Sunday, 17 November 2013

It's the pits !!

Our valuable tree pits

Have you every thought about those tarmac'd spaces that are all that's left after a street tree has been removed? They are very important markers for us, and spaces that we keep our eyes on, waiting to get them back in use again. Thankfully, our colleagues in Green Scene in the council have them all listed on Arbortrac, their tree tracking software.

Over the last few years, the edges of our pavements have been under relentless pressure from the utility companies (and now, fibre optic broadband providers). This has resulted in a considerable loss of existing tree pits in some parts of the borough.

A few months ago (when Skanska started to survey Lewisham streets for the placement of the new street lighting that you will have seen going up all over the borough) we noticed that one of our tree pits in Harefield Road had acquired a bright yellow symbol:

We got on to Green Scene straight away which resulted in a timely meeting between them and the Skanska management, which produced a good result: 

"Ward by ward, all columns are to be replaced, however, old column locations do not, in themselves, dictate new placements - rather column distancing and compliance with legislation pertaining to street lighting levels does. 
The potential effects of placing columns very close to, or in, tree crowns were discussed and all agreed that the ideal is that, as far as possible, column positioning avoids tree canopies. It is appreciated that there are site by site considerations - e.g. not all of the trees affected will be LBL trees and other street furniture prohibits column placement, etc.  Paradoxically there are crossover issues for both column and tree planting. It was also agreed that information exchange and better communication flow could do much to negate problems. 
Further to the above, we have supplied them with tree information from our database so they can create layered maps to compare with their existing project maps therefore are able better plan and address tree/column issues. 
We have emphasised that due to the wide range of other pressures on tree planting in general, and the apparent loss of previous tree pits which no longer appear viable, that pits are a precious commodity, therefore these sites can not afford to be lost to lamp columns …"

At the time of writing this blog post, the shiny new lamp post that appeared in this tree pit in Harefield Road has not acquired a lamp, so we are hoping that Skanska will relocate it before wiring it up.   

As you can see, we are helping Green Scene keep on top of these silent tree pit losses, and we would appreciate your help too! The more eyes we have on those pits, the more we can protect them for future re-planting.

If you've got a few minutes more, have a look at the amazing technology now available to contractors when planting trees (like the high-value site documented outside the Old Bailey in the city): 

Greenleaf - specialists in tree pit design

Postscript - July 2014 - Sadly, after much consultation with SKANSKA we have had to relinquish this valuable tree pit. There were too many conflicting constraints on maintaining this pit and, sadly, this means that the lamp had to be located here. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Hilly Fields tree losses

The vicious storm (named St. Jude) that swept across southern England last night reached south London early this morning. Inevitably, there were tree losses across Brockley, including some very sad casualties in Hilly Fields.

They are nearly all on the rise coming up from Adelaide Avenue and at the crown of the park near the children's play park. It seems that the winds swept up and across the park, snapping mature trees like matchsticks: 

The species are maple, Black Poplar and, very sadly, one of the mature willows that sits on the rise coming up Montague Avenue. Arguably, these trees came down because they were rotting or weak, but nonetheless, we have lost some old friends in the last 24 hours. 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

A Breath Of Fresh Air

More and more often we are coming across serious scientific research that backs up our sense that our urban trees are good for us, not just because they look stunning, but because they are making a significant contribution to our health in our gritty city environments. 

A case in point is research recently presented on BBC2's "Trust Me I'm A Doctor" in which the work of Professor Barbara Maher at Lancaster University's Environment Centre revealed the huge benefits of having a screen of the humble (but beautiful) silver birch (betula pendula) placed between houses and busy roads.

After just two weeks of monitoring the effects of the tree screen, the reduction in the amount of iron-bearing particulate traffic pollution was found to be an astounding 50-60% (compared with a row of adjacent houses without the screen). 

Apparently, much of the effect is due to the tiny hairs and ridges on the leaves which collect the pollution. The open structure of the tree canopy also allows the free circulation of air. Each time it rains, the pollution is washed off and the effect is renewed. Given that particulate matter in car exhaust is a serious risk to those with heart disease, this common tree species could provide a relatively inexpensive safeguard for those living along busy city roads. Oh yes, and it's a beautiful tree too! 

(With thanks to Anthony for spotting this item).

