ARBORISTS and academics have criticised an English city's £150,000 roadside tree planters, which are struggling following hot dry weather and vandalism.

The 17 planters hold rowan and maple trees in Hereford, alternating along the central reservation between the railway station and Widemarsh Street. The maples in particular appear to be struggling and four have been snapped or damaged by vandals.

Dr Andrew Hirons, a lecturer in arboriculture and co-author of a guide to selecting trees for towns and cities, said watering of the trees appears “almost certainly inadequate”.

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“Even if these were planted in the ground, they would probably have been stressed, but the fact that they are in limited rooting volumes only serves to accelerate and amplify water stress,” he said.

The recent hot spell in particular means “many parts of the country are experiencing very serious soil moisture deficits and many trees are in real trouble”, he added.

Keith Sacre, co-founder of Treeconomics, which helps councils make better choices on trees, said the idea looked to have been flawed from the start.

“I cannot think of an example where trees in pots have been successful,” he said.

“There is usually a rapid deterioration in condition fuelled by poor management and maintenance. The trees quickly become eyesores, advertisements for poor practice, and provide little or no benefit.”

Architect Sue James, convener of the Trees & Design Action Group, said the problem appeared partly due to the way the road and the trees had been funded and installed separately.

“This is where ‘government money’ is going wrong,” she said. “It hands out bits to green up the city or whatever and if you don’t take it and use it then it goes, so everything is unable to be properly thought through.”

The link road has been dogged by controversy, with management shortcomings in the £40 million project detailed in a council report published the spring.

In order to add greenery which the road lacks, the planters were put forward as a way to add greenery to the area, as part of a £6 million improvement programme jointly paid for by the council and the Government.

The council’s head of transport Coun John Harrington earlier said that while he would have preferred trees in the ground, this could get in the way of the council’s plans to boost cycling and walking, with the adjacent railway station becoming a transport hub.

A Herefordshire Council spokesperson said: “A number of the trees on City Link Road have been vandalised, and our arborists have confirmed that some of the trees are now dead.

“It is disappointing to see these trees, which were planted to bring more green spaces to the city and help contribute towards improved air quality and biodiversity, being deliberately damaged.

“We will be looking to replace the dead trees when the conditions are suitable for planting, which we expect will be in winter.”

The spokesperson could not say what the cost implications of this would be, but explained that Hereford in Bloom rather than the council was responsible for watering the trees.

Its chair Kevin Knipe said: “Our original brief from the council to water all 95 planters [in the city] which we have been doing since the middle of May. Two weeks ago this was increased to include the trees planted in the earth along the City Link Road.

“These are now being watered by us, but I fear that our efforts may be too late to revive the distressed-looking ones. They will have to be replaced if dead.”