The Difficult Life of a Street Tree

Dear Readers, I have always been very fond of the strange crab apple tree that grows towards the end of my street. Back in 2014 I commented on the way that it had been pruned, remarking that it looked as if a wood-nymph was trying to escape from the trunk. Alas, the life of a street tree can be a difficult one. Not only do they have to contend with drought, flood, exposure, pollution and wind, but in some cases they also have to deal with living in an extremely narrow road where there is a lot of building work going on.

Earlier this week, the tree had an unfortunate encounter with a hastily-delivered skip. It says something for our road that everyone, from the builders to the home-owners, were horrified at what had happened, and that the council have got on board unexpectedly quickly – one of their tree officers will come to have a look and see if it’s possible to save it. Several people have noted that it looks like a much older tree than most of those in the street (its trunk must be twice to three times as thick as that of the other crab apples) and people are anxious to preserve this veteran if they can. What do you think, Readers? I suppose the ‘wound’ could be tidied up and maybe protected from frost, but let me know your thoughts, and I will let you know how we get on.

Looking at Barnet’s Tree Policy, it looks as if they will try to preserve the tree if possible, which will please everyone involved with our crab apple.  I also note that the council  will refuse a request to prune or cut down a street tree for the reasons listed below. I find this rather refreshing. After all, if you move into a house with a tree outside, it’s difficult to argue that you didn’t notice.

  • Interference with satellite dish TV reception
  • Residents perception that a tree is too large
  • Obstruction of view or light
  • Seasonal nuisance (leaf fall, fruit litter, allergies to pollen, nuisance caused by insects or birds)
  • Residents’ perception that the tree will cause damage in the future
  • To replace a healthy mature tree to create space for the planting of new trees.

Street trees are so important in terms of biodiversity, shade, reducing flood risk, supporting mental health and bringing nature closer that it feels important to conserve them, and to plant more. Now, if we could just stop backing into them with our cars (so many of the trees on our street are tilting in a very obvious way) and knocking their branches off with skips, we’ll all be happy.

10 thoughts on “The Difficult Life of a Street Tree

  1. Anne

    Street trees provide an interesting dilemma and I am pleased that yours are paid more attention than ours appear to. In our case I think of the choice of trees: Brazilian Peppers have been planted along our street (toxic to people and animals) because they are attractive throughout the year. They might grow quickly in other areas – here they are stunted by drought and the terrain; other streets nearby used to be adorned by Australian flowering gums – very pretty when in bloom and leafy most of the time, but drop pods that look like scattered mice and are very messy; jacarandas (another alien) provide the most wonderful sight when they blossom and carpet the ground beneath them with beautiful mauve and purple flowers. The downside is that the flowers are not only slippery but harbour bees! Then comes the placing of either the trees or the overhead wires: when our municipality actually still cared about the town, they would drive around every so often and give all the trees a brush cut to avoid the branches tangling with the wires above them! Now we simply don’t have electricity during storms because ten-to-one the cables have snapped as a result of fallen branches …

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Oh there is no doubt that the wrong choice of street tree can be an absolute nightmare, I’m sure there must have been some South African native trees that would have hit the spot without all the problems of the ones you mention? And I have seen some truly terrible pruning of trees all over the world, but just leaving them to drop their branches is a real dereliction of duty. do the municipality just not have the money? That’s been the case in several UK boroughs, where years of cuts end up with them just cutting trees down rather than spending the money to preserve them…

      1. Anne

        A lack of both money and initiative are at the core of our municipal problems. To be fair, many of these trees were planted at a time when indigenous trees were decried for their slow growth and paucity of flowers. There are some beautiful specimens of Cape Chestnuts in the CBD as well as Dogwoods in some of the newer suburbs.

  2. Brian

    I’d have thought that some kind of rescue pruning might be done to encourage rainwater to run off the wound efficiently rather than settle in it and encourage rot and infection, but the damage must nonetheless inevitably severely reduce the life of the tree.

  3. FEARN

    That tree looks a lot older than the ones alongside down the road from it. Councils and trees are not a happy combination. Edinburgh surveyed and labelled trees over a certain girth in our local woods. It looked like they cared. Some trees had 3 labels on them. Next thing you know they grant planning permission for an incursion the size of a football pitch into what is left of the wood. They have a parks dept but they also have roads and planning. Developers seem to understand the power of persuasion when push comes to shove.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Mal, yep the tree has been a survivor for sure. Around our way, the developers get away with all sorts of nonsense because they have the money to get legal representation at the planning stage, and the councils don’t. So sorry about your wood, it’s heartbreaking…

  4. ringg1

    Looking at the size of wound compared to the size of trunk (as it’s shown on the photo), I’d say there is a good chance a tree surgeon will prune back the remaining stub to leave it protruding from the trunk a fraction. The angle of the cut should ensure water runs off. The problem in future is likely to be that the wound is close to the graft on the tree, which can be an area prone to decay if fungi can get in.

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