The pitch vs the pine

A number of concerned teachers and parents from Perth Academy, as well as local residents, contacted the Woodland Trust Scotland last month. All were dismayed at the potential loss of a large, historic, and healthy Scots pine tree which stands at the heart of the school grounds.

Perth and Kinross Council, as both the Education and the Planning Authority, have proposed a new all-weather AstroTurf sports pitch for the school, and to reduce the risk of noise and floodlighting disturbing neighbours they wanted to put it in the middle of the playing fields, as far away from the boundaries as possible. However, this would mean positioning it over the existing tree.

Image: RCAHMS

The tree can be seen standing alone in the middle of the playing field behind the school in this aerial shot from the 1930s

This is an exceptionally good example of a veteran open grown Scots pine, and has been recorded as such by our Ancient Tree Hunt. It has a crown spread of around 17m and trunk girth of about 2.7m. Scots pine are known to support around 90 insect species and 130 lichens, this is especially true of a healthy older tree like this, with the capacity to thrive for another two centuries! This pine is at least 150 years old and has been there much longer than the school (built around 1930). The first Ordnance Survey Map of 1860 shows it as part of a shelter belt running across the field.

If it was a building then its fine condition and age would make it a prime candidate for being listed Grade A.

As well as all of this, the tree has been designated as a memorial for two pupils killed in a tragic road accident, with a memorial bench – funded by the pupils themselves – placed around its base, which is now used as a teaching resource by many teachers at the school.

No-one wants to see Perth Academy deprived of good quality sports facilities, and ultimately we hope the majority of this application can be approved, but Perth and Kinross Council should rethink the layout of their playing fields here since it should be possible to keep both the pitch and the pine. 

But by this stage an application had been lodged and a large number of parents, staff and pupils wrote to the council to object. Pupils organised a petition to save the tree and 500 people signed up immediately. 

On 17t July the Council’s Planning Committee met to consider the application and both representatives of the school staff and Woodland Trust Scotland spoke as a delegation to the committee to try to convince them to reject this application. 

Immediately striking from the Planning Report on the application was the absence of any comment from the council’s own Tree and Woodland Service, no mention of a tree report, and only a passing reference to the council’s biodiversity officer. We asked councillors how they could make an informed decision without any of this information. Much quoted was the council’s own Tree Service guidance which states “What we will not do… fell healthy trees.” 

Secondly, came the fact that the local voluntary Tree Warden Network had applied under Section 160 of the 1997 Planning Act for a Tree Protection Order (TPO) on this tree, which we argued should be allowed to be considered in advance of a decision on the application. 

Arguments for a planting a replacement tree, or even multiple replacements, simply failed to appreciate the ecological value of old trees, and from a historic conservation point of view this would be like building a new listed building and claiming that it’s basically the same thing.

This tree has been designated as a memorial for two pupils killed in a tragic road accident, and the memorial bench (funded by the pupils themselves) around its base is now used as a teaching resource

When it came to the vote the councillors were divided. Some wished to approve the application, some reject it, and some favoured deferring a decision until the outcome of the TPO was known.

So, with three possible outcomes, the clerk first asked them to vote between the options of approving or rejecting the application. The result was 5 votes to reject and 4 to approve and 2 abstentions.

After that, the councillors then voted on whether to reject or defer, and voted overwhelmingly, 9 to 2, in favour of deferring for the TPO rather than rejecting the application outright. One councillor argued that this method would make any future decision they made on the application more robust and less challengeable.

So, we will do it all again in a few months after the council’s conservation team have completed their TPO report on the tree, and the Woodland Trust will be there to  help the school community save one of Perth’s cherished historic trees.

Charles Dundas, Public Affairs Manager, Woodland Trust Scotland

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About Austin Brady

Director of Conservation (UK) at the Woodland Trust
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Conservation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The pitch vs the pine

  1. Pingback: The Pitch vs The Pine – The Results | Woodland Matters

  2. I think that the whole TPO system is of little use. A classic example happened here in Worthing a few months ago where a number of trees were felled despite having TPOs on them. The reason? Simple, the fine for doing so is insignificant compared to the profit made when building luxury (expensive) houses.
    The whole tree protection system needs a complete overhaul and fines need to be proportionate.

  3. Kaye Brennan says:

    New news on this! Things have moved on quite a bit – see Charles’ latest post: https://wtcampaigns.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/the-pitch-vs-the-pine-update/ – you can help by taking action before August 20th

  4. Pingback: The pitch vs the pine – update | Woodland Matters

  5. Elaine says:

    The beautiful memorial tree should be preserved. I hope that a TPO is put on it and the Council gets its act together and makes sure this Ancient tree stays. You cannot just replace and I’m sure that plans could be altered to accommodate it.

