Sad news from Wales as her tallest tree, a 63.7m/208ft Douglas fir at the Llyn Vyrnwy Estate has been felled, less than two years after it was declared the joint tallest tree in the UK. The 124 year old tree had been badly battered by heavy winds and the damage was noticed in a routine inspection. After an expert survey, the Forestry Commission Wales decided that the risk of the tree falling on visitors was too high to take, and it was duly felled. The loss of this tree is particularly poignant for me, as I remember the team which measured it back in 2005 contacting me at the time. In a case like this, one cannot criticise the Commission for doing what they judge to be necessary to avoid a significant risk to public safety.
Its felling is also incredibly timely, however. Coed Cadw, the Woodland Trust in Wales, has been painfully aware for some years that the protection given to ancient and veteran trees in Wales is woefully inadequate. Ancient and notable trees, like the Llangernyw Yew or the Pontfadog Oak are as much a part of Wales’ national heritage as Caernarfon Castle or St David’s Cathedral. But there are huge loopholes in Tree Preservation Order system, which can only be put right by changing the law.
Just last Thursday, the people of Wales voted themselves the powers we need to put this right. Through powers which will come into effect in May, the next Assembly will be able make laws within the field of environment, and town and country planning. It will have to power to amend the Tree Preservation Order (TPO) legislation to:
- Remove an exemption that allows trees defined as ‘dead’ or ‘dying’ to be felled, even if they have a Tree Preservation Order on them and even if they constitute absolutely no threat to the public.
- Ensure that the public are able to contact a Tree Officer to have an emergency Tree Preservation Order imposed out of normal office hours. There have been cases in Wales of mature trees being felled over the weekends, making an emergency TPO impossible.
- Clarify the legislation to make clear that those felling trees protected by a TPO face a possible maximum fine of £20,000 as initially laid down by Parliament, rather than a fine of just £2,500 for “carrying out works on the tree without consent”.
Will the new Assembly make use of these powers to give meaningful protection to our ancient trees? That is down to you as a voter. Over the coming weeks, the Woodland Trust will be urging all candidates to support our manifesto to protect woodland heritage, and ensure that Wales gets the maximum benefit from new tree planting. And we’ll be urging voters to contact their candidates, to ask if they have done this. If you already receive the Woodland Trust’s enewsletter and you live in Wales, you will receive details in the next few weeks. If not make sure you receive the next edition – sign up here!
Rory Francis, Communications Officer – Wales