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.”

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Recent comments

Am deeply upset that the trees were felled despite the independent assessments and the petitions. The trees could have been properly maintained and looked after. The justification and 'evidence' is very patchy. Yes some of the trees required attention but not all of them needed to be culled. We need to have some Green Councillors to fight the cause within Wandsworth Council. Where's next?
Fergal McEntee

13 October 2017

Am deeply upset that the trees were felled despite the independent assessments and the petitions. The trees could have been properly maintained and looked after. The justification and 'evidence' is very patchy. Yes some of the trees required attention but not all of them needed to be culled. We need to have some Green Councillors to fight the cause within Wandsworth Council. Where's next?
Fergal McEntee

13 October 2017

Just passed by here today after boarding taken down. The avenue looks quite pleasant to me. The replacement lime trees are not 20 years old but 20 FEET, or some of them are. A lime tree avenue will look really resplendent on future years as they grow tall and thick. I've stayed at a holiday cottage with a lime tree avenue - eventually they will overshadow even buildings. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, I think they look really nice, so get over it, people, it's done now. Maybe the name of the path should now be changed to Lime Tree walk or avenue, or something similar as Chestnut Avenue is no longer appropriate.
GEORGE LOBLEY

3 October 2017

I find it incredibly sad that the council chose this option, rather than affordable maintenance of these glorious trees.
Julia Outlaw

3 October 2017

I am disgusted by this action by the council, you have needlessly ruined our beautiful common on supposed health and safety grounds, whilst it is clear that future cost cutting was the main driver here. Green space in London is so precious and Tooting Common set itself apart from other local commons because of its semi-wild nature and varied features, the horse chestnut avenue being a key part of the vista and environment. The supposed public consultation on this issue was a sham (I live virtually adjacent to part of the common and had no idea it was taking place). This decision should have been subject to judicial review. Heartbreaking.
Caroline M

3 October 2017

What WBC has done to our common can only be described as vandalism. The replacement trees are saplings. Not as high as were promised and they look awful. It will be a long while before they provide any shade or majesty. They will never be as nice as the gorgeous chestnut trees that were so brutally and unnecessarily removed. I want to see how the money has been spent from start to finish- where has the grant money gone - how did you know all the trees were diseased. Will there be any information on the felled trees given to us residents who opposed this? So far all I can see are two cuttings put around fencing which show disease. But that doesn't account for all of the trees felled. Answers are needed and sooner rather than later.
Stephanie Williams

3 October 2017

What an appalling and sad decision. You have needlessly destroyed healthy local habitats for wildlife based on mendacious evidence. All involved should be ashamed.
Alexa Brown

3 October 2017

I and the other 6566 people that signed the petition to stop you doing this are not at all surprised by your actions because you never listen to the people in the Borough that you are meant to be working for. The deceit and arrogance of this debacle has been spectacular: discarding professional advice from tree experts, trying to stifle the views of one who made his views public to the heavy hand in which the cull was carried out is impressive. I and many others request that you provide publicly the full accounts for this operation, to evidence of how many trees were actually diseased. Chestnuts can recover from canker and often do but you went ahead and destroyed an entire historic avenue that has supported generations with no thought.
Gemma Lloyd

3 October 2017

This is absolutely OUTRAGEOUS. So so so so SO disappointed in the council for this disgusting and blatantly dishonest behaviour. Tooting common was beautiful and now it looks like a Barron waste land. Those ‘semi-mature’ trees look like they won’t last a day. What is the matter with you?
Ellie Neal

3 October 2017

So when I walk beside the athletics track towards the common I am equally at risk from diseased horse chestnuts and other trees, and I am sure at other places in Wandsworth too. Is Wandsworth going to remove all risks? Chestnut Avenue looks bare and baron. The trees are not as big as 16-20 foot, and will take at least 40 years to look halfway to creating a decent treelined avenue. Bigger and slightly fewer trees would have created a better visual impact. The trees chosen are also prone to fungus aren't they so not a great choice at all. So sad that in our lifetime we won't see chestnut avenue back to any kind of glory.
emma condliffe

2 October 2017

This 'news' item is riddled with inaccuracies/falsehoods: 1. Your own tree surveys listed 60+ horse chestnuts in the avenue (over 70 trees of all species). They are gone now. Yet you say you only cut 51. 2. None of the experts who saw the avenue before the fell said it was necessary. Several have commented on the photos above saying they show nothing that could not have been managed allowing the trees to survive for decades longer. 3. In your consultation a grand total of 160 people indicated a preference for replacing the trees. 6,500+ signed a petition opposing this. 4. In your reply to Sadiq Khan, you said the replacement trees would be 20ft. Here you say 16ft, but they have been measured and none is above 13ft.
Alexandra Sykes

