2021 (August) - Recent Media Coverage
There has been coverage of the 2021 threat to the Carlyle Road plane trees in local media, most notably the Cambridge Independent; a double-page splash by Mike Scialom in the print version and an online article here.
He reports that the Executive Councillor responsible for the decision to cut the trees (Alex Collis) "considered a range of reports from officers and all the representations received when objections to the tree works could not be resolved." Councillor Collis's decision "remains unchanged" but because of residents' protests under the trees she is "now reconsidering timescales and options to ensure any works are carried out safely." She claims to have exhausted a range of alternatives to the tree works. Matthew Magrath, the council's Arboricultural Officer, has elaborated a little, saying that he is not applying for a court order to prevent civil protests at present but says "...it is a possible option. We are currently waiting for feedback from the insurers about the situation before deciding how we move forward. Should it become a real option, we would still need external legal advice about whether we could reasonably expect to secure such an order."
However, the view of Alexandra Gardens Tree Group (AGTG) is that these alternatives have not been explored sufficiently. We think that the council should either pay for the remedial work required (even though it is doubtful that the trees are the direct cause of any cracks) or find alternative longer-term solutions such as a root barrier along Carlyle Road. When Oliver Rackham, the eminent Cambridge University ecologist/botanist visited the site in 2010, when these trees were previously threatened, his conclusion was that, though rootlets may be found under the tarmac of the road and the properties opposite. the vast majority of moisture-seeking roots will be in the park under the grass, where water is plentiful. A report by AGTG member Dr. Adrian "Sam" Hill of Cambridge University Botany Dept. in 2010 came to a similar conclusion - that seasonal movement on clay (exacerbated in that case by poor recent building practice) is the probable cause of cracks.
As AGTG member Peter Sparks says "clearly Cllr Collis's decision is entirely financial - but spending is about values and choices. As an example, this cash-strapped council can find half a million or so for consultants, reports and sample displays for a possible city market refurbishment - something no one asked for or voted for and certainly has no equivalent environmental credential." Local resident and protest coordinator Jenny Langley points out the hypocrisy of a council that announced a commitment to increase tree canopy cover and a commitment to uphold the principles of the "2017 National Tree Charter for Trees Woods and People" only last year. As George Monbiot wrote in a recent article in the Guardian on the need for complex ecologies with slow-growing mature trees "Don’t lament the twisted old oak we’re felling: we’ll plant 10 saplings in plastic rabbit guards in its place. Then we’ll call it a “net gain”.
In the longer view, the law needs to change to raise the status of mature, notable trees as assets to a community. Insurance companies are happy to take premiums to insure properties against movement of houses on clay; they should therefore expect to cover that risk at their own expense. A local resident with connections to the insurance industry commented that "the mantra of the year in the insurance industry has been 'check the carbon footprint', 'take care of the environment'. A huge shift is occurring and companies are now looking at what their environmental strategy is...now the [environment-related] claims are becoming more frequent." "To tackle global warming and protect the environment, we can't always go for the cheapest decision." As Peter Sparks noted "These are trees that have an expected life of at least 150 years and that could benefit and be enjoyed by six or more future generations, quite apart from their significant environmental and climate contribution."
In addition to the Cambridge Independent article, our case received a nod in the national media via a letter to The Guardian by Mr Sparks published on 11th August. In it, he responds to the Monbiot article, advocating extending the need for mature ecosystems from ancient woodland to our cities and pointing to the reductive financial cynicism of insurance companies in pursuing the felling and cutting of mature trees.
Jenny Langley summarised community feeling beautifully; "These trees are the crowning glory of Alexandra Gardens and are much loved. They surround the Gardens, making you feel that you've entered another world." What price that?