We can’t see the trees for the (urban) forest


In an earlier post I mentioned a company in the US called  National Tree Preservation whose great logo is ‘Saving the urban forest one tree at a time’. They use a process to improve the roots of damaged veteran trees. (If anyone knows of someone who does that here please contact me at lamanfigs@gmail.com )     


I received an email from a  friend who’s an arborist. He gave some suggestions about how to improve the health of the Laman St figs. Because arborists seem to disagree so often [except when it comes to going out on a limb (as it were) and actually writing a report saying that a tree isn’t unsafe] it’s unsurprising that at least one of the arborists at the charette said that tree preservation ideas were fanciful.       

The arborist interested in tree preservation said,   

 ‘It’s true that the figs in Laman St are old and that many Figs failed in the June long weekend storm event of 2007. But the ones left standing didn’t. This to me is the strongest argument to say that [Mr Marsden’s] assumptions are [debatable and] based on referencing of [only] a few authors, and some classic failures of a few trees that had very poor root architecture.      

 However, most Hills Figs are still standing, which says more about their growth patterns than the two trees that did fail. Council can do a lot more.      

 I feel that a wider range of options … hasn’t been explored:      

  • retro fitting root zones within Laman St to encourage stabilising root growth This is quite feasible, as given the opportunity to grow, roots will do just that.
  • There has to be a means where roots can be encouraged to grow in formed structures under Laman St but still allowing for vehicle access.
  • Retro fitting using structural soils, placing large pipes with suitable growing media under the road and other techniques haven’t even been considered.

The excavation to examine the root architecture and the use of tree radar would have cost almost as much.     

Picture from Brisbane Times: moving a 7 metre fig into the Roma Parkland

  •  Pruning strategies stated in the report [by Mr Marsden] are alarmist and highly exaggerated. Small amounts of height reduction pruning, often by 1 – 2 metres only can make huge differences in wind loads and Ken James of Melbourne University has published findings supporting this.  [Mr Marsden’s] report proposes massive height reduction based on structurally derived mathematical formula, which he himself discounts as being applicable.
  •  Figs develop aerial root structures and these are present on scaffold branches but are routinely removed. When they reach the ground, they grow into significant prop forms and reduce the risk of large branch failure due to included bark and notch development dramatically. Aerial root development should be encouraged by placing pipes filled with moist peat moss into the soil and connected to the branches where they currently sprout.
The main flaw [in the report] is that none of these options were explored and that he concludes that only removal in the long term is suitable.     

 His use of SULE [the ‘safe useful life expectancy’ of a tree] ratings is [outdated]. Even the author, Jeremy Barrell, later published works that found flaws in SULE as a system and he completely revised his approach developing a Tree A-Z system. 15 years after SULE was published, it’s no longer applicable according to its author. It is highly subjective, and is based on one person’s opinion at that point in time. ‘   

    I found it refreshing that someone was talking about an alternative to either whole-of-street removal or a staged removal of all the trees.    



 Differentiating between the forest and the trees as the logo of National Tree Preservation does reminded me of an interesting article from treenet, a not-for-profit organisation based in South Australia, dedicated to improving the urban forest. The article was by Greg Moore and was called ‘Urban trees worth more than they cost’.      

‘Urban forestry comes from a forestry tradition of managing groups of trees for their production values, while arboriculture comes from a horticultural tradition that focuses on the tree as a specimen.       

 In focusing on the urban forest it is easy for the importance of the individual specimen to be minimised and undervalued, which could see the removal of individual trees as long as the forest is maintained.        

Clearly neglecting the removal of single trees could see the forest as a whole reduced as a consequence, but the arboricultural focus on the specimen ensures that the forest is undiminished.’       


In other words, look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves; look after the trees and the forest will take care of itself.       

 I read on Newcastle City Council’s website that if a tree is removed it may not necessarily be replaced in the same place. So you may maintain the forest without maintaining the streetscape.       