Useful links: 

1. entry for silver birch - go here
3. Professor Maher's research paper - go here

Silver Birch outside the Tate Modern in London - February 2008

Notable birch (betula pubescens perhaps?) - Yorkshire Dales - summer 2012

Changing Of The Guard

After a spate of vandalism against our newly planted (2013) street trees earlier this year, your Brockley Society Tree Wardens have been working with the council's Green Scene to find and re-cycle redundant tree guards around the conservation area. 

This guard in Tressillian Road has done 
its job and will be recycled

So far we've identified about 15 guards that can be removed and re-sited. The job of refitting them to provide protection for our still-vulnerable street trees will go ahead in the next few weeks. 

If you spot a tree guard that looks like it's done its job, please drop us a line at 

… and we will pass on the details to the council. 


Friday, 16 August 2013

Biodiversity in the City

Native vs. Exotic Tree Planting

Biodiversity is the term used to describe the degree of variation of life forms within a given territory, or ecosystem (see this Wikipedia article for a comprehensive account: So, the Brockley Conservation Area could, at a stretch, be described as an ecosystem. How we support local biodiversity is something that your BrocSoc Tree Wardens (and others) are trying to keep in mind. 

We already subscribe to the mantra: "Right Tree, Right Place". Trees are best planted with an eye to their location and the eventual size of the mature tree. We wouldn't for example plant an oak on a narrow kerbside; in the city they are really parkland trees, needing the space to spread and extend their wide, bushy canopy. They are also very slow growing and would not survive well in the relatively harsh environment of the kerbside. 

But an article by George Monbiot in today's Environment Guardian raises really interesting points about the pros and cons of planting native and exotic (foreign) species: 

It turns out that native species like oak and birch support a vastly greater number of insects (and mites, and lichens) than imported (exotic) trees. This is mostly because insects have 'co-evolved' for millennia alongside our native trees. So, our native Oak species typically hosts some 284 insect species; birch, 266. Yet the Horse Chestnut (imported from the Balkans) hosts only four. Surprisingly, the London Plane (a hybrid of two exotic species), hosts only one!

To see the complete table (extracted from various scientific papers by The Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust) go here:

So think twice if you are planting trees in your back gardens. Is this a good tree for the location? How large will it grow? In what time? How big will the mature canopy be? How invasive are the roots? Is it a thirsty tree (like the Eucalypts)? And then, just when you thought you were done, think about favouring one of our glorious natives, like this veteran beech spotted in Devon last autumn: 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

OUT'ed - for our notoriety!

TIME OUT picks up our spate of tree vandalism 

Perhaps if you agree that "all publicity is good publicity", then our appearance in TIME OUT in early August was a coup (and judging by the spike in our visitors on 5th August, people were interested in reading more ...)

Click on the image below for a readable enlargement:

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Destruction of street trees

We reported the first incident in May when one of our part-funded trees was snapped in two in Tyrwhitt Road (see

Now we are in the disheartening position of having to report the destruction of a further two trees: one of the two rowans planted at the pedestrian crossing at Brockley Cross, the other, a part-funded street tree on Wickham Road, both destroyed within a few days of each other this past seven days. 

It is hard to understand why people feel the impulse to take out these trees - presumably they are the worse for alcohol at the time - but perhaps not - in which case it's even more incomprehensible. 

Lewisham Council have assured us that all three trees will be replanted in the autumn - they were insured. Cages will also be fitted retrospectively in an attempt to deter further vandalism. 

Anyone with information about the perpetrators should contact the police on 101 or contact the Brockley Safer Neighbourhood Police on 020 8284 8558

Photo courtesy of
Brockley Central/Monkeyboy

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Drought Man's Contract

As welcome as it is, this period of hot weather can spell the end for our newly planted street trees (and for any of our smaller street trees in fact).

If you are looking after a newly planted street tree, please make sure you water it once a week with about 20 litres of water (= two large watering cans or two buckets of water). 

A good dousing is preferable to 'little and often' to encourage the roots to go down deep, rather than to come up to the surface. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Vivat Ulmas!!

Jubilee Tree Planted in Hilly Fields

On Wednesday 22nd May, a disease resistant Elm tree was planted in the eastern section of Hilly Fields to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II. 

Photo courtesy of Karl Brandt

This was a tremendous honour for Brockley being as it was one of only sixty sites across the UK chosen by The Tree Council who are coