WORK to remove a dying and diseased avenue of trees along Reading’s historic Chestnut Walk and replace them with new ones is scheduled to begin next month, as part of a wider £160,000 improvement plan.
Sadly, a total of 18 distinctive mature horse chestnut trees have been declining for a number of years now. They are suffering from canker, fungal brackets and other defects, and inspections have found they are a risk to public safety. Four have been felled previously for the same reason.
Work to fell the remaining horse chestnuts is set to begin on February 17th. They will be replaced with sweet chestnuts, a large, robust species known to be resilient to the issues that affected these trees, and for their tolerance in urban environments. They will grow up to 20 metres tall when fully mature and – importantly – the canopy cover created by the replacement trees will be equivalent to that of the trees they will replace.
Depending on the condition of the felled horse chestnut trees, some of the wood may be recyclable with a view using it for artwork or seating in other parks and open spaces across Reading.
Chestnut Walk does not currently have any pedestrian lighting. As part of the wider Council improvement scheme, new lighting will also be installed, as well as a CCTV camera to improve security along what is already a popular direct route into the town centre. Use of the route is expected to increase as new housing developments are built in the area. Improvement work will also take place to re-tarmac the surface.
Notices advertising a temporary closure of around 200 metres of footpath, from Abbey Street to Forbury Road at Blakes Bridge, are being placed in the area this week to allow the tree work to safely take place. While the temporary notice advertises a six month closure, access will be available for the public when it is safe to do so and this is expected to run until early April, when the works are scheduled to finish.
Karen Rowland, Lead Councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said:
“It’s always incredibly sad when mature trees have to be felled, particularly such a distinctive avenue of trees along a historic walkway. Unfortunately it is unavoidable in this case. Four horse chestnuts were previously removed as they were a risk to public safety and we have been advised by the council’s arboliculturalist that the rest now need to follow.
“They will however be quickly replaced by sweet chestnuts, which are more robust and just as attractive, and which can grow up to 20 metres high. It is also important to say the canopy cover provided by the new sweet chestnuts will be equivalent – if not more – than is already there now.
“We are taking the opportunity to invest in new lighting and a CCTV camera, which will help improve the feeling of security for people who regularly use Chestnut Walk as a direct route to and from the town centre. There will be some temporary disruption to usual pedestrian routes and we thank people for their patience whilst these important improvement works take place.”
The temporary diversion route for pedestrians will be from Abbey Street, in a southerly direction, for approximately 90m to Kings Road. Continue along Kings Road in a easterly direction for approximately 210m to the pedestrian crossing at the junction of Kings Road / Forbury Road. Cross over to the eastern footway then continue in a northerly direction along Forbury Road for 90m. There will be no access from the Abbey Ruins onto Chestnut Walk during the period of works.
The works will be carried out by the Council’s in-house commercial services team, who will use direct labour for the tree installation and utilise existing contracts for lighting and highways improvement works, saving on costs.
Following completion of the work along Chestnut Walk, annual conservation work to the Abbey Ruins will continue following the Council conservation and reopening of the historic Abbey Ruins last year.
Notes To Editor:
Nationally, many horse chestnuts are being replaced with other disease-resistant species. At Prospect Park in Reading, the entire avenue of horse chestnut trees has been removed and replaced with chestnut-leaved oaks, which are a fast-growing, disease tolerant species with a mature height of over 20m.
The Council has sourced the new Chestnut Walk trees from British producers, in line with Forestry Commission requirements, in order to avoid importing sweet chestnut blight. Sweet chestnuts are considered an ‘honorary’ native tree, because they have been part of the British landscape for over 2,000 years, having initially been introduced by the Romans.