We are denuding Ludlow of trees – we need to act to limit damage to the environment and biodiversity

We have been discussing the loss of trees in Ludlow a lot of late. Only yesterday, someone came up to me and said: “You can see it walking along the Breadwalk. Looking back to the town, there is much less tree cover than ten years ago.” I have no doubt that we are losing tree cover in the conservation areas in Ludlow. We are also losing a lot elsewhere in Ludlow too.

Some new trees have been grown but a study of tree felling in Ludlow’s conservation areas over the last five years shows that applicants planned to replant only one fifth of the 218 trees they wished to fell. At the same time foliage was reduced on more than 300 trees.

There are very good reasons for felling and managing trees. What we lack in Ludlow and across Shropshire is any system for ensuring that we get a net increase in tree cover and biodiversity.

Tree felling in town centre conservation areas over last five years
Symbols are at the centre of six figure post codes

Owners only need to give notice of felling or managing a tree if it is subject to a tree protection order or lies within a conservation area. That means we can track the loss of trees more accurately in Ludlow’s town centre than we can in the rest of the town. For this article, I looked at the Ludlow, Gravel Hill and Galdeford conservation areas, but excluded Whitcliffe (part of the Ludlow Conservation Area) because that is managed woodland.   

Over the five years from September 2014 to August 2019, notices were lodged with Shropshire Council to fell 220 trees in the conservation areas (a further eight notices were in progress at the end of August 2019). The council objected to the felling only one case – an application to fell a silver birch tree on Linney. Ludlow Town Council had said that tree had sufficient public amenity value to justify a tree preservation order to prevent felling. Another application to chop down an ash at St Leonards was withdrawn after both the town council and Shropshire Council objected to its removal.

Ludlow Town Council objected to a further 19 tree felling applications, usually on the advice of its volunteer tree warden, Peter Norman, but Shropshire Council’s tree team did not agree with those objections.

There are many good reasons for felling trees. They become diseased, grow too large, pose a danger, crowd each other out and undermine walls. But we must be concerned if trees are not being replaced, on-site or elsewhere.

Trees must be managed

The axe is currently hovering over dozens of trees along the A49 as soon as the Foldgate Lane development gets underway. Very healthy cherry trees and hornbeams were lost in April at Spencer Manufacturing on Parys Road. The Castle Street Norway Maple is due to be axed. And, infamously, a Norway Maple was felled on the Sidney Road green space.

In the conservation areas, those giving notice of tree felling said that they only planned to plant 49 replacement trees for the 218 trees felled, a one in five replacement rate. Even if other trees have been planted, the number of trees in Ludlow’s conservation areas does look to be falling. That’s what can be seen from the Bread Walk and Whitcliffe.

Ludlow from Whitcliffe

Both Ludlow Town Council and Shropshire Council have declared a climate emergency. Increased tree cover is widely seen as a way of helping store more carbon and helping limit the growing threat of climate change. Biodiversity and climate emergency are also inexorably interlinked. We must champion trees and biodiversity as part of our commitment to address the climate emergency.

We are still a green town but my approximate count of tree loss gives us a clue as to what is happening over the longer term.

What does this mean for biodiversity? That is harder to judge. While trees are being lost, many canopies are growing. But over the same five years, notices were given of intention to manage the growth of 318 trees in the conservation areas. This often involved cutting branches from the bottom of the crown or removing branches that have outgrown the garden, street or churchyard they were planted in. And, of course, any replacement trees planted will be smaller than those they replace for a decade or more.

We need to think of innovative ways to increase tree cover in Ludlow and across Shropshire. That will be the subject of my next article.

4 thoughts on “We are denuding Ludlow of trees – we need to act to limit damage to the environment and biodiversity

  1. Each tree chopped down should be replaced by another. If an incentive can be given to the tree planter ( Publicity ,a plaque, people like to be liked children involved etc pick your incentive ) it could encourage tree planting.
    Is there an organisation other than the council, a voluntary society , (there is a warden) that can maintain, supervise the existing trees.
    Just a couple of thoughts to consider.

  2. Hi Andy, I’ve just walked back from town towards Sheet Road, and notice that there appear to be at least two trees which are dying. One is the Mountain Ash? outside the Youth building, next to the police station, and the other is opposite the junction of Weeping Cross Lane/Sheet Road/Lower Galdeford – it’s a flowering red leaved cherry – there are a lot of bare branches on both trees even though the leaves don’t appear to have died. No idea what the problem is, but hope it isn’t widespread around the town.

  3. I rue the day about 10 years’ ago when a political decision based on purely economic criteria saw Ludlow”s local representation (by South Shropshire District Council) subsumed …. morphed ,,., into a new Unitary authority called Shropshire Council. It isn’t only our tree population that has suffered greatly as a result of that fateful (central) government, decision. As it turns out, SC IS financially incompetent.

    Good local representation transcends political affiliation, keep up the good work, Andy.

  4. A further thought – did Shropshire Council submit a ‘Block’ bid under year 1 of the Government’s new £10m, two-year, scheme designed to encourage tree planting in urban areas?

    Announced by Michael Gove only in May, year 1 of the scheme closed to Block bidders on 31 August.

    The Forestry Commission runs the scheme under the title of the Urban Tree Challenge Fund in support of Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan and the Government’s manifesto commitment to plant one million urban trees by 2022. Year 2 of the scheme is open to bidders who are individuals.

    Coincidentally (forgive the lateral thinking) in October at a date to be decided, Defra will host an exploratory meeting of the ‘Corvedale Catchment’ of individuals and groups interested in becoming involved in flood mitigation at committee level.

    Now, it is widely accepted that trees mitigates against flood damage as confirmed by a 2016 study led by the Universities of Birmingham and Southampton – that planting trees could reduce the height of flooding in towns by up to 20%; and that strategic planting on flood plains could help towns downstream reduce the ‘peak height’ of flood. (source: Guardian newspaper).

    So my question is, should the parties that are interested in conserving and planting trees join forces with those with an interest in flooding?

    The activities of the newly formed Corvedale Catchment are being organised by the National Flood Forum which recently hosted a ‘get-to-know-you’ gathering of experts, local farmers and individuals affected by flooding for a drinks and nibbles evening at Culmington. There, Heather Shepherd NFF’s Flood Recovery Specialist and Head of Engagement & Technical Support, outlined the way Defra intends to coordinate a multi-agency initiative to guide direction and budgets.

    In reply to questions, Heather said she anticipated that some of the work of Shropshire’s Slow the Flow ‘leaky dam’ project would be integrated in the proposed Defra activity. Leaky dams act naturally to slow the flow of surface water whilst man-made dams mimick that activity. Coincidentally, felled and fallen trees are used to build the dams. So here we have a virtuous circle where both living and dead trees play a central role in flood control.

    Shropshire Council is the budget holder for Defra’s Corvedale Catchment. Some people, myself included, question whether or not this money is, or should be, ring-fenced.

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