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This is a 8.25 minute YouTube video that tells the story of the 250-year-old Woodlands White Oak tree that Halton Region Council in Ontario wanted chopped down for the expansion of a road.

The Council did an Arborist Report that said the tree was dying. The community questioned the validity of this as they could see that the tree was healthy. An Independent Arborist’s Report was commissioned & this totally contradicted the Council’s Arborist’s Report.

When a member of the community spoke to save the tree during a Council Meeting, (looking at the Council Meeting setup is also interesting) the Halton Region Council said if the community could raise $343,000 then they would save the tree. The dying tree that is.

That’s exactly what the community tried to do & they almost raised the money needed.  Everyone got involved from kids to adults.  A beer was even brewed in the tree’s name.

Although this happened in 2002, this kind of thing is still happening today.  Just this year, a community commissioned Independent Arborist’s Report looking at the health of the Laman Street Figs in Newcastle came to a totally opposite conclusion about the trees’ health & safety than the reports commissioned by Newcastle City Council.

This video is interesting in that it gives a little bit of history of the area & the last few remaining large trees, talks about the benefits of large trees, shows a totally different Council set up & is about a win where a very old tree that could live for hundreds more years was saved by the community.

The Last Oaks of Oakville –

Gloriously beautiful trees which are a huge asset to Newcastle

I have posted about Newcastle’s Laman Street Figs on 3 occasions. Newcastle City Council have wanted to remove the 14 Hills Figs since late 2009. The trees that could realistically described as ‘grand’ are planted on both sides of Laman Street creating the most perfect cathedral effect. It is a glorious entrance to the Newcastle Art Gallery.

The Laman Street Figs have been around for around 8 decades & are a significant part of how the people of Newcastle see their city.  I guess an equivalent would be to remove all the Fig trees from Sydney’s Domain. It would change our experience of the NSW Art Gallery all together. We may get used to no trees, but if it wasn’t entirely necessary, I doubt anyone would want it to happen at all.

This is how it is for the people of Newcastle.  96% of submissions said they wanted the Laman Street Figs to stay.  On 17th August 2010 five out of 7  7 Councillors 7 Councillors voted to remove these iconic Figs. 5 Councillors voted to retain them.  The community went into meltdown.

Caitlin Raschke set up Save Our Figs &

continually fought for the Figs.  A group of residents called Fig Jam support Save Our Figs & have protested on a number of occasions by holding placards & picnics trying to draw attention to the plight of the Figs.  People said over & over again that it wouldn’t happen & the Figs will stay.

And why not? Anyone could see these trees were bursting with health, except health wasn’t really the issue.  Newcastle Council said the trees had no roots & were a severe danger to the community in that they would fall down & kill someone. The community didn’t believe this assessment.   These trees survived the 124km/h extreme winds that occurred during the Pasha Bulker storm in 2007. That they would now fall in much lesser winds did not make sense.

The annual Arts Fair held under the trees were cancelled. Council erected signs to stay out of the area during high winds. Then they made the street one-way. Then they started blocking off the street during windy days. Then they started blocking off the street at night, then permanently, except for the few hours when the NSW Governor Professor Marie Bashir was an esteemed quest at a function at the Art Gallery. For those few hours the chauffeur-driven limousines were parked outside the gallery under the killer trees. This time the community wondered why it was safe for the NSW Governor, but not for anyone else.

Newcastle Council had a charette (big talk-fest). From the original 2 days to talk about the future of Laman Street the issue was given a bit of time tagged onto the end.

Then the Mayor said that the Figs should be chopped down leaving the stumps in the ground & these should be carved into famous people making a dramatic entrance to the Newcastle Art Gallery.  This was voted against at a subsequent Council Meeting.  Then Council suggested that Liquid ambers be planted in place of the Figs & the community started writing letters about what they saw was an inappropriate choice of tree for this location. Then came the Councillors vote on August 17th 2010 & the trees are lost or so it may seem.

An Independent Arborist Mark Hartley, a senior consultant for The Arborist Network was contracted by the community to comment on the previous Arborist’s Reports & assess the trees, as well as their risk of falling.  His report is very interesting. I am attaching the final draft as a pdf that you can download if you are interested.  Mr Hartley has the skill of writing about specialized issues in a way that people who don’t work in the industry can understand.  The report also compares the assessments of 3 other Arborists so you get to understand what has gone on before. Mr Harley outlines substantial errors in previous assessments.

