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Agenda item Number 5 for next week’s Marrickville Council Meeting 6th December 2011 recommends –

1.   “Council undertake to remove & replace the 24 Norfolk Island Hibiscus Street trees in Harrow Road Stanmore (My count is 27 trees)

2.   the removal & replacements be phased to occur in 2 stages approximately 5 years apart,

3.   the first stage of removals comprise the 11 trees located between numbers 2-30 Harrow Road,

4.   the second stage of removals comprise the 13 trees located between numbers 40-64 Harrow Road, &

5.   the replacement trees be comprised of a single appropriate deciduous species so as to afford winter solar access & summer shade benefits to south west facing dwellings.”

“The approximate cost of required works is as follows –

  • Removal –

–       Phase 1: $9,000

–        Phase 2: $13,000 (including escalation)

  • Replacement (contract planting of 100L size trees with 12 weeks maintenance period) –

–       Phase 1: $28,000

–       Phase 2: $39,000 (including escalation)”

  • TOTAL:  $89,000

A petition of 27 residents has been sent to Marrickville Council asking that the street trees be removed.  Council states that they have received a total of 11 complaints about the street trees from Harrow Street residents since 1999.  In brief –

–        7 of these were about ‘seasonal infestation’ by Cotton Harlequin Bugs with 1 resident also writing about Rosella nests & possible bird lice.

–        2 were about flower litter with 1 resident adding that the seedpods produce ‘glass-like’ hairs causing skin irritations & get stuck in their feet.

–        2 households complained in February 2011 about the ‘glass-like’ hairs getting stuck in their feet & causing skin irritations to their children, babies, pets, fruit litter & possible damage to their property by roots of the trees. See report for more details – Item 5: 6th December 2011 – http://www.marrickville.nsw.gov.au/council/meetings/businesspapers.html?s=438169853

The 11 residents who wrote to Council have legitimate complaints, but what a nightmare.  The community will lose 24 (or 27?) street trees, an average of 8-metres tall.  Apart from the issue of climate change & tree loss, urban wildlife will be the biggest losers. These trees are habitat for Cotton Harlequin Bugs, a harmless jewel-like bug with many different patterns. They are well known for their maternal care as they guard the eggs & nymphs until they are old enough to fend for themselves & fly off to live out their lives.  Even though they feed by sucking the sap of the tree, they do not harm the tree. For great photos & more information see – http://www.brisbaneinsects.com/brisbane_stinkbugs/Harlequin.htm

This street tree in Harrow Road was unique for having so many Cotton Harlequin Bugs on its trunk. Not all the street trees had visible bug families & some had one or two small clusters of bugs sitting on the trunk. This tree was one of the 3 trees that had bead branches at the base or on the trunk.

Many bird species are all through these trees, eating nectar & feasting on insects.  With the amount of birds that I witnessed during 2 visits, thought really needs to be given that any new planting will produce food for the birds.  Council has recently started planting a new variety of Bottle Brush that looks spectacular, but flowers for a maximum of 3 weeks & interestingly, the birds don’t pay the flowers much attention. The flowers are probably all colour & pizzazz, but low producers of nectar.

The Norfolk Island Hibiscus has recently been added to the list of ‘exempt from protection’ trees in the Marrickville Development Control Plan 2011.  However, their Draft DCP 2010 (the only one I could find) says Council may refuse to grant consent to remove trees if, The tree is part of a wildlife corridor or provides habitat for wildlife; and/or the reason for removal is substantively aesthetics/emotive & relates to leaf, flower, seed &/or twig drop.” I would say that these trees in Harrow Street fulfill all these criteria.  Norfolk Island Hibiscus trees are on many Australian councils lists of recommended street trees.

Council is recommending the following deciduous trees as replacements –

1.   Trident Maple (Acer buergeranum) – A native of China, that grows to 5-20 metres high with a canopy of 6-7 metres & produces yellow flowers in spring. The seeds are known colloquially as ‘whirly-gigs’ because they have papery ‘wings’ & can fly long distances in the wind.

2.   Claret Ash (Fraxinusangustifolia ‘raywood’) – A cultivar of the Ash tree predominantly found in Europe, Asia & North America & grows to 15-20 metres. The dark green leaves turn claret red in autumn. It’s described as having invasive roots.  The WA Water Corporation recommends planting no less that 6-metres from a sewerage pipe.

3.   Jacaranda  (Jacaranda mimosifolia) – A native of South America that grows 12-15 metres high x 8 metres wide & produces lavender bell-like flowers during spring. Jacarandas drop a large amount of leaf & flower debris as well as tough seed pods 5-7.5 cm in diameter.  It’s described as having invasive roots. The WA Water Corporation recommends planting no less than 6-metres from a sewerage pipe.

4.   Golden Rain Tree (Koelreutaria paniculata) – A native of China & Korea that grows 10-metres high & 10-metres wide.  Produces yellow flowers in autumn 5-8 mm diameter seeds that look like Chinese paper lanterns.

5.   Leopard Tree (Caesalpinia ferrea) – A native of Brazil that grows 10-12 metres high x 5 metres wide & produces yellow flowers. It sheds bark in large flakes, leaving a patchy grey & white effect on the trunk. It’s described as having invasive roots. The WA Water Corporation recommends planting no less that 6-metres from a sewerage pipe. The Australian website ‘Save Our Waterways Now’ says of the Leopard tree, This is a weed to be expected” because it grows where the seeds land.  In November 2008, Brisbane City Council said, “Leopard trees will no longer be planted on Brisbane footpaths as the city takes stock of dangerous & nuisance trees ….”  See – http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/death-knell-for-dangerous-brisbane-trees-20091108-i3d7.html

As the petitioners do not like flower, leaf & seed litter & one resident thinks the tree roots may be damaging their property, I suspect the choices for replacement trees will also cause them concern.

I am not a subscriber to planting only native trees, as I believe that many non-natives can be very useful to wildlife & I actually like the trees suggested.  However, in this case none of the replacement trees offer any value to Australian wildlife that I am aware of.  On 15th November 2011 Council approved its Biodiversity Strategy. 3 weeks later they are recommending that Councillors vote to remove a whole street of trees of high habitat value & replace with street trees of no habitat value whatsoever.

We spoke to 2 residents. One appeared angry with me taking photos of the trees & shouted, “I love these trees.”  The other had no notice of a push to have the trees removed.  The first thing they said was, “But the Cotton Harlequins live in them.” They were very distressed & said they would write to Council.

The residents who have put in the petition know, but the remaining residents in the street do not seem to know & I think this is important.

Council should be sending a letter to every household in Harrow Road informing of the petition & hold a public meeting at a good time on the weekend to speak to the residents about this.  Leaf, flower & seed debris & Cotton Harlequin Bugs are not issues of concern to every Harrow Road resident.

To my mind there is already a problem with Marrickville Council’s processes in that the removal of so many street trees is decided without community consultation.  To remove the trees & then give the community a choice from 5 tree species isn’t real community consultation.  It’s the leftovers. Harrow Road is a long road with many more than 27 residents.  They deserve a say.

Lastly, 1 tree has a large drill hole at the base of its trunk & appears to have been poisoned & 2 other trees next to it also show multiple dead branches at the base & on the trunk & perhaps this is also a sign of poisoning.

I have made a short video of the trees here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhP1AgavpjA

Harrow Street Stanmore - all these street trees & more are recommended for removal

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