  6. Richard P Davies says:

    Save this tree!! Shame on you Perth and Kinross Council for wanting to cut it down-it’s been there far longer than the school-creating oxygen for you to breathe-build by the side-or around it!

  7. KEITH LAWRENCE says:

    Once again this sport madness prevails. what is wrong with open to the elements sports grounds. We have a prime example of this stupitity in enfield. i refer of course to the so called sports academy built on green belt land by the spurs football club (deliberate small s) As a child we ran round the local park in snow wearing just shorts & shoes. God help the mollycodled Kids of Today.

    • I agree. Astroturf? Floodlights? This is madness. This veteran tree could teach the council a thing or two about looking after the environment if it could speak! Children need fresh air (which the tree provides) and floodlights consume too much energy.
      Save this magnificent tree and plant many, many, more trees please.

  8. Oliver says:

    Great Result, so far. Hope the council see reason and put the pitch elsewhere.

  9. peteratwressle says:

    What a short-sighted attitude. What is the opinion of the school governors? My suggestion would be to lobby them. I don’t know what the situation is with this school but in the school where my wife is a governor, the approval of the Board of Governors would be required before this would be allowed to go ahead.

  10. Isabel Clark says:

    It seems that officials, who should be the servants of the people, are acting as bullying masters. If they want something got rid of, then that is what will happen.

    I have seen too many magnificent trees felled to make way for housing estates, shopping malls, etc. Sometimes builders build right up to an ancient hedgerow and then later an alarm is sounded that these trees are too close to the house – not the other way around. Too few people care. I am just glad that The Woodland Trust is not one of them.

  11. Ken Brown says:

    Well, yes, if this application were to be accepted it would be just another example of environmental vandalism for a minor human convenience. This is particularly true in rural Perthshire where children have abundant opportunities for healthy outdoor pursuits. Is the Astro Turf supposed to protect their white sports gear from grass stains and mud, perhaps?

    This case, however, pales into total insignificance against the massive assault on Scotland’s natural heritage that is currently taking place under the banner of the vastly expensive and globally insignificant EU Renewables policy. Profit-greedy multinationals are stampeding to establish wind farms on what remains of our wild land, much of it upland peat bog, aided by the philistine policy of a Scottish Government that hopes to achieve separation from the rest of the UK at least partly on the ground that Scotland has quite a lot of wind. Recent scientific advice has been that wind farms on peat (our most highly efficient carbon sink) should always be avoided because they are unlikely to save carbon emissions. But this advice is, of course, irrelevant because the game is not really about reducing carbon emissions but making enormous profits from the subsidies that we all pay through our energy bills.

    One wind farm, at a high altitude in the wild Monadliath Mountains, Stronelairg, involves many tens of miles of access tracks bulldozed into the landscape, millions of tons of rock extracted from borrow pits for the foundations of wind turbines twice as tall as the tallest buildings in Scotland. The landowner stands to receive up to £60 million in rents for his negligible effort in signing the contract with the developer and endorsing this destruction of mountain ecosystems.

    I live in biodiversity-rich Glenmoriston where the environmental charity, Trees for Life, is establishing native woodlands on its 4,000 hectare estate. Repeated ecological surveys by this charity, dedicated to the restoration of the ancient Caledonian forest, have revealed the existence of rare and endangered species, some even previously regarded as extinct in the UK. But the adjacent estate, where one might reasonably assume the presence of similar levels of biodiversity, is to host another giant wind farm involving essentially the same environmental damage as in the previous example. And there are scores of similar applications throughout Highland Scotland, most of which will be approved by a government keen to appease a corporate sector on a feeding frenzy before the public wakes up and demands an end to an utterly perverse system of subsidies that is deeply implicated in our scandalous levels of fuel poverty.

    It is time that environmentally-minded people recognize that the obsession with wind energy has caused damage on a scale that dwarfs the combined efforts of NGOs to protect and enhance our natural heritage; for no good purpose. All the wind farms in Britain failed to save one hundredth of the annual increase in global carbon emissions in 2012 and governments throughout Europe are beginning to recognize the folly of an energy policy based on hot air. Let’s demand an end to this nonsense!

  12. Tony says:

    We should get on to the government of the day to make it iLLEGAL to cut down any sizable tree without good reason , more presevation orders are needed and adhered to

  13. Randall Evans says:

    What a palaver. Any reasonable thinking organisation would plan around the tree as they plan around other features/buildings on the landscape.
    Is there another agenda once the tree has gone?
    Yet another unnecessary waste of resources that should have been prevented by reasonable consultation and common sense

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