2 October 2017

There was nothing but anger and disbelief this weekend as local residents saw the vandalism committed by Wandsworth Borough Council. You have transformed our beautiful & historic Chestnut Avenue into a tacky & dull path in less than 5 days. The propaganda and lies told about the reasons for the destruction are shameful. You constructed a massive security fence to hide your actions. You have failed to show evidence to support removal of all the trees and have now destroyed the evidence anyway. It is clear that your actions were motivated entirely by cost savings. The cheap saplings you have planted are not the semi-mature trees you promised. You have acted against the wishes of local people and broken our hearts. Disgraceful.
Jenny Hemsley

2 October 2017

Utterly disgusted and devastated at Wandsworth Council's chainsaw massacre . I have just returned to see the devastation they have wreaked to save money . WBC are so so arrogant . Very , very upsetting . They have destroyed a beautiful and historic tree lined avenue . Where are the mature trees you were going to plant ?? Stunted saplings don't cut it . Shame on you all for your lies and vandalism in public office .
Simon Marriott

2 October 2017

Cllr Cook is lying once again, he has no credibility. This is merely a cost saving exercise and this excuse for a public representative should be ashamed of his wilful and dishonest actions in trying to justify this act of pure vandalism. This is the same group of councillors who stated 'parks are a luxury'. This smacks of the actions of a secretive propaganda led authoritarian regime. Kim Jong Cook seems to delight at being at the centre of this web of lies.
John

1 October 2017

Videos of diseased trees not of the healthy trees which have been butchered, evidence destroyed. Young saplings planted, smaller than the promised semi-mature 20 feet trees. Trees susceptible to same bleeding canker risks, also with a much shorter lifespan. The cost of new trees being a fraction of the £46k Lottery grant. Where did the rest of the money go? Shame on WBC for its lies, failure to consult residents on all sides of the Common and a deeply flawed and deliberately biased on-line "consultation". And the wood destroyed, when it could have been used for seating, fencing and sculptures on the Common, because the healthy evidence had to go, behind barriers.
Lesley Morton

1 October 2017

Having walked onto our once lovely common today I was completely shocked at the terrible sight before me. The Avenue has been completely destroyed. What a travesty. I literally wanted to weep. The Council should be ashamed. Clearly no care has been given to replace the lovely old trees with anything comparable. They have completely ruined it. So sad.
Sophia Hamilton

30 September 2017

Which local people did you consult with, not those who have any history in the area obviously as most of those appear to have opposed the plan. Lime trees are messy melon sap dripping horrors. How can the old Chestnut Walk retain its name when it's full if lime trees? Once again WBC has done as it pleases by ignoring the tax paying residents opinions. It's happening on estates too, where shrubs are being removed from communal areas without any interest in what the residents may think even though it's them that pay for the upkeep in their service charges.
Sarah-Jane Griffin

30 September 2017

I just walked the Common for the first time since the felling - and I'll be honest, it made me cry. The avenue is SO ugly now - those new trees are an embarrassment. Beyond all the other lies - the council promised 20-year old lime trees - be we have been given 10-year olds. They are barely taller than I am. A place of beauty that I have loved for years turned into a place I will avoid because it is so barren. The old chestnuts gave that wonderful sense of private space along the lane - you really felt AMONG the trees. Now it feels like empty space. Just disgusting and so very very very sad. The council members are liars and crooks and WE WILL NOT FORGET THIS.
Pacifica Goddard

30 September 2017

Still trotting out the same lies. The ludicrous fence you put up while destroying these trees was purely to prevent these lies being exposed. You didn't want the world seeing the true condition of the majority of the perfectly healthy trees did you? Selecting a few pics of branches to paint a false picture should be beneath you but sadly I no longer think there is any tactic which is beneath Wandsworth BC. And please don't keep trying the spin of 'semi-mature' lime trees. Saplings is the correct term for the miniscule twigs you've planted in place of fine mature healthy horse chestnuts. Wandsworth, the brighter borough. Because we remove the shade provided by the tree canopy.
Outraged taxpayer

29 September 2017

Meanwhile several street trees in Earlsfield/Wandsworth Common ward cusp stand dead or there are holes where some have been removed but not replaced. Where are the managers of our street trees?
Celia Blair

29 September 2017

The financial saving by replacing the old trees with new saplings to minimise maintainence is a mere drop in the ocean compared to the costs in billions and human life councils & governments face if they don't start planting trees on a larger scale. We know this by the damage caused by flooding, intense rainfall & storms in our own Lake District & more recently the record storms in the Caribbean, Florida & Texas. We need our tree leaf cover on a mass scale to help absorb the C02's that is adding to the warming of the atmosphere & exacerbating these storms. We need our leaf cover to absorb the dreadful air pollution we create.
Gill Allen

29 September 2017

The consultation was hardly unbiased. The questions were 'leading', strongly directing respondents to this conclusion, and few people would have read the arborealists' reports, which were nothing like as clear cut as represented here or in the consultation document. The Council were clearly keen to clear fell as this reduced the maintenance bill for the Common. A very sad day
Oli Griffiths

29 September 2017

I hope that the Council is not planning a borough-wide massacre of old trees such as that being carried out by Sheffield's Labour council. I suspect that, if the same standards were applied, hundreds of mature trees could be consigned to destruction.
Ken Powell

29 September 2017