The tale of a lonesome pine - in Mortimer Common
A lone pine tree’s life is hanging in the balance – as council officers battle to save it from residents who say it is ugly and infringes their human rights.
They have signed a petition to get a tree preservation order (TPO) removed from the old tree, which lives in the middle of the village of Mortimer, claiming it is a danger.
Ten of them have written to the council say the tree – said to be more than 100 years old – is a danger causing fear, stress and anxiety.
They further claim the tree is mis-shaped, unbalanced, unremarkable – and detracts from the peaceful enjoyment of their properties.
They are worried it might fall down and hit a house – or them.
West Berkshire Council’s tree officer, Jon Thomas, says the local authority should keep the tree protected as it is a visible local feature in an area where there are few trees and cites the axe campaign as another reason to keep the TPO in place.
In his report to the eastern area planning committee, he says: “There is a foreseeable threat to the tree in that the owners wish to remove it and neighbours object to it. It therefore meets assessment criteria to warrant the confirmation of the preservation order.
“It breaks up the built form of the area and softens the various iterations of development. It is particularly notable when viewed from The Bevers, which is an area largely devoid of significant trees.
"The tree makes important contributions to local amenity, biodiversity, and landscape character as well as carbon sequestration.”
But the Mortimer Common locals at The Bevers and Heathfield disagree, saying the tree is nothing special.
“I am somewhat puzzled that in a village full of mature trees and surrounded by pine woods there is a need to place a TPO on this tree,” wrote Robert Birch.
Rosie Foster-Williams noted: “The anxiety I suffer because of worrying about the tree falling is making my state of health worse. The tree is not safe to be in a residential area due to its height and heavy unbalanced top. The Equality and Human Rights Commission says everyone has a right to and to enjoy their home peace.”
Joan Morris-Ashton said the council didn’t even want to compromise on reducing the crown of the tree: “We have consulted a tree surgeon, Brian Nash, who put in an application to West Berks back in January this year to reduce the crown in order to make the tree safe. Unfortunately the application got lost in the West Berks system.”
The eastern area planning committee sits next week to determine the fate of the tree.
Councillors have been thoroughly briefed by the tree officers who say no professional evidence or opinion has been submitted by the objectors which would support claims that it is unsafe.
Overall, say the officers, the risk from trees in the UK is low.
The probability of being killed by a falling tree (or part of one) is extremely low – at one in 10 million per annum.
The Health and Safety Executive considers a risk of one in a million as broadly acceptable and “not requiring further action to reduce risks unless reasonably practicable measures are available”.
It says risks from 1:1 million down to 1:10,000 are considered “tolerable”, while those below 1:10,000 are unacceptable.
The report to councillors goes on to say that the number of admissions to A&E related to being struck by a tree is 55 per annum.
This compares to 2.9 million “leisure-related” admissions, including 260,000 related to footballs, 10,900 involving children’s swings and 2,200 with wheelie bins, according to the National Tree Safety Group.