Axing two oak trees to improve views of Ludlow from Whitcliffe Common is the unacceptable face of environmentalism

Update: 1 August 2016

This morning, BBC Radio Shropshire broadcast two interviews on the controversy. In the first, Tracey Huffer and I are interviewed by Genevieve Tudor. Listen here. In the second, Daphne Jones presents the case for the Friends of Whitcliffe Common. Listen here. There has been a lively discussion on whether the trees should be felled or not on the BBC Radio Shropshire Facebook page.

Main article: 28 July 2016

There is a row going on between those who favour felling healthy oak trees on Whitcliffe Common and others, including myself, who find the idea of taking a chainsaw to trees just to improve the view abhorrent.

Last night, Ludlow Town Council voted to object to the proposals to fell two oak trees on Whitcliffe Common. That was the right decision and one I fully support. These trees should be preserved. The managers of the common want the trees cut down and coppiced to improve views towards the historic town. I don’t think this is sufficient justification. Axing good quality oak trees is the unacceptable face of environmentalism.

Shropshire Wildlife Trust manages Whitcliffe Common in partnership with the Friends of Whitcliffe Common. The Wildlife Trust that has applied to cut down eleven trees (16/03003/TCA).[1]

Whitcliffe_tree_plan

These trees are in a conservation area. They do not themselves have tree preservation orders. They have general protection under which the applicant has to give Shropshire Council six weeks’ notice of any felling or other works. Permission is automatically granted unless the council issues a tree protection order (see planning guidance).

Some of the trees that the Trust and Friends want to fell are unsafe. There can be no argument that this work must be done as soon as is practical. Other trees obscure the view towards town but are trees of little merit. The contention with this proposal are two oak trees, which the Trust and Friends say are obscuring view of the historic town centre of Ludlow.

Whitcliffe Common towards Ludlow from toposcope circledView from the toposcopeWhitcliffe Oaks from carpark circledView from the car park

One of the objectives of the Friends of Whitcliffe Common is to: “Open up and maintain the views overlooking Ludlow.” This is a laudable aim but it has to be balanced with ecology and the intrinsic beauty of the trees that are threatened. The Friends and the Wildlife Trust are concerned to maintain views from the car park on the Whitcliffe and from the toposcope. Again, the aim is laudable, especially if this facilitates viewing by people with limited mobility (though neither party to this application makes this point).

Peter Norman is the town council’s honorary tree consultant. He reported to the meeting last night:

My conclusion is that felling of these two oaks should be prevented by imposition of a Tree Preservation Order. This conclusion is based on the following principal considerations:

  • The trees are a prominent feature of the foreground views and clearly visible to the general public – a requirement of TPO procedure;
  • Their aesthetic contribution in “framing” views out from key points on the common and providing a changing panorama as the viewing point changes means that their removal would mean a loss of public amenity;
  • In the long term the further extension of the crowns to a point where they meet or become unsightly could be controlled by crown reduction or lifting to retain views between or beneath the crowns.

I think Norman has this right. There is no case for felling these trees. The objective to maintain views from the common should not lead to the loss of healthy trees. I have objected to the proposal to fell trees 8 and 9 but, in common with the town council, I do not object to plans to cut down other trees.

At the time of writing, the proposal to fell the two oak trees has received 23 objections (16/03003/TCA). The deadline for comments is 9 August and Shropshire Council must make a decision by 16 August. If no decision is made permission to fell the trees is deemed to have been granted.

Notes

[1]. The Wildlife Trust has submitted two applications to fell trees in a conservation area: 16/03003/TCA and 16/02980/TCA. The latter application uses a different plan and different numbers to identify trees. This is not helpful. I read it correctly, and the documentation is far from clear, the Wildlife Trust proposes felling an additional Rowan under 16/02980/TCA (T23) because it is a “tree declining with general evidence of rot.”

7 thoughts on “Axing two oak trees to improve views of Ludlow from Whitcliffe Common is the unacceptable face of environmentalism

  1. Andy, Dennis Powell here at Woodbury, Linney. Keep up the good work – your blog is very much appreciated and the Lib.Dem voice is making itself heard. So good to hear Nick Clegg getting into a strategic position to hold the Govt. to account re Brexit – I feel the Lib. Deems did not do themselves justice at the last election – but the Cons. control the media. Hopefully Philip Dunn will be held to account – have we a candidate like Matthew Green to provide opposition at the next election -in the meantime, keep hammering at the Shrewsbury County Council and help us keep what we still have. Best wishes, Dennis.

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  2. As always your comments are accurately focussed, Andy. I can only quote my own comments on the approved felling of a 250-year old ash tree in St Leonards Churchyard: “The removal of a healthy mature native English tree for no good reason is nothing short of environmental vandalism”. Regrettably there are a number of ‘environmental’ groups in south Shropshire who seem to have no proper understanding of what the word means.

  3. The deciduous trees of Ludlow’s green spaces must always come first before views and should all be under a protection order.. The wildlife need them and so do we

  4. Andy, as you know I appreciate you blogs. However in respect of the Tree debate on Whitcliffe you have incorrectly identified the Rowan tree. The one needing felling is on the path from the center of the Common towards the Severn Trent Water site. Last year half the tree fell across the path and the remainder of the tree is in a dangerous state of decay. The proposal to fell is for public safety , nothing to do with views.
    Regarding views and the oaks, these are young self sets only 30/40 years old. In 1998 the Whitcliffe Management plan was drawn up and one of the main aims was to maintain iconic views over Ludlow. The view from the top of Whitcliffe is THE internationally known iconic view. in that era , over 700 tons of trees were removed from the Common with aid or horses to pull the trees out. if this had not been done , there would be no view of Ludlow at all from the top of Whitcliffe. . 50 plus new oaks have been planted on the Common in the past 10 years , also hornbeam , but in areas that do not affect views and are away from general public footfall and so more suitable for wildlife .

  5. You may notice that FOWC members have today come out in force to support the planning application. I thought that the objectors, who are a disparate bunch of individuals representing nobody in particular, were only questioning on ecological grounds the need to fell two oak trees (“only” 30-40 years old), but this was evidently too strong stuff. If the supporters had taken more interest in the potential loss of views over Mortimer Forest threatened by proposed housing developments on Linney I might have had some sympathy with their view. In any case, it seems that Kim Il-Sung is alive and well in Ludlow.

    1. Okay Andy and Steve above, in terms of the views to Ludlow (and anywhere else) nobody has a right to a view (in planning terms) – it is not material in decision making. Therefore, the trees should stay. However, Shropshireland and its cohorts will argue otherwise.

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