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.
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.
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