Clissold HLF kills 200 Year Old Giant Elephants

Clissold HLF kills 200 Year Old Giant Elephants

These two iconic trees of Hackney will die as a result of Hackney's Anti Tree bias. The twin London Planes are known locally as the elephant feet. The reason is obvious when you look at their stubby butts and solid trunks. Tragically their admirers are not numbered amongst the army of bureaucrats, consultants and workmen who have parasitised the park for the last year. On Thursday (17.2.01) the worst of a long line of indignities was perpetrated on these wonderful double centurions. Men unwilling to wheel a wheelbarrow 10m instead decided to drive a 20 tonne road truck on the trees' roots. This abuse kills tree roots. The hidden giant beneath these trees is a web or roots that would literally fill a football pitch. For every branch above ground imagine another beneath, then flatten out this inverted crown into the top 1m of soil. Only roots, like branches, also need 'leaves'; tiny rootlets less than 0.5mm across. These are extremely vulnerable and if damaged on mass the tree is starved of water, nutrients and oxygen. That is why soil compaction is so dangerous to trees.

Obviously this detail is not upper most in the minds of men laying tarmac which is why building regulations (BS5837) stipulate exclusion areas be fenced on building sites. These are called Root Protection Areas or RPAs and should protect an area with a radius 12x the tree's diameter. But a regulation is of no use if no one understands it or adheres to it. One might think a £9m publicly funded project in a park with 1000 valuable trees might enforce tree protection to the letter. In fact Hackney Council and Heritage Lottery Fund managers are totally illiterate in such matters.

Yesterday's minutes of stupidity, as the truck was driven backwards and forwards to gradually tip tonnes of tarmac, will have crushed all shallow roots and hugely compacted the soil structure. Giant planes did not get to the size they are in London by being weak but if you are stupid enough to drive a 20 tonne truck under them even their roots will crack. The story is however much, much worse. Yesterday was just one day in years of violence towards trees.

Both these trees have a disease. They both have Giant Polypore (Meripilus giganteus) brackets. The annual fruiting bodies can only be seen in the late summer and autumn. I first noticed Meripilus on these trees in 2006. Given the long and savage history of mowing trees in Hackney, especially Clissold, it is almost certain these trees were damaged by mowers and this is what led to the infection. Meripilus is a virulent root decay fungus that attacks the underside of roots and is notorious amongst arborists for bringing down giant beech trees. For those who know the wonderfully curvaceous old beech on Springfield lawn, it is dying from the same disease. However with plane trees the disease takes a different course and their precise relationship is the matter of continued research.

What is known is that root damage will accelerate the disease. The damage weakens the tree and at the same time provides more dead and dying wood for the fungus to feed on. There is no question that the HLF damage compounds the earlier mower damage. Still worse is the fact that these trees are also bearing the brunt of dozens of 20 tonne trucks regularly trafficking massive quantities of soil and other material into the park via the fragile tarmac pathbehind the old rose garden. So both trees have colossal soil compaction to contend with on both sides. Even an old plane tree cannot survive this kind of treatment and fight off a powerful pathogen. The elephants are dying. They will gradually succumb to disease and are unlikely to survive another 10 years. Compare their fate with anti-tree violence, to how they might have lived on into their 4th centuries had they been treated with the respect they so obviously deserve. Their destruction and that of many, many more trees in Clissold and all over Hackney is Jules Pipe's legacy to the future. If you can bare it you can learn more by reading LBH Anti-Tree Bias.

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