We regret that the copper beech tree at the rear of the Dorset House site opposite Latimer Grange has been inspected and has been found to be dangerous. Here is the Tree Officer’s report in full (and please see the postscript about a further tree)
The Tree Preservation Order (TPO) was made on the 19th of October in 2004 as part of the Council’s continuing programme of TPO review; the Order replaced an older ‘Area Order TPO dating back to 1961, which was significantly out of date and effectively unenforceable. Around the same time the Dorset House School site became vacant and available for redevelopment. The TPO included 11 individual trees and 2 tree groups incorporating a further 10 trees. Due to an assessment made of tree conditions and quality a number of trees on the site were excluded from the Order.
An application under the TPO to fell T11, a mature copper beech tree, was registered on the 8th of June 2009. The reason given in the application is that the tree is infected with a root-decay fungus, Meripilus giganteus, and that an arboriculturalist advises that the tree is thus dangerous being liable to windthrow. The application is accompanied by a Tree Survey Report, which includes photographic evidence of the presence of the ephemeral fruiting body of the fungus concerned.
The photographs included in the application show a large fungus at the base of the tree, which is unmistakably the fruiting body of Meripilus giganteus. The photograph was taken in October 2008 and at the time of my inspection in June these had largely disintegrated; nevertheless I am in no doubt that a correct identification has been made. The inspection comments of the 2008 survey indicate that there was some incipient die-back of shoot tips in the crown of the tree, which may be symptomatic of disease or dysfunction in the root system. These crown symptoms have since become very much more pronounced, with as much as a 25% reduction in the density of the tree’s foliage being evident.
The host/pathogen combination of Meripilus on beech is one of the most significant disease associations in terms of tree hazard evaluation. The fungus causes a pervasive and aggressive rot in the anchorage roots of the trees’ root-plate, which the tree is not able to counter effectively. In addition to causing the internal decay of woody structural roots the fungus is a moderate pathogen capable of killing roots. The definitive reference in the literature is provided by Dr David Lonsdale, in the Government published text, Principles of Tree Hazard Assessment and Management, (HMSO 1999). Dr Lonsdale’s summary of the significance of the fungus to tree stability is unequivocal,
‘By the time that large fruit bodies of M. giganteus appear, especially on F. sylvatica [beech], it is likely that a high chance of windthrow exists. Crown symptoms may be present by this stage, but by no means always. Indeed, the upper roots may be largely sound, even though the deeper ones are extensively decayed. Due to this pattern of symptom development, and to the severe weakening of the partially decayed wood, M. giganteus is one of the most dangerous decay fungi to be found on F. sylvatica.’
Under section 198(6)(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Local Planning Authority (LPA) consent is not required for the cutting down of a TPO tree if it is dead, dying or dangerous. Given the widespread and progressive crown die-back symptoms evident it is reasonable to consider that the tree may be dying although this is not certain. However the confirmed presence of Meripilus considered in combination with the crown symptoms indicate that the tree is definitely potentially dangerous and in my opinion the exemption at section 198(6)(a) does apply.
Government advice given to LPAs at paragraph 6.44 of Tree Preservation Orders- A Guide to the Law and Good Practice, is clear in that LPAs should not purport to ‘decide’ works applied for which are in fact exempt; instead the applicant should be written to without delay and advised that the TPO does not apply.
Under section 206(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 a duty exists for the replacement of a tree removed under section 198(6)(a). The duty is to plant another tree; of an appropriate size and species; at the same place [as defined by the schedule and map of the TPO]; as soon as this can reasonably be done, i.e. before the end of the next planting season. The duty transfers to a new owner if the land changes hands.
Evidence has been presented to the Council, which reasonably demonstrates that the copper beech tree is dangerous; the tree is therefore exempt from the protection of the TPO. The Council must not therefore attempt to determine the application under the TPO; instead it should write to the agents of the tree owner without delay informing them of this position and of their statutory duty to replace the tree (further advice over species selection can be provided in due course).
The condition of one of the horse chestnut trees within G1, along the London Road frontage was also identified as a cause of concern in the 2008 tree survey; this is related to a severe infection with chestnut bleeding canker (Pseudomonas syringae pv aesculi); I am anticipating an application related to this tree in the future following a further more detailed assessment of the tree.