Health and Safety Executive (HSE) releases ebulletin following death of child from falling tree

Following a court case where a council was heavily fined following the death of a schoolgirl who had been hit by a falling tree, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued an ebulletin entitled ’Safety of trees on school premises and playing fields’ in January 2023. Rather than setting out what it believes the legal requirement to be, the ebulletin dictates not only what should be done, but how and by whom. This seems to go far beyond what might be expected from the regulator. The key good practice guidance for the management of risk from trees was produced by the National Tree Safety Group (NTSG) in 2011 https://ntsgroup.org.uk/guidance-publications/ and is currently under review. Being a broad-based stakeholder group headed by the UK Forestry Commission, NTSG can be relied upon as well-informed risk management guidance for trees, whereas I am not aware that HSE employs any tree specialists.

For more than four decades, Cheshire Woodlands has been managing tree safety on school sites and other educational establishments. Being the originators of the universally applied Quantified Tree Risk Assessment method, we are probably better placed than anyone to provide proportionate and cost-effective surveys and advice.

The Historic Landscape of Poynton Park Under Threat

This mid 18th century landscape will be changed forever if Cheshire East Council’s proposal for dam wall improvements goes ahead.

Built in the mid 1700s, the dam wall embankment between Poynton Pool and the A523 London Road has, to our knowledge, never overflowed or been breached, but on the basis of a recent inspection the Council are proposing the removal of trees along 480 metres of the Park boundary.  Under the current proposal, the trees will be removed and never replaced because it is said there is a risk of trees damaging the dam. Instead, the Council are suggesting planting trees in the neighbouring town of Disley.

Poynton Pool
Poynton Park boundary trees along London Road

When these photographs were taken at 4:30 on a cold November afternoon, there were, on a rough count, between 50 and 100 recreational users in the Park.  From children to pensioners, able bodied and those with reduce mobility, the whole community benefits from these trees, either their huge contribution to the landscape setting of the Park, or as they walk, cycle or drive along the tree-lined London Road and lakeside path to and from Poynton.

Recreating at Poynton Park
Local residents enjoying the historic landscape of Poynton Park

Setting aside the diverting of finite financial resources into this project, it seems that any reasonable and objective cost benefit analysis would establish that the cost of this proposal is far too high in terms of impact on the landscape and ecology alone?

Top Tips: Looking after trees

Trees on your land are your responsibility.

  1. Take a look around once in a while to check that the trees remain healthy and aren’t causing any obvious risks to neighbours or the public. If you have any doubts, call in a specialist.
  2. In spring and summer, water any newly-planted trees regularly, especially at times of drought.
  3. It’s often best to leave your tree alone but if you must prune it, it’s best to do this when the tree is young. Making smaller cuts when young will cause less damage and can direct future growth, reducing the need for larger cuts when it is bigger.
  4. Too much pruning can stress
  5. trees, shrubs and hedges, particularly when carried out in the growing season.
    Pruning bigger trees requires experts. For your own safety and that of the tree, contact an arborist.
  6. Mulch, leaves and twigs, placed around the base of the tree, will help to condition the soil, retaining water and
    preventing weeds, as well as encouraging the development of a healthy rooting environment.
  7. If you plan to work on any tree that is covered by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or is in a conservation area, you will need to contact your local council to request permission, or notify them in the case of a conservation area.
    If you notice your trees causing an obstruction, i.e. roots lifting up the pavement, fallen branches, etc, contact an arborist for advice.

Trees are nature’s sponges

Trees and shrubs are thirsty organisms and they have much more of an impact on our surroundings than we might realise.

Once mature, a deciduous tree can transpire large volumes of water. Trees can maintain an open structure in the soil, making it more permeable and less susceptible to water run-off. Trees on flood plains help to provide a buffer for storm water and reduce flooding downstream. In fact, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry met in February to look at how the strategic planting of trees could be used as a defence against flooding. There is also a petition currently before parliament to prioritise the planting of trees as a preventative measure against flooding. The government will respond by June of this year.

The absorption factor can also be a hazard, however. By abstracting moisture from shrinkable soils, trees can contribute to the subsidence of low-rise buildings. And if a tree is removed for whatever reason, shrinkable soils such as clay might rehydrate and, over the course of a few years, make the ground swell and cause ‘heave’, potentially resulting in damage to buildings. For this reason it’s best to identify the characteristics of the local soils before planting trees and large shrubs close to buildings and select the plants accordingly or design the building’s foundations to withstand future soil shrinkage. If you have trees that are causing you concern, get them checked out by a qualified tree specialist.