Essential tree works on Tooting Common’s Chestnut Avenue

Published: Tuesday 11th April 17

A team of tree surgeons is to carry out essential maintenance work to eight trees on Tooting Common that are suffering from a variety of ailments and posing a risk to passers-by.

The trees are all located on Chestnut Avenue and require extensive pruning and pollarding to ensure they remain safe.

One tree has been weakened by a lightning strike while others are showing advanced stages of disease and decay including large cavities. One is also showing signs of crown die back.

This horse chestnut toppled over without warning last year

Many have large limbs and branches that overhang the busy and popular pathway that crosses this part of Tooting Common.

Last year one of the large horse chestnuts that line the avenue toppled over without warning. Fortunately no-one was injured. Although outwardly it looked quite healthy, an examination post-collapse showed it was disease-ridden internally and could have fallen at any time.

  • The trees in Chestnut Avenue are approaching the end of their safe natural lifespan. They are believed to be between 150 and 160-years-old and likely to suffer structural decline within a relatively short period of time.

Many are suffering a variety of ailments, some of which can cause limbs to die and fall to the ground

As a result the council intends to plant new semi-mature trees as replacements. These would each be between 16 and 20 feet tall and would mean the avenue being retained and preserved as a historic landmark feature of the common for generations to come.

It would also ensure that any safety risk to the general public is minimised.

Retaining the avenue by planting replacement trees was overwhelmingly supported by local people during a public consultation held last year in which 96 per cent of those who took part said they wanted the avenue preserved for their children and grandchildren, while 89 per cent agreed that the historic row was “essential to the common”.

The consultation was launched after a series of detailed surveys by three independent sets of arboricultural experts all agreed that the existing trees were in serious decline.

The expert conclusion of the most recent and most in depth structural survey described the avenue as “dilapidated” and recommended that consideration be given to “complete avenue replacement within the near future”.

Replacing all of the trees at the same time was also strongly backed in the public consultation.  In total 74 per cent of respondents agreed that it would be better to replace them in a single operation with only 22 per cent opposed.   

People who took part in the consultation were provided with detailed information about the issues involved.  In total 71 per cent said they clearly understood all the issues while another 25 per cent said they were clear about most of the issues. 

Environment spokesman Cllr Jonathan Cook said: “This forthcoming programme of work is absolutely necessary to prevent these trees from posing a threat to people who walk along this pathway every day.

“Unfortunately the avenue is in terminal decline and action is needed now to ensure the safety of the public.

“Our plan, which was drawn up following extensive consultation, is to plant a new replacement avenue and ensure that this prominent local landmark survives on the common for future generations.

“In essence, what we must do now is copy what the Victorians did for us and plant a wonderful new avenue that can be enjoyed by our children and grand-children alike.

“Planting semi-mature trees at the same time will allow them to grow unimpeded with all the light and air they need, ensuring that the visual and aesthetic value of the avenue is secured for the next 150 years and more.

“The alternative, which has been advocated by some, would involve a much more short-termist approach of increasingly severe pruning and pollarding followed by removal and replacement on a piecemeal basis.

“However this option was overwhelmingly rejected by local people who understood it would result in a random collection of trees of different ages and sizes that would no longer resemble a well laid out and carefully designed avenue. They understood too that planting young saplings next to much larger trees would deprive them of the sunlight and water they need to grow. 

“This hands-off approach also fails to address the issue of public safety. As we saw last year trees that look quite healthy on the outside can suddenly collapse without warning because internally they are riddled with disease and decay.

“Now that we know there is a problem in the avenue of disease and old age it would be totally irresponsible, and quite frankly unforgiveable, if we chose to do nothing.

 “We cannot, as custodians of the common, leave trees untouched if they pose any kind of danger to the public.”

The avenue runs northeast from the junction of Tooting Bec Road and Dr Johnson Avenue towards Bedford Hill, and was first recorded on local Ordnance Survey maps in 1868. The avenue is comprised of 77 trees, of which 67 are horse chestnuts.

The common covers some 220 acres (92 hectares) and boasts around 3,300 trees. It is the largest open space in the borough

More background information on the council’s decision last October to create a new avenue of trees is available on the council’s website.

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