What happened to our tree wardens?

What happened to our tree wardens?

First published in Blogs East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Photograph of the Author by

I was sad to read that Waltham Forest is felling trees instead of maintaining them.

It hasn’t always been that way. Where did it go wrong?

Tucked away on my shelves is a folder labelled “National Grid Tree Warden Scheme” containing information about the events and courses run by the borough. Keen tree lovers like myself (no, I wasn’t a hippy but I was a student) took part in excellent training days where we learnt about pests, Tree Preservation Orders, pruning and of course tree identification. It was the first way in which I became involved with community involvement.

The tree warden scheme is run nationally in association with the Tree Council, but not many boroughs take place. Somehow, Waltham Forest allowed themself to slip off the list.

We were taught basic tasks to help maintain street trees – simple pruning, knowing when to snip the loops holding young trees to their stakes, and encouraging neighbours to “adopt” the trees in their streets, giving them water over hot periods, and letting us know of any damage.

Bigger jobs were of course reported to the Aboricultural Officer – a friendly and enthusiastic man – who would ensure the maintenance was carried out appropriately. It sounds like this is what was needed in Walthamstow this week.

Tree wardens used to be a useful resource. Some would go into schools and present assemblies on the subject, and a “junior tree wardens” club was set up.

We also had field trips – led by Derek Austin, a wonderful, salt of the earth arboriculturalist with many years of experience. This then propagated into the wider community, for example after a guided tour around the City of London Cemetery at Manor Park, I twice led other groups around it and taught them what I had picked up about the trees there.

One of the council’s aims was to provide trees in every street. We were encouraged to look out for places where new trees could be planted. I have noticed that in the last few years, where trees have been vandalised, damaged or become ill, they have been removed and the space tarmaced over – in the past we would have seen a new tree planted in their place. Now a mature tree which needed some care has been destroyed. What a sad turn of events!

I suggest that the way Waltham Forest Council could rectify this would be to re-establish the tree warden scheme. It is fun, educational and it does filter down into the community, benefitting the borough. We used to be free eyes and ears for the council, and helped out with simple maintenance too. Let’s have tree wardens in Waltham Forest again.

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