Bruce Street in Cooks Hill is a good example as is the eastern end of Laman Street. The former is the place where a fig fell over in the Pasha Bulker storm and there is a very dramatic picture of the uprooted tree lying on its side in Mr Marsden’s report on Laman Street. (This slide was shown at the charette while we were being lectured about the sickness of the trees in Laman Street.) Obviously it would have been dreadful if someone had been hurt by this tree but it did fall in a ‘100-year storm’ and there was no one in the street as the conditions were so dreadful.       

 This tree was never replaced.   

This is also the case with the two trees that are alleged to have moved in the ground in Laman Street at the time of the 2007 storm. These were the tree ‘failures’ that Ian McKenzie talked about in his public voice speech to council, saying they were ‘not catastrophic’ failures. Councillors resolved within some months of the storm to have these trees replaced but this never happened. One would have to wonder why.   

Surely if elected councillors want something done, council officers should do it or come back to council and tell them why it hasn’t been done or can’t be done. If the issue with the trees having to be taken out of Laman Street is tree safety rather than clearing the way for the Art Gallery then new trees would have been planted in 2008, surely.     

I was reading about how to determine that a tree is of significant value to the landscape and one of the articles I found referred to the City of Parramatta. The criteria there are:  


The level of landscape significance has been determined using the following key criteria as a guide:  


  • • The subject tree is listed as a Heritage Item under the Local Environment Plan (LEP) with a local, state or national level of

significance; or  

  • • The subject tree forms part of the curtilage of a Heritage Item (building /structure /artefact as defined under the LEP) and has a

known or documented association with that item; or  

  • • The subject tree is a Commemorative Planting having been planted by an important historical person (s) or to commemorate an

important historical event; or  

  • • The subject tree is scheduled as a Threatened Species as defined under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (NSW) or

the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999; or  

  • • The tree is a locally indigenous species, representative of the original vegetation of the area and is known as an important food,

shelter or nesting tree for endangered or threatened fauna species; or  

  • • The subject tree is a Remnant Tree, being a tree in existence prior to development of the area; or
  • • The subject tree has a very large live crown size exceeding 300m² with normal to dense foliage cover, is located in a visually

prominent in the landscape, exhibits very good form and habit typical of the species and makes a significant contribution to the  

amenity and visual character of the area by creating a sense of place or creating a sense of identity; or  

  • • The tree is visually prominent in view from surrounding areas, being a landmark or visible from a considerable distance.


  • • The tree has a strong historical association with a heritage item (building/structure/artefact/garden etc) within or adjacent the

property and/or exemplifies a particular era or style of landscape design associated with the original development of the site; or  

  • • The subject tree is listed on Council’s Significant Tree Register; or
  • • The tree is a locally-indigenous species, representative of the original vegetation of the area and forms part of the assemblage of

species of an Endangered Ecological Community;  

  • • The subject tree has a very large live crown size exceeding 200m²; a crown density exceeding 70% Crown Cover (normaldense),

is a very good representative of the species in terms of its form and branching habit or is aesthetically distinctive and  

makes a positive contribution to the visual character and the amenity of the area.  

There are a few boxes there to tick in the case of our fig trees.  

We can be proud that Newcastle has an Urban Forest Policy, and proud that the city was a  leader in this field; I said this when I first expressed my concern about the plan to remove the Laman Street trees in November last year.  However, what’s happening in Laman Street and what could happen to our other veteran trees show us that sometimes council can’t see the trees for the forest.       Home


A one-million-dollar avenue of trees and this is how a sign is erected - rubbing against the bark.


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One Response to “We can’t see the trees for the (urban) forest”

  1. Ali Says:

    refreshing indeed to have some tree preservation perspectives. Clearly it is “doable” we just need our civic leaders to realise this. & council officers to have the will to provide such available information on alternatives to removal of our significant Laman st fig trees!

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