Last week the huge diggers and other heavy plant in Clissold park were mysteriously silent. No contractors were working anywhere in the park. The reason for the hiatus? Pressure on the Council and Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) after repeated damage to magnificent trees. Specifically the insane decision to do major works to exclude roots of the ornamental Dawn Redwoods from the West pond (Beckmere) has resulted in one redwood entering severe decline. The wit of consultants and contractors from HLF did not extend to realising that removing a tree's primary water supply might actually have an adverse effect on the tree. Whether the two redwoods will survive or not remains to be seen. Mature trees (they are about 50 years old) struggle to adapt to rapid change and having been drinking from the pond for all their lives the trees are unlikely to have created a large water collecting root system elsewhere.
It is perhaps fortunate the Dawn redwood reacted so quickly to the HLF vandalism. Elsewhere in the park other trees are being brutalised but since most trees respond slowly to damage the consequences of HLF's ignorance and violence will take many years to develop. Soil compacted under trees by heavy machinery kills tree roots. The trees then go into gradual decline. Some recover but others succumb to disease brought on by the stress. These problems are well known on construction sites and there is very clear and detailed guidance to prevent such problems. Unfortunately the HLF consultants and Hackney project managers decided not to follow that guidance or to employ an arboriculture expert. After all its only a £9m construction project in a prestige park full of valuable trees.
The banner outside the park proudly (but completely inaccurately) declares it to be a Considerate Construction site. The spin and greed continue as people blindly destroy priceless trees and habitat.
Those familiar with Heritage Lottery Projects in urban parks will know they have more to do with job creation for overpaid consultants and contractors than improving green space. Abstract notions of 'historic landscape' might have some relevance in the grand estates of the aristocracy but applying such ideas to complex cityscapes is largely idiotic. The return of the St. John's Churhyard at Hackney to a 1793 landscape was a recent local example. Seventy trees were felled in a built up area just off the Narrow Way desperately short of greenery. The cherries, apples and thorns were deemed historically inaccurate. The equally inaccurate buildings and roads remain. Fortunately pressure from Tree Musketeers did result in some trees being saved. Alas tow of the replacement trees planted for the HLF project are already dead.
HLF should rebrand itself – 'bringing destruction to the inner city' or maybe 'taking from the poor to give to the rich'.
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