This week in a suburb in North London, residents protested at Barnet town hall against three ancient oak trees being culled. The roots of these trees have been accused of disturbing the foundations of a house and raising insurance premiums for the property developer that owns the building.
Hampstead Garden Suburb was an architectural project created by a group of like-minded individuals and founded in 1907 by Dame Henrietta Barnett. The idea was to bring the community ideals of a country town into the city (Hampstead is just a few miles from central London). They also built the homes and streets around existing hedgerows and trees with a view to keeping them nice for future generations. No wonder residents are appalled when planning applications are made to destroy their village environment.
In this case protesters blame the greed of insurance companies for the destruction of the environment they love. So what are the arguments for and against removing the 200-year-old trees?
In towns trees provide homes for wildlife, improve the air quality and generally make a street more pleasant to live in. Many people are passionate about caring for trees and forests. This was shown just weeks ago when government proposals were made to sell of certain areas of woodland currently run by the Forestry Commission. Groups of protesters argued that their enjoyment of the countryside and woodlands could be hampered by privatisation. But in their report the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has laid out plans to organise public access and maintain current biodiversity. Individuals can comment on the consultation here until the 21st of April.
The roots of some trees spread prolifically and you should be especially careful when buying Willow trees or Poplars. In the Hampstead Garden Suburb case Oak trees can grow a root system 30m wide and could damage the electricity sub station in the area. The roots of mature trees can sometimes break through drainage systems, tarmac and even foundations. They could cause subsidence.
Understandably something endangering the structure of your property needs to be taken into account by underwriters insuring the building.
Many old trees are protected by councils under Tree Preservation Orders (TPO). A TPO requires people to get permission from the council make changes to the tree in question. Even pruning these trees requires written permission. If your insurance company requires a protected tree to be felled then you should ask for reports of any investigations they have done to support your application.
Dealing with a troublesome tree
Rather than tackle the problem yourself, it may be wise to call in a professional to deal with the problem. The ABI suggests when destroying or pruning any tree, that you seek a qualified arborist (someone who manages trees) to deal with vines and woody plants like trees and shrubs.
So although it’s clearly important for communities with an environmental focus to maintain their environment, if a property that an individual has bought is at risk, the pros and cons of tree culling must be weighed up and a conclusion must be made that lets man and plant live side by side.