sticking, returned to normal 2 months after I recommenced watering our front garden.  I have written more fully about clay soils in the following post –

http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/11th-december-09-much-ado-about-clay-soils/

Managing dry clay soils does take time & patience.

Secondly, Eucalypts develop dead branches, which they shed as a normal feature of their development.  This does not make the species dangerous.  The process of the branch dying off until it eventually drops is not a quick one.  I have been watching trees with dead branches for 12 months now.  (It’s been one of my ‘must do posts’ which hasn’t happened until now.)  However, Gums are called ‘widow makers’ for a reason. A falling branch can kill a person if they drop on their head, but then again, so can most things that drop from a height.  I was young when I first heard the term ‘widow maker’ & I remember being told the following with much laughter:

The tree branch is dying over many months, sometimes years.  The wife asks the husband to do something about it.  Time moves on.  She nags & nags, but he watches footy & says he will prune the branch later.  Then, one day when he is mowing or something, the dirty big branch falls on his head & the wife is left a widow. The moral of the story is that men should do what their wife asks when she asks it to be done, husbands are lazy & her nagging is warranted.

Maybe you had to be there & times have changed.  The story made a big impact on me because ever since I have a keen eye to notice these branches.

This tree cnr Illawarra & Addison Rds has multiple dead branches. 3 other Gums further down towards Marrickville Rd also have dead branches

Whether or not Council should be responsible for checking trees for dying branches is not something I have an opinion about.  However, I do think we see the street trees in our neighbourhood almost daily & if we notice a tree branch is dying, a quick call or e-mail to Council should have the branch pruned before it becomes a problem & drops.

If we leave it until the branch drops, Council is likely to say the tree is dangerous & needs to be removed.  Then the community suffers another loss of a tree & eventually we lose all remaining Eucalypts & other tall trees.  Our suburbs suffer as a result because we lose the beauty that tall trees offer.  We also lose out on property values because great street trees have a surprising positive impact on local property values.

The street trees near our homes, especially the large ones, remove pollution & particulate matter which causes breathing problems.  They collect CO2 & emit oxygen making the air cleaner & cooler.  They lower temperature which helps lower our power bills, they slow down traffic, make the footpaths safer for pedestrians & generally make people feel happier.  I have written more about the value of trees in the page 100 Tree Facts, which can be located on the left hand column of this site near the top.

Lastly, if Sydney’s North Shore can have hundreds of thousands of Eucalypts as street trees, why can’t Marrickville LGA?  Let’s look after & keep the ones we have left.  They are necessary for our wildlife.

Lemon Scented Gum outside 139 Cambridge St Stanmore

Marrickville Council kindly notified me today that the Lemon Scented Gum street tree outside 139 Cambridge Street Stanmore is to be removed.

Council received a Public Liability claim saying the street tree was causing damage to the house & if they refused to remove the tree they would be held financially liable for any damage for the life of the tree.

After exhausting a number of options including an Arborist’s inspection, an independent Engineer’s report, considering the possibility of locating the tree roots through the use of ground-penetrating radar equipment & constructing a root barrier, Council has had to agree to the residents’ request for the tree to be removed.

It’s a great shame & certainly a huge loss to the community, but I agree, Marrickville Council should not be exposed to financial liability for damage to a house by a tree that could perhaps live another hundred years.  Therefore, with significant sadness, the fight is over to save this particular street tree.

A big thanks from me to all of you who took the time to write & send a submission to Marrickville Council to try & save this tree.  I very much appreciate your efforts.   Jacqueline

Silky Oak ouside Merton St Petersham

Silky Oak outside 18 Merton St Petersham

Marrickville Council wants to remove another 2 exceptionally beautiful, tall street trees.  The first tree is a Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta) outside 18 Merton Street Petersham. This species is native to NSW & QLD, is considered rare & its timber is valuable.  It produces prolific flowers providing food for nectar-eating birds.

Marrickville Council gives the following reasons for its removal:  1. Residents concerns about continuing damage to private properties & underground services.  2. Residents request. 3. Tree was not planted by Council. 4. Alternative solutions have been considered but are not practical in this case.

The tree is beautiful.  Unfortunately, someone has built up the ground around the trunk & put in a garden bed burying up to 30 cm of the trunk.  Because the tree is mature, it has developed a root system where 1 root is on the surface of the ground & probably disrupted the cement footpath.  It is hard to say because the footpath has been removed.

