DYING and diseased trees along Reading’s historic Chestnut Walk are set to be removed and replaced with new ones, as part of a wider £160,000 improvement plan which will include the introduction of pedestrian lighting and CCTV for the first time along the pathway.
Situated next to the Abbey Ruins – which Reading Borough Council re-opened to the public last year – Chestnut Walk is planted with a distinctive avenue of 18 mature horse chestnut trees.
Unfortunately the trees have been declining for a number of years and are suffering from canker, fungal brackets and other defects. A number of trees have previously been felled or heavily pruned after shedding limbs. The most recent inspection, by an arboriculturist in January 2019, found defects in many trees and they are expected to continue to decline. Owing to the result of this inspection report, their complete removal and replacement is being proposed as they represent a risk to public safety.
A total of 18 trees will be felled early in the new year, in addition to the four which had previously been felled. 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. Importantly, the canopy cover created by the replacement trees will be equivalent to that of the horse chestnuts they will replace.
Chestnut Walk does not currently have any pedestrian lighting. The Council is now proposing a much-needed upgrade to install lighting and a CCTV camera and to re-tarmac the surface to improve the safety and environment of what is an important and popular route into the town centre. Use of the route is expected to increase as new housing developments are built in the area.
The proposals will be discussed at a meeting of Reading Borough Council’s Policy Committee on Thursday September 26th. https://democracy.reading.gov.uk/documents/s8467/Chestnut%20walk%20improvements.pdf
Councillor Karen Rowland, Reading’s Lead Member Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said:
“Sadly trees do deteriorate over time, particularly horse chestnuts which are susceptible to diseases, including canker. It is particularly regrettable that the trees along Chestnut Walk, which are such a distinctive feature, now need to be replaced as they are coming to the end of their life.
“We are always sad to lose trees but it is unavoidable in this case and the replacement sweet chestnuts present a robust and attractive option. It is important to note that the canopy cover provided by the new sweet chestnuts will be equivalent – if not more – than is already there now.
“The Council will also look to take the opportunity that the tree replacement provides to invest in new lighting and a CCTV camera for Chestnut Walk for the first time ever, which will improve how safe people feel, particularly during the dark winter evenings and mornings. The resurfacing of a section of the walkway will also improve this already popular and picturesque walkway into the town centre.”
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 will source the new 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.
Because Chestnut Walk sits within the Scheduled Monument of Reading Abbey Ruins, any work requires Scheduled Monument Consent (SMC) from Historic England. Archaeological investigation works are required to inform the Scheduled Monument Consent application. These will begin in early October and involve material excavated from 19 small holes in the grass areas, which will be quickly re-filled. Investigation works will take four days.
If approved at Policy Committee, work on the overall improvement scheme begins in February 2020 and will aim to be completed by early April, and the start of the Easter holiday period and events programme. The works will be carried out by the Council’s in-house Commercial Services department, who will use direct labour for the tree installation and utilise existing contracts for lighting and highways improvement works, saving on costs.