Competing arborist reports & Phil’s fig 4.10.2010


I’ve said from the first day that I read council’s arborist report on Laman Street that a single report is inadequate. I’ve also said with irritating frequency that the term ‘independent’ when it comes to consultants needs replacing with some new term which incorporates who the consultant is working for.

No matter how experienced or eminent an expert, there will be someone out there who sees things differently. I read an interesting article from a few years ago about the well-known arborist who first assessed the Laman Street trees for Newcastle City Council.

He was charged with assessing the trees on North Ryde Common. There were over 100 trees. This was reported in ‘The Weekly Times Online an ‘independently owned suburban newspaper, established in 1921 and serving Sydney’s north western district’.

‘As few as four trees in North Ryde Common will face the chop following latest tests carried out by Ryde City Council using state-of-the-art technology. This was good news for Council who in September received an arborist report by Dennis Marsden of The Sugar Factory detailing that 102 trees in the park were unhealthy with a possibility of 36 trees facing immediate removal.’

The second report used a method called ‘Sonic Tomograph Testing’ so we’re not comparing apples with apples, and there was obviously more information available to arborist number 2. It’s an alarming example of how unreproducible and unscientific a lot of tree assessment work is.

36 vs 4 in Ryde. Please. It’s a bit like 14 vs zero in Laman Street depending on your expert. 

My favourite line in the article is

‘Cr Nicole Campbell said: “Ryde Council is for a more pro-active approach to saving our natural assets which are just as important as our built environment.”‘

Certainly more pro-active than Newcastle City Council. We’re about renewal up here.

In a follow-up article the Ryde Public Works Manager said the trees being removed would be replaced with a similar specimen on the day of their removal. Lucky Ryde. But then they don’t have to wait for over-priced tree vaults. Or infrastructure work.

And here’s an unsubstantiated rumour for you. In 2004 half the trees were removed from Tyrrell Street, our other( formerly) stunning avenue of figs . The various reasons given for this are:

  • the trees were in a hollow [they were on a hill]
  • the trees had compromised root-plates [especially the ones council amputated]
  • the trees were in the way of the substation upgrade. Sorry, this point is incorrect. This was not given as a reason even though everyone except a few council employees thought it was the reason.
  • When I asked at the charade why the trees above the substation were not unhealthy, while the ones below were, council’s arborist said it was because they were a different height. Whatever.

So I had always thought that cabling was the issue – meaning the whole street had to be dug up for 6 to 12 months to run cables up and down, not to mention further digging to fix the broken water main that resulted from the work – but the unsubstantiated rumour from Deep Throat [if you’re too young to remember, he was the guy who gave the Watergate journalists their inside info] said a huge transformer for the substation could not be delivered under the beautiful avenue of Hill’s fig trees because it was too tall. A survey had discovered this pesky problem in preparation for the substation upgrade.

I just googled ‘how large is a transformer’ and found the answer ‘the size of a small house’.

Reminds me of another unsubstantiated rumour about why we got a new still-too-small Tourle Street Bridge: that’s the one that crosses the north arm of the Hunter River on the way to visit Our Glorious Coal Piles on Kooragang Island – because They couldn’t deliver the new coal loader parts over the old bridge.

And lastly, I have to share a new genus of fig tree with you. Do you recall the council meeting where we were told that liquidambars had been the species choice for Laman Street? 

This was because they were the best choice/the safest choice/the most beautiful choice/known to provide most food for native animals/ the least likely to cause infrastructure damage/the least likely to drop branches/the least likely to fail/the best at capturing storm water/the most popular tree in Newcastle  available now.

At that same meeting, elected councillors were told of a world first happening for Newcastle. Apparently the replacement fig trees for Laman Street –  that have been grown for long enough to reach 3.5metres – will have better roots than our trees’ roots, that have, after all, only been good enough so far to hold the trees up for 80 years and withstand a 1 in 100 year storm. The lovely person who interviewed me for the Laman Street history project [you just had to ring and make an appointment] had been proudly made aware by council that this was a new genus.

A friend came up with a name for it: Ficus microcarpa var. Phillii or Phil’s fig, after our arborist.

What do you think? Home


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