New avenue of trees being planted on Tooting Common
Published: Friday 29th September 17
Work is now almost complete on the planting of 64 small-leafed lime trees on Tooting Common to ensure that the historic avenue of trees at the heart of this popular green space can thrive for the next 200 years and beyond.
The new trees are being planted as replacements for 51 horse chestnuts that were removed earlier this week.
These 64 new trees are a native species and over time will support greater biodiversity than the declining non-native horse chestnuts, which are now increasingly falling prey to infectious diseases and are being removed by local authorities, colleges and public landowners up and down the country on safety grounds.
The 64 new trees are semi-mature and having been growing for ten years. They are all around 16 feet tall and will over time rise to a height of between 80 and 100 feet.
Environment spokesman Cllr Jonathan Cook said: “Planting a new replacement avenue that will grow and thrive on the common for the next 100 years and beyond was the clear and overwhelming verdict expressed by local people during last summer’s extensive public consultation.
“Residents recognised that if the avenue was to survive as a landmark feature then action was required.
“Planting a new row of healthy trees will ensure that this attractive avenue can continue to be enjoyed by future generations. It means that our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will be able to enjoy the same gift the Victorians generously gave to us and to our ancestors.
“This is a long term plan to protect the common and preserve it as an amenity space. It means this important landmark feature will stand tall over the coming decades, with the new trees adding to the more than 3,300 others that make Tooting Common such a special and much loved green space.”
The horse chestnuts that had lined the avenue were approaching the end of their natural lifespans.
Created with flickr slideshow.
Different teams of tree experts who’d examined them closely over recent months had concluded they were in a generally poor condition and showing signs of decline due to a combination of old age and disease and were losing structural integrity.
Over a relatively short period of time more severe symptoms had become apparent which had given rise to greater concerns.
During this week’s removal operation, many were found to be affected by hitherto undetected decay and rot.
Some had extensive and deep cavities at important junctions which would have weakened large and heavy limbs, while others had significant symptoms of root decay and rotting wood at the heart of limbs and trunks.
Four out of the five trees next to the children’s playground had cavities and signs of root decay and were at risk of toppling over like the one that did last year.
Many of them were infected by bleeding canker – a highly contagious bacterial disease that can cause branches and limbs to die and possibly fall, while others had been stricken by fungal infections. Almost all were suffering the effects of leaf miner activity.
Many of these internal problems only became fully apparent during the felling operation and would not have been visible to the naked eye - even those belonging to a tree expert.
However the presence of sufficient warning signs had prompted the council’s in-house team of highly experienced arborists to recommend that action be taken. Their recommendation was echoed by external tree experts who reached the same conclusion.
The need to address this difficult issue was reinforced by the fact that these trees lined a very popular and busy pathway, used extensively by children and families and also by cyclists plus the hundreds of people who attend the weekly Park Run event on the common.
A detailed three month consultation last summer gave local people the choice of three options for deciding the next stage in the avenue’s history.
The overwhelming response from the hundreds of residents who took part was that the avenue should be replaced in a single operation.
They firmly rejected the option of allowing the existing trees to wither and die over the coming years while being subject to ever more intensive pollarding, pruning and where necessary removal.
They also rejected the option of planting young replacements on a like-for-like basis, recognising that planting young trees next to larger ones would result in the younger trees being deprived of the light, air and moisture they need to flourish, leading to a more uneven and fragmented avenue.
Cllr Cook added: “No-one wanted to lose big trees that have stood on the common for so many years, so the decision to remove was not taken at all lightly.
“We thought long and hard about whether it would be possible to pursue a more intensive regime of maintenance, combined with removal and replacement where necessary.
“However, this would have led to an increasingly random collection of extensively cut back trees of varying sizes and ages, many of which could still pose a risk. Increasingly rigorous pollarding and pruning and removal would eventually lead to an irregular row of bare trunks and stumps. It would no longer constitute an “avenue”.
“This option was also overwhelmingly rejected by the public consultation.
“Trees can of course look healthy on the outside and continue to flower and leaf – while at the same time suffering extensive internal decay that can cause limbs to collapse and entire trees to topple over.
“One collapsed without warning near the tennis courts last winter despite appearing to be in good health, while another had to be removed in June after it was found to be riddled with decay and posing an immediate threat to passers-by.
“What we found this week was confirmation that many of these trees were suffering extensive internal decay and were posing an ever-increasing risk to passers-by.
Having identified that the problem existed the council could not have sat on its hands and done nothing, especially with heavy trees that overhang a very busy footpath and cycle route.”