So where to now?  The community is not sitting by until the men with chainsaws arrive.  Newcastle people are very upset about the decision to remove these trees & many who didn’t believe that the trees were at risk have now written letters & spoken to the media & radio. Thankfully, the media is responding to the community by reporting on this issue often.

You can read the Final Draft of the Independent Arborist’s Report by clicking on the following link. The document is 340kb in size.  Thank you to Save Our Figs for allowing me to share it.  Independent-Arborist’s-Report-Laman-Street-Newcastle-final-draft

The following are earlier posts on the Laman Street Figs –

August 2010 –

July 2010 –

April 2010 –

A view of part of the canopy of the Laman Street Figs from Civic Park

You may have seen on the TV news last Friday that Railcorp removed 3 100-year-old heritage Fig trees on Wahroonga Railway Station.  2 more will come down in October 2010.  Railcorp says:

RailCorp will be replacing the fig trees at Wahroonga Station to resurface the platform & prevent further structural damage. The roots of the trees are threatening the structural integrity of the platform & if left in place will continue to damage the heritage-listed station building, damage sewage systems & prevent future improvements to station facilities. The Heritage Council of NSW independently came to the same conclusion, & placed upon RailCorp a number of conditions for the removal of the trees. The issue has existed for two decades & can no longer be avoided.

Not the Fig trees being discussed

The community is mighty upset about the trees removal saying there were many alternatives to removal.  Reading all the documents & news articles, it is clear the trees were removed because their surface roots made the platform surface bumpy & created a trip-hazzard. However, the trees are located at the far ends of the station & those who walked there have known about the state of the station surface for 20 years.  I was not able to find any information about complaints from the community about the tree roots & the station surface.

Railcorp argued about 2 other things which lead to the removal of these trees: the cost of pruning these trees & that in the past they caused damage to old clay sewerage pipes.  They fear the trees will invade the pipes again, but my plumber says, “This is the beauty of plastic pipes, tree roots can’t invade them.”

Railcorp intend to replace these trees with 6 Blueberry ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus) & jazz up the station by planting 120 flax lily (Dianella caerulea “Breeze”) as a ground cover.  It should look nice when completed, but I doubt they will look as nice as those old majestic trees.

I think most of the train stations I have seen in Sydney look shocking.  Their gardens are ugly & the emphasis is on bitumen & low hedges. I would guess this is to be able to have a clear view of the platform for commuter safety & to discourage bad behaviour. Still, I can see no reason why much of the space toward the end of railway stations cannot be planted a little more creatively.

Railcorp’s intention to plant 120 flax lilies proves they can do something which has the potential to be quite stunning. By making this station pretty, they hope to improve public relations.

Not only do I wish Railcorp would landscape the railway stations in a better way, (for example, they don’t need to stick with using the garden beds which were made 100 years ago as they are poky little plots often in odd places), I also wish they would plant along the railway line on both sides & in barren spaces between the lines.  Grevillea are perfect for the smaller areas. In other areas, taller trees can be planted.

The RTA plants trees along major highways. There is no reason why Railcorp can’t do the same on their land along railway lines. Not only would it help green ugly areas, it would help minimize noise from passing trains & prevent areas looking weedy & filled with garbage.  Just an idea.

Mackey Park Figs - the Fig trees on Wahroonga Railways Station were pruned & did not have such a wide shape

To say it can’t be done because there may be a need for pruning will not work for me as I’ve seen numerous empty sites located quite a way from the train lines.  I just think it’s always been ugly along railway lines & no-one except Wendy Whiteley has ever challenged the status quo.  Time for a change even if only to help mitigate or manage climate change.

I had not heard of this issue until last week & am sad these trees have been removed. I know the feeling of anger & frustration felt by the community where it doesn’t make sense to remove such beautiful trees.  My respect also to the woman who climbed one of the trees for a while to protest about them being chopped down.

On a positive note, I am impressed at the news coverage by both TV & newspapers about this issue. The Sydney Morning Herald had an article yesterday where they said:

Among those campaigning for the trees’ preservation was NSW Opposition Leader & state member for the area Barry O’Farrell. But NSW Premier Kristina (Keneally) supported their removal, claiming the damage caused by the roots was a hazard for people pushing prams & those in wheelchairs.

The same argument was used for Orphan Creek in Forest Lodge in 2009 to justify removing all the trees for a very wide cement path, even though those who used wheelchairs & mum’s with prams came out & said not to do it.

