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Stunning trees at the Opera House end of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens

50 years ago the Sydney Basin had extensive habitat for urban wildlife.  There were Sydney Blue Gum High Forests along the ridges from Crows Nest to Hornsby.  Today this species of tree is on the critically endangered list.  Despite being on this list, I know that 4 x 61 metre (200 foot) Sydney Blue Gums were chopped down for a development at Wahroonga last March.

The woodlands of the Cumberland Plain between Parramatta & Penrith are almost gone with the community fighting Blacktown Council unsuccessfully to prevent the removal of more 100 plus-year-old critically endangered trees for 2 football fields in Glenwood last April.  Not to be left out, Penrith City Council recently approved the removal of more than 300 hectares of the critically endangered Cumberland Plain woodland from the ADI site for a new suburb to be named Jordan Springs.  The community are protesting this too, yet 10 hectares of trees have already been removed.

There were salt marshes & fresh water swamps on the western side of Botany Bay.  Most have been filled in & developed for the airport, for golf courses & for housing.  Even our back yards have changed with a trend towards paved, concreted gardens or covered with decking.

Anyone aged 50 & over who grew up in Sydney will know just how much Sydney has changed.  I played in a natural creek in amongst thick bush where there is now a 6-lane highway.  In another family home, a horse lived 5 doors down.  Many people owned chickens & grew their own veggies.  Most ¼ acre blocks had multiple tall trees & they were not looked upon as a threat to life & property.  Admittedly, there are still suburbs where gardens are heavily treed, but I maintain the do-it-yourself renovation trend has been to remove these trees & neaten gardens.  Leaves are a problem for many people.

Our governments are pushing for massive population growth & demanding more development for housing.  As the population increased, our green areas decreased as well.  I think it is likely that these remaining green areas will also come under threat of development.  I remember reading last year that the proposed light rail through Rozelle & Leichhardt intended to use parks along the way for stations.  There was an outcry from the community & I think the parks have been left alone in the final plan.  As I write this post the TV news is talking about the loss of Sydney’s ‘green belt’ to development of high-rise units.  It’s non-negotiable despite opposition from great chunks of the community & many Councils.

Port Jackson Fig trees provide homes for possums & food for birds & bats

Housing developments are generally not built with significant green areas & space, like they are in London & New York for example.  When trees are used, they are often ornamental & of small stature.

Tree species such as Prunus & Ornamental Pear are being planted as street trees because they have a straight growth habit, have thin branches which can be easily pruned & do not have a shade canopy.  However nice they look, especially in autumn, they do not provide food or homes for birds & native animals.

Urbanisation has removed much of the food sources our wildlife depends upon to survive & has made many species of birds & animals extinct or placed them on the vulnerable, threatened or endangered species lists.  For most wild birds & animals, it is not as simple as finding somewhere else to live as each has their own territory & do not take kindly to interlopers arriving as they are a threat to the limited food sources.  Generally they fight until one either dies or leaves.

Yesterday I read an article about possums in last weekends Sunday Herald 23rd May 2010 – “There is an epidemic of possum napping as an increasing number of residents illegally trap the troublesome marsupials then dump them in city & suburban parks.” Unfortunately, because of territories, this is usually a death sentence for the possums.  People who are caught can be prosecuted under the Cruelty to Animals Act.

2 large Palms in an Inner West front garden

If a possum has set up home in your roof space, WIRES can humanely trap them for you & take them outside to an appropriate tree.  This is not something which should be attempted by anyone but trained experts.  Not only is a terrified possum quite capable of putting you in hospital for a few weeks, you may inadvertently leave possum babies behind leaving a bigger problem for you to deal with later.

The thing is, if there are decent trees for possums to live in, they are happy to do so & won’t be looking to live in your roof.  Making roof space secure against possum invasion is easy & quite cheap with the benefit that birds like Indian Mynas won’t use it either & rats & mice are also kept out. Snakes too.

Last year a very young Ring Tailed Possum moved into a street tree near us.  No one but us knows where it is & we only do because it visits us occasionally.  It causes no trouble in the neighbourhood other than eating a few petals.  There is no noise, no poop on cars, no damage to property.  The only evidence is the occasional collection of small branches.  My neighbour is pleased with what she thinks is my cleanup work.

Just today a good friend said, “Why would you want possums in the area?”  My answer was because this is their home too.  Living next to a park, he undoubtedly has many possums scampering through his garden & street at night & he sleeps through it. They make no negative impact on his life. Possums are only a problem if they set up house in your roof & this is something easily & cheaply managed.

It is my opinion that Councils should be planting street & park trees that provide food & good homes for urban wildlife.  Not always, because certainly there are some streets & roads where another type of tree is more appropriate, but on the whole, trees should be chosen for their ability to provide food & homes for our wildlife.  I don’t think Councils can rely on the residents to do so.  However, I also believe Councils have a role in encouraging residents to plant bird & wildlife supportive trees/shrubs/plants on their property via education & community programs.

Developers should not be able to have DAs passed without significant green spaces as a requirement.  It would be nice to see real creativity in new buildings. Glass & brick blocks do very little for the landscape.  Roof gardens, gardens on different levels, buildings which are set back from the street so there can be green space in front where cafes/restaurants can set up tables or where shoppers can meet, have a rest etc.  Research has shown shoppers spend an average of 11% more in green leafy shopping strips, so this change in design has a real potential to make significant money for businesses.

Corner of Marrickville & Victoria Roads

I digress. Suffice to say, there is going to be a lot more development, especially high-rise residential.  As this will decide what the city will look like for the next 100 years, now is the time to say no to the ugly blocks, the cold modern glass. We should demand apartment buildings that provide a good lifestyle.  We also have a responsibility to design developments with urban wildlife in mind. It doesn’t take much.  Plant the right trees, ensure they flower & plant so that something is in flower for each season.  Plant undergrowth at different levels, use both shrubs & native grasses & dispose of the wall-to-wall, corner-to-corner cement.

Unfortunately, none of this is likely to happen unless the community make it really clear this is what they want.  In time, I believe we will all want it because global warming & the Heat Island Effect is going to bring this to the forefront of the mind of the majority.  Essentially, it’s going to get very hot. Then we will notice that most of our street trees give little shade & there is a proliferation of cement.

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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 –

https://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.

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