Chestnut tree in Allcroft Road, summer 2018The same tree in Winter 2018The same Chestnut tree in Summer 2019
Pollarding is carried out to many of Camden’s street trees as a matter of routine. This is not always appropriate as some species do not take kindly to this treatment; it can cause harm and potentially kill the tree. It also reduces the canopy of leaves that is one of the main benefits of trees: trees support biodiversity and help to mitigate the impacts of air pollution. Trees contribute to London’s resilience to the consequences of climate change, such as extreme weather events like flooding and heatwaves. Many of these trees need better care than they are currently receiving.
Trees in Marsden Street, Bassett Street and Rhyl Street. Pollarding has been carried out in Rhyl Street even when trees are a long way from buildings.The winter flowering plum trees in Rhyl Street used to look beautiful in blossom. Nowadays there are hardly any blossoms to see due to pollarding.The same type of tree in London Borough of Islington is allowed to flourish (Feb 2019).The type of pollarding carried out to the plum trees in Rhyl Street is called ‘topping’. Despite more than 25 years of literature and seminars explaining its harmful effects, topping remains a common practice. Topping is the indiscriminate cutting of tree branches to stubs or lateral branches, with the result that are not large enough to sustain the life of the tree. The most common reason given for topping is to reduce the size of a tree. Owners often feel that their trees have become too large and fear that tall trees may pose a hazard. Topping, however, is not a viable method of height reduction and it has been shown that it does not reduce the perceived hazard. Topping often removes 50 to 100 percent of the leaf-bearing crown of a tree. Because leaves provide the food for a tree, removing them can temporarily starve it. The severity of the pruning triggers a sort of survival mechanism, putting the tree under severe stress; the tree activates latent buds, forcing the rapid growth of multiple shoots below each cut, as it needs to put out a new crop of leaves as soon as possible. If a tree does not have the stored energy reserves to do so, it will be seriously weakened and may die. A stressed tree is more vulnerable to insect and disease infestations, and large, open pruning wounds expose the sapwood and heartwood to attack.Trees form a variety of shapes and growth habits, with the goal of presenting their leaves to the sun. Topping removes the ends of the branches, often leaving ugly stubs and destroys the natural form of a tree. Without leaves, a topped tree appears disfigured and mutilated. With leaves, it is a dense ball of foliage, lacking its simple grace. A tree that has been topped can never fully regain its natural form.The canopy of the purple-leaved plum trees used to frame life in Rhyl Street, and their blossoming in February was an eagerly awaited event. The mutilated trees are now a sad reminder of what has been lost.