There are a few small cracks along the bottom of the brick fence of the property near the tree.  The fence appears to me to be as old as the house, probably built in the early 1900s.  Council can adapt a new cement footpath to accommodate the exposed root or cover the lot with permeable material, routinely used by Councils on the North Shore where they do anything to save trees like this.  To say “alternative solutions are not practical in this case” is surprising.  Council can also snip off the top of this tree to prevent it from growing taller.

According to research by Trees for the Future, a 10-year-old Grevillia robusta, 45 feet tall with a trunk 6 inches (15.24 cm) in diameter would sequester & store 29.3 kg (64.6 lbs) Carbon Dioxide (CO2) per year. http://www.treesftf.org/resources/Calculating CO2 Sequestration by Trees.pdf

The trunk of the Merton Street tree measures ­107cm (42 inches). Its diameter is 34 cm (13.38 inches), which equates to approximately ­­­­64.46 kg CO2 storage per year.

The DEADLINE for submissions is 28 October 09. Council plan to cut this tree down on 8th November 09.

Lemon Scented Gum outside 138 Cambridge St Stanmore

Lemon Scented Gum outside 139 (8) Cambridge St Stanmore

The 2nd tree is located outside 139 Cambridge Street Stanmore.  It is a mature Lemon Scented Gum (Corymbia Citriodora).  Council gives the following reasons for its removal: 1. Residents concerns about continuing damage to private properties & underground services. 2. Unsuitable species for this location.

This tree is a prime example of a tree that should be on a Register of Significant Trees, except Marrickville Council doesn’t have one.   True, it does butt up against the kerb & the footpath.  It should.  It is probably about 100 years old.

Cambridge Street has numerous old & tall trees & this is reflected in high property values in the area. We went after it had been raining & the air smelt lovely. The loss of this tree will have a massive impact on the streetscape. The residents are worried about this tree & don’t want to see it chopped down.  One resident expressed fear that, once Council removes this tree, they will go after other trees in the street.

trees impact on footpath outside 138 Cambridge St Stanmore

trees impact on footpath outside 138 Cambridge St Stanmore

To their credit, Council have commissioned an independent report evaluating whether to install a root-barrier to limit & control root growth so as to protect property & infrastructure damage.  I sincerely hope they choose this option.

The trunk of the Cambridge Street tree measures 2.5 metres (100 inches).­ Its diameter is 79.5 cm & equates to approximately  388.2­­­­ kg CO2 storage per year.

The DEADLINE for submissions is 26th October 09. Council plan cut down this tree on 9th November 09.

Because these 2 trees have large trunks, all attempts should be made to keep them for the following reasons, especially in these days of climate change:

  • 452.5 kg CO2 is sequestered & stored each year by these 2 trees.
  • Almost ½ tonne of CO2 taken out of the atmosphere per year is something we should do everything possible to retain. Planting a new tree is unlikely to make any meaningful impact for many years & is very dependent on what species of tree is planted.  Marrickville Council is planting Ornamental Cherry trees (Prunus) as replacement trees for many of the large trees that have been removed. Prunus are small trees with thin trunks & branches.  They are not native & do not produce food for birds.

Both the Merton & Cambridge Street trees, being large truck trees, provide immense financial & physical benefit to the community.  Large street trees increase property values between 7-26%.  One only need look at the Cambridge Street tree to recognize its positive financial impact.  Both these trees have a major visual impact on the streetscape.

These trees will be chopped down unless the community moves to save them.  If you want to save these two trees you will need to:

  • Send a submission to Marrickville Council by e-mail or post before the submission deadline.  council@marrickville.nsw.gov.au or Citizens’ Service Centre PO Box 14 Petersham NSW 2049.  It is important to send your submission to each Councillor as well.  You can access their contact details by going to the ‘Councillor Contact’ page located in the left hand column.
  • These 2 trees are in North Ward.  It is usually beneficial to make phone contact with Councillors. The Councillors for North Ward are Deputy Mayor Fiona Byrne (s (Greens), Clr Cathy Peters (Greens) & Clr Laura Wright (ALP).
  • If you are pressed for time, you can write to me at savingourtrees@gmail.com & I will send you a submission to which you can add your name & send off or use as a base to write your own.
  • You can also write to both the Inner West Courier & The Valley Times local newspapers.  The Cambridge Street tree may interest the Sydney Morning Herald.
  • I would recommend local residents asking the local newspapers to write an article about these trees.  If you need help with this, please contact me.
  • Attend the Council Meeting when the fate of these trees will be decided.  The community can speak at these meetings.
  • Peaceful community protest can also be effective.  The Mackey Park Fig trees are a recent example.  Their story can be read on this website.

I will be posting updates regularly.  Let’s hope we can save them.  Jacqueline

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