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A scene of the trees cut down in Rialto earlier this month. Pocket Forests via Instagram
THE MORNING LEAD

'People don't know what's being lost': Calls for more notice after trees felled in Dublin city

A number of recent fellings by the council have sparked local concerns.

LOCALS AND COUNCILLORS in Dublin City have said that more notice and public consultation should be offered by the council before trees are felled.

The concerns come after a number of longstanding trees have been felled in recent weeks for a variety of reasons, sparking frustration and concern among locals in Dublin 8 and Dublin 6.

The issue was highlighted by Catherine Cleary of Pocket Forests – a social enterprise that aims to grow small pockets of native woods in urban areas – when she noticed that a longstanding willow tree that she said had been growing for decades was chopped down in Rialto near Rialto Bridge.

“We are at a loss. This is a veteran willow that has been growing in Rialto for decades. It was cut down on Sunday. If you’re passing by the bridge maybe you can add a flower. Put your hand on what’s remaining of it and feel the sadness flow through you,” Clery wrote via the Pocket Forests Instagram page on 6 October.

The post goes on to state that the willow tree was one of 20 trees felled by the council, and criticises the lack of engagement with the local community. Clery also questions whether other options other than felling could have been considered.

Speaking The Journal, she said that arriving to see that the tree was felled had been “shocking”.

“The loss of a mature tree like that, it’s incalculable, and people don’t know what’s being lost,” she said.

The tree cover in the south inner city is already miserably low. When you lose a mature tree it’s a huge loss.

Clery said that in some cases trees are seen as potential liabilities, with overgrown branches, fallen leaves, or other aspects leaving the council open to personal injury claims.

Former DCC chief executive Owen Keegan told the Business Post in 2019 that if he could, he would cut down every roadside tree in Dublin to reduce the exposure of the local authority to personal injury claims. 

However, Clery said that instead of being sources of potential liability, trees are “an incredible asset”.

“They are critical infrastructure in a much more climate extreme future. That tree’s roots would have been… helping the soil absorb a lot of rain, helping not have pollution washed into waterways,” she said.

Screenshot 2023-10-26 at 18.15.11 The trees before they were chopped down. Google Maps Google Maps

Felling trees

The management of public trees is overseen by the Parks and Landscape Services section of Dublin City Council. In its latest Development Plan (2022-2028), the council has a goal to increase the tree canopy cover to a minimum of 10% in all areas across the city.

It also commits to “retaining and safeguarding trees that make a valuable contribution to the environment”. There have been numerous anecdotal reports recently of trees being chopped down, possibly as a result of damage following storms.

Local authorities across the country have come under fire in the past for their approach to tree management. Noteworthy investigation from 2020 found multiple concerns with how councils managed their trees, with little or no oversight in some areas (though DCC performed better than most).

As well as the recent felling in Rialto, there have been a number of other cases of local concerns in relation to tree felling in Dublin 8 and the south of the city. 

Two mature trees were cut down on Cork Street at the beginning of October, and a community group in Rathmines highlighted a number of trees that were being felled on Leinster Road in Dublin 6 in recent days.

Locals contacted city councillors after a number of working men started felling longstanding hornbeam trees there on Monday, 16 October.

Green Party councillor Carolyn Moore got in touch with the council, saying she had been contacted by “residents frantic that trees are being felled on Leinster Road” and that councillors had not been informed in advance of the works in question. 

In response, the council sent Moore the report from the Tree Officer that concluded that eight semi-mature hornbeams had been planted too close to boundary walls on the street, and were significantly overhanging into adjoining gardens.

The officer concluded that the trees would not be suitable for pruning – to cut them back – and that the trunks would likely begin to affect the walls in question in 10-15 years time, which could cause collapse. On this basis, the officer concluded that the trees be felled.

The council informed Moore that it would delay the felling of the trees in order to properly inform the local residents (three of the eight had already been cut down at this point), and apologised for the oversight.

Speaking to The Journal Moore acknowledged that in certain cases trees may need to be felled in order to protect the public or property, but that the council should be more proactive in communicating with the public.

“People don’t realise the very visceral upset that it causes to people when they see tree felling occurring,” she said.

No one ever likes to see a healthy tree being removed, especially when we need more trees… but sometimes it’s unavoidable. 

Moore said that felling should only occur when all other options have been exhausted. She also said that while felling was unavoidable in some cases, the council should be quicker to replace trees after they are cut down.

“The bigger issue is either the length of time it takes to replace those trees, or in many cases they don’t get replaced at all,” she said.

“Very often a tree will be felled on a street and if you requested a replacement you would be told that it’s not a suitable location.”

But very often in the city there is not a lot space, and applying that logic “you’d never plant street trees”, she said.

“And yet we have targets and objectives to increase tree cover.”

More communication

Sinn Féin councillor Máire Devine agrees that the council should communicate more with the local public as to when and where it will be cutting down trees.

“I think we need a lot more forewarning because this comes up all the time,” she said.

“Especially the near neighbours who are looking at them day-in, day-out, all of a sudden something that’s been there for perhaps their lifetime disappears it would seem without prior leave.”

While she and other councillors are usually informed by the Parks Department of work that will be carried out, she said a notice in the area in question would also help to give residents advance warning.

“There’s nothing not to be gained by informing people,” she said.

In relation to the felled willow tree in Rialto, the report compiled by the council’s Tree Officer found five mature willows were “growing on the slope along the Luas line” at Rialto Bridge and that “their condition is poor”. The officer concluded they should be cut down as a result.

As well as this, the officer recommended the removal of a number of self-seeded ash and willow trees that were in bad condition and provided cover for anti-social behaviour in the area.

Devine said she has been contacted by concerned locals in relation to the felling of the willow tree and the others in Rialto. However, she also said that the council had cleared a lot of overgrowth, which she was happy with.

“What I’m very, very pleased with is that they’ve taken away all that overgrowth, there’s been extremely serious incidents around there,” she said

So I’m delighted from a safety perspective. For myself anyhow, for women and girls walking down there. It was a great hangout and hidey place for all sorts of things.

Council response

In response to queries from The Journal, a DCC spokesperson said that linear park in Rialto “retains a large number and variety of mature trees” and that 35 trees have been planted at St James’s Walk in the last two years.

The spokesperson said that the willow trees had become a safety concern “due to their proximity to the Luas, road and pavement”, and that councillors had been informed four weeks in advance.

In relation to informing the public ahead of time, the spokesperson said:

“It would not be feasible to put signs up on trees to inform the public about future maintenance works. Our policy is to inform local councillors who normally send out the information to local community groups.

“Where we have direct contact with a community group we would also inform them directly.

If there is a local group who wish to find out more information about our policy on trees they can read our City Tree Strategy online or else make contact with us on parks@dublincity.ie. 

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