In another article from the North Shore Times 9th June 2010, an Arborist suggested the following to retain the trees:

To encourage the roots to grow deeper, a porous asphalt system available since the late 1990s could be used. Vertical barriers could also be installed to deflect root growth away from structural elements. “In this instance, a barrier maintained flush with the asphalt pavement could be effective in preventing surface root growth & should be trialed,” he advised. The report suggested tie rods could be used to improve the structural integrity of platform walls with minimal damage to the trees. The alternative – finding a replacement planting – would be problematic, as few species would tolerate the growing conditions. “The performance of the subject trees under these conditions for nearly 100 years is remarkable,” the report said.

All up there have been 14 articles about this issue in the main papers over the last week or so.  Does this mean the community & the media are starting to care about keeping trees?  I certainly hope so.

I must say I am impressed with how much information about this issue is provided on Railcorp’s web-site.  It is well worth a look. It was also interesting to read that Railcorp said the trees were only “part way through their growing cycle” at 100 years old.  Makes me wonder at the use of the word ‘senescent’ when  I read it in Marrickville Council documents.

So, goodbye to another group of Sydney’s beautiful old trees. Perhaps in a couple of decades there won’t be any left.

3 new street trees are up for removal by Marrickville Council, this time in Station Street Petersham.  One tree is a Eucalyptus scoparia (Wallangarra White Gum) outside number 45.  Marrickville Council’s notification says: Tree is dead. It will be replaced with Melaleuca linariifolia (Flaxleaf Paperbark),  a native with perfumed, white flowers in early summer & creamy white papery bark.

A second tree is a Eucalyptus sideroxlon (Ironbark) is outside number 67B Station Street Petersham.  Marrickville Councils notification says: “Tree is in decline with significant amounts of dieback in the canopy.  Exceeded its Safe Useful Life. Council intends to replace it with Gordonia axillaris (Fried Egg Plant).  This tree has dappled, orange/brown bark & large white flowers (10cm or 4″ across) with prominent golden stamens.  It flowers from autumn to spring & has glossy, dark green leaves with red tips in winter.

There are no details for the tree outside number 59 Station Street because of an error with the pdf.  I have notified Council about this.  I will post about this tree once I have the details & post photos of the trees after I have visited them.

The deadline for submissions is 12th April 2010.

Damaged street tree in Station Street Petersham

Last week I saw a street tree in dreadful condition on the corner of Station & Brighton Streets.  I would bet it is one of the above.  It had a large chunk of bark stripped from its trunk & had other deep gashes from repeated hits perhaps from close parking by a truck.

In past weeks I have written about Richard Pennicuik & his tree sit-in to save a street tree outside his home in Thornlie Perth.  Last week he came down after spending 110 days & nights in the street tree.  At 2 am on March 29th 2010 Cameron Johnson & another man climbed the street tree outside Mr Pennicuik’s house vowing to remain & continue the protest to save this street tree.   All 3 men dispute Gosnell Council’s assessment that the tree is dangerous.

Personally, I don’t know understand how City of Gosnells Council can continue to say this tree is dangerous after it managed to remain undamaged & standing after last week’s extraordinarily ‘once in every 50 years’ severe storm, but perhaps it’s a matter of principle in their minds.  The City of Gosnells Council’s insistence that the tree be chopped down says a lot about how much influence they allow the community who disagree with their ideas on how to manage the area.

Surely Gosnells Council has other alternatives than simply chopping the tree down? Why can’t a couple of truly independent Arborists come & assess the tree?  Perhaps they have but I have not seen reported news about this.  At least with people sitting in the tree, it is less likely that someone will vandalize the tree to ensure it needs to be removed.

Richard Pennicuik’s action has attracted a massive amount of threatening, aggressive comments from anonymous public on news web-sites.  I fail to understand why one man’s commitment to a tree results in such hatred & vilification from people who don’t know him, the tree or the history of this tree.  His action was non-violent & this itself is deserves applaud.

It would have been a different story if he had sat in the tree armed with bazookas threatening to kill anyone who came near the tree.  He didn’t.  All he did was sit in the tree for 110 days & nights.  The fact that others who came to visit behaved in a way that distressed the neighbourhood was not Mr Pennicuik’s fault.

I admire the passion & commitment of Richard Pennicuik & the new people who have taken up the fight to save this tree.  I doubt there would be many people who would do this, even if they were totally against the removal of a tree.  Mr Pennicuik says he is seriously thinking of standing for the next council elections.



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