A PROFESSIONAL arboriculturist’s report by the Council’s tree surveyor, which outlines why a diseased and dying avenue of trees along Chestnut Walk needs to be replaced, has been released today (Feb 10th).
The report – based on an inspection in January 2019 by the Council’s qualified tree surveyor – confirms that a high proportion of the remaining trees on Chestnut Walk are blighted with bleeding canker, stem and/or basal decay, fungal brackets and other defects. The report states: “Because the trees are located on an important pedestrian thoroughfare, they represent a safety risk to the public.” All landowners, including the Council, have a duty of care where risk to public safety is identified.
The Chestnut Walk trees are now estimated to be around 160 years old. Four have already been felled in recent years for public safety reasons. A further four require immediate felling.
While horse chestnuts can live up to 300 years in an open field, they are stressed in urban conditions and have declined significantly over the past 20 years due to leaf miner, which does not kill the tree but weakens it leaving it susceptible to disease. The presence of bleeding canker – which does kill the trees – spreads quickly to others when they are weakened in this way.
Reading Borough Council has been closely monitoring the condition of the Chestnut Walk trees since 2016, due to their rapidly deteriorating condition. While some of the trees were pollarded back in 2016, the option has been ruled out on this occasion. The report states the weakness of the remaining trees also means they are unlikely to survive heavy pruning.
The arboriculturist’s report therefore outlines three options to managing and regenerating the avenue of trees along Chestnut Walk:
- Replacing on a tree-by-tree basis: This would leave a line of trees with different heights, ages and shapes and newly planted trees are likely to develop slowly because of root competition and shading of the existing trees.
- Plant new trees inside or outside the old line of trees: There is insufficient space along Chestnut Walk
- Remove all of the trees and to plant a new avenue: This represents an investment from which a future generations will benefit
The Council’s Parks Team have recommended the third option, which involves replacing the diseased trees with sweet chestnuts, a large, robust species known to be resilient to the issues that affected the horse chestnut trees, and for their tolerance in urban environments.
The avenue of trees along Chestnut Walk form part of an urban tree management structure known as an ‘allee’ of trees. This structure is defined by a series of trees planted at the same time and of the same age to achieve the same height and mass. The new trees will grow up to 20 metres tall when fully mature, which would maintain the distinctive ‘allee’ or avenue along Chestnut Walk. They would be evenly spaced, sized and shaped and – importantly – the canopy cover created by the replacement trees will be equivalent, or greater, to that of the trees they will replace.
The approach also means the original historic design principle of the avenue of trees, set out by the Victorians and located next to a scheduled ancient monument, is also maintained.
Karen Rowland, Lead Councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said:
“The professional arboriculturist’s report makes clear that the trees in Chestnut Walk are coming to the end of their life. Trees do have a natural lifespan, and in the case of horse chestnuts that is considerably shortened due to bleeding canker disease which is decimating them everywhere, not just along Chestnut Walk.
“It is of course incredibly sad when mature trees have to be felled in this way, but given the options open to the Council, replacing them now with a more robust variety makes sense for a whole host of reasons. And while this is an investment for future generations of Reading residents, it doesn’t make the decision any easier.
“While the report shows the remaining 18 trees are in a range of decline, it also makes clear they are all diseased, they have only a short lifespan left and they are a risk to public safety. Given the footfall and range of events that take place along Chestnut Walk over the summer season, including WaterFest, public safety presents an overriding concern which any responsible public body cannot just ignore. The last thing we want to do is shut off public access to Chestnut Walk while we wait for all of the 18 trees to die off, which is the deciding factor in the Council opting to replace the trees now.”
The arboriculturist’s report and a supporting glossary of terms can be found at https://www.reading.gov.uk/chestnut-walk
Work to fell the remaining diseased horse chestnuts and replace them with new sweet chestnuts is set to begin on February 17th. 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 a wider £160,000 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.
Notes To Editor:
Nationally, many horse chestnuts are being replaced with other disease-resistant species. 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.