THE Bretton oak, which featured in essentialARB June 2022 (‘Old trees in conflict with concrete’), has finally suffered the inevitable fate which appears to await ancient and veteran trees in conflict with concrete, without moving an inch over hundreds of years.

The 600-year-old ancient oak tree in Ringwood, Bretton, has been felled by Peterborough Borough Council because the root system was allegedly causing structural damage to a nearby property. 

The tree and others of a similar vintage were protected with a covenant in 1970 long before any houses were built, stipulating any future properties should not be erected too close to the trees, to avoid any potential issues with the roots. A planning application was granted in 1998 by Peterborough Borough Council for houses to be built but with full consideration of the covenant. So much for official tree protection, because the Bretton oak was the only tree remaining from the original line of oaks protected. 

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According to reports, one of the properties had a rear extension built which significantly reduced the distance from the house to the tree. The roots of the last tree standing were allegedly affecting the property and the homeowner wanted the council to cover the cost of the insurance. But the council came up with the alternative idea of felling the tree, which presumably worked out to be much cheaper. That decision was fought by local residents, who asked the council to install root barriers instead but, some two and a half years later, the tree has finally been felled.

This sort of thing happens all the time, despite clearly overblown claims about protection afforded to ancient and veteran trees. I recall a situation some 20 years ago with a major development on a site in the middle of my home town. There was a wizened old oak in the hedge separating the site from the main road. It would clearly have been classed as a veteran tree and, looking back, it was probably not far off from ancient.

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Local residents held a series of meetings at which the fate of the tree was raised. One local worthy, an architect or something like that, stood up and stated how the developers could not touch the tree because it was subject to a preservation order. I walked past the site on the day the work started to see centuries of cellulose and lignin laying prostrate on the ground.

The message to old trees – don’t mix with concrete.