Work begins to save Tonbridge’s totem tree

Work begins to save Tonbridge's totem tree
ROOT AND BRANCH REFORM: A specialist looses the soil around the tree's root system PHOTO: Craig Matthews

SPECIALIST treatment started last week on the horse chestnut tree on Tonbrige’s River Lawn that became a cause celebre before Christmas.

The tree is on the boundary of the new Tonbridge Medical Group surgery, which is being built by Assura on the site of the Teen and Twenty Club.

It was scheduled to be cut down until supporters of the campaign group Keep River Lawn Green [KRLG] staged a week-long vigil around it – and in the branches.

The protesters called on the developer to save the tree, which suffers from bleeding canker, and Assura have authorised leading arboriculturalists to treat it.

‘We are grateful that Assura not only listened to the enormous outpouring of public and press support our campaign generated, but have also gone above and beyond in ensuring the health and longevity of our well-loved horse chestnut’

The decision, which should see the structure saved if it does not pose a threat to health and safety, was greeted with jubilation by protestors, who praised Assura’s sensitivity on the matter.

Lucy Athey, KRLG’s secretary, said: “Assura have been considerate and transparent, letting us know in advance the nature of the work and when it is scheduled so we could warn our supporters not to panic if they saw the tree surgeons.

“This is really the best possible outcome. We are grateful that Assura not only listened to the enormous outpouring of public and press support our campaign generated, but have also gone above and beyond in ensuring the health and longevity of our well-loved horse chestnut.”

Mrs Athey added: “We look forward to an ongoing positive relationship which will deliver an even healthier tree and a medical centre too.”

Sharon Hosegood Associates [SHA] began the work last Friday [January 11] under the supervision of principal consultant Ian Lee.

HIGH HOPES: An arboriculturalist trims the crown of the horse chestnut PHOTO: Craig Matthews

He told the Times: “We’ve appointed a company to carry out a process called soil injection.

“This uses compressed air to loosen up the soil around the roots and also adds nutrients to improve the health of the tree.”

He explained: “The grass around the root system has become a little compacted from years of people walking around on it.”

The second part of the treatment involved pruning the branches where necessary to avoid interfering with the neighbouring construction project

“We also looked at the crown of the tree to see how we can get the branches away from the scaffolding,” said Mr Lee, who is liaising with the builders.

“We are preparing a method statement for the contractors, giving them guidance about where they might need to be careful.”

Last month he and Ms Hosegood conducted an initial inspection using a Tree Radar to examine the root system. “This is still an evolving technology, there are only three of them operating commercially in the country,” he said.

“We tend to use them in 20 to 40 per cent of our work at the moment but it’s growing all the time. I call it my ‘pushcart’ – it costs £25,000.”

SHA was featured on Springwatch last summer, when they used the radar to examine the 1,000-year-old Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, one of the oldest trees in the world which had a 40-metre root system.

Mr Lee has been surprised by the level of interest generated by the Tonbridge conker tree.

The campaign was backed by protesters trying to stop Sheffield City Council cutting down 17,000 trees, and a barrister representing them has offered his services to KRLG for free.

 “It’s very unusual for a single tree to get this kind of attention, using a radar on it,” Mr Lee said. “Assura have really gone far above what a company would normally do.”

Claire Rick, head of public affairs at Assura, said they were impressed by the support for the new medical facility, which will replace surgeries on Pembury Road and Higham Lane – and the tree.

“What has always been striking was both community support for this new medical centre, which will serve thousands of patients in Tonbridge, and passion for the tree,” she said.

“We’re pleased that SHA were able to recommend a series of specialist steps, and work is now progressing well.”


Christmas comes early to Tonbridge as inspection saves conker tree

Tonbridge’s conker tree is saved – for now – after week-long vigil

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