Arbre master

In a postscript to my blog At least I’m listening (posted 28 Nov 2013) I mentioned the part that veteran of the World War II arctic convoys Don Hitchcock had played in the Parliamentary lobby that had been held on the day that the Phase 1 hybrid Bill had been deposited in the House of Commons. Just a little over a year later, Don made a second appearance at the Houses of Parliament; this time he was representing the Solihull Tree Wardens Group in front of the HS2 Select Committee (see footnote 1).

I have to confess to my shame that, prior to seeing Don’s hearing, I was not aware of the national Tree Warden scheme, which was, I have since learnt, launched in 1990 by the Tree Council. The scheme operates with more than 8,000 volunteer Tree Wardens in more than 150 local networks that champion their local trees and woods.

The activities undertaken by the Tree Wardens in their local areas include propagating, planting and caring for trees, carrying out woodland management and surveying for species, numbers and state of health of trees, so Don, as Chairman of the Solihull group, was able to offer a wealth of practical advice to the Select Committee.

With another Tree Warden from his group, Richard Lloyd, prompting him with questions, Don was able to offer the Committee a teach-in on planting young trees to replace any that might be destroyed to make way for HS2 (see footnote 2). He told the Committee that this activity needed to be started “right away” and that the planting of “whips” – young plants produced from seed or cuttings, with a central stem and little or no side branching – produced a better success rate than using more mature trees, which were “more likely to die”. He said that a growing whip will “catch up with” a more mature “ball” tree planting, but warned that “you’ve got a miserable outlook for ten or fifteen years before the whips begin to look like trees”, during which time “the ecology has been ruined” (see footnote 3).

Don also stressed the importance of appropriate management of the new trees subsequent to planting. He said that the whips were planted “placed very close together and they grow up as spindles”, so they need to be “thinned”. We also learnt that tree ties can be a problem – trees can sometimes “snap off” – and need to be inspected regularly. Young plants also need to be watered, although Don conceded that, “You can’t go around watering a wood very easily”.

According to Don, “Usually what happens is that nobody manages them; they’re just left, and it’s a sad business”, and we have, I am sure, all seen examples of sorry-looking clumps of scrub that are the result of ill-managed contractor’s planting.

Don also told the Committee that there were two main natural agents that also contribute to the death of newly-planted trees: deer, and rabbits.

All in all, the contrition rate is high, and Don recommended a minimum replanting ratio of five new trees for every one destroyed by HS2.

On a separate topic, Don and Richard gave the Committee an introduction to the CAVAT valuation system that allows a monetary value to be assigned to the amenity value of individual trees. The Tree Wardens put forward this methodology as “a practical system for guiding decision-making” with particular relevance to the locating of “subsidiary things like haul roads, maintenance facilities [and] drainage lines”. However, Don reported that, despite him having brought this suggestion up with HS2 Ltd, he had not “come across anyone who was prepared to even look at it, think about it, or know anything about it” (see footnote 4).

Don and Richard also touched on the issue of maintaining wildlife connectivity and the importance of connectivity mapping, and was able to lend support to what David Lowe, Principal County Ecologist for Warwickshire County Council, had told the Select Committee about six weeks earlier (see footnote 5).

All in all, the display of knowledge and experience that Don was able to summon up from his ninety years on this planet appeared to impress the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, who responded (footnote 6):

“I don’t want to steal the thunder of the petitioners, we found the presentation, for our part, extremely helpful and we can see that there’s a substantial fount of local knowledge that would be very helpful to the project from these petitioners. In relation to three matters in particular: one is in reviewing our mitigation and compensation arrangements in relation to trees and woodland; secondly, in relation to applying our proposals for the protection of trees during the construction phase through the Code of Construction Practice; and thirdly, in terms of making sure that as far as we can we make sure that the species mix that we have for new tree planting is right for this area. We can see that the Tree Wardens will be a very valuable source of local expertise and advice in relation to that, so we would like to engage with them in relation to these issues.”

Which is basically what the Solihull group was seeking, and I feel sure that, if the Promoter does engage with full effect with the Solihull Tree Wardens then the result should be to the benefit of the local environment. I am equally sure that all other places along the line covered by the Tree Warden network could similarly benefit, and urge any of my readers in positions of influence in parish councils and action groups to seek to introduce other local Tree Warden groups to become involved in the HS2 project.

Footnotes:

  1. The Solihull Tree Group is the author of petition 1030. The hearing of this petition starts at 11:18 in the video of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 10th December 2014. The exhibit slides are the A557 and A558 series, starting at page 103 in the bundle for 10th December.
  2. The section of Don’s evidence that covers new planting is recorded in paragraphs 354 to 373 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 10th December 2014.
  3. The problems that arise from the interim period before new planting becomes ecologically significant are addressed in my blog Come back when it’s finished (posted 1 Dec 2014).
  4. The section of Don’s evidence that relates to the CAVAT methodology is recorded in paragraphs 327 to 340 of the transcript.
  5. I reported on David Lowe’s session in front of the HS2 Select Committee in my blogs Usel ES s, part 3 (posted 27 Nov 2014) and Come back when it’s finished.
  6. Mr Mould’s response is reported in paragraph 374 of the transcript.
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