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.
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 Another application to chop down an ash at St Leonards was withdrawn after both the town council and Shropshire Council objected to its removal.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.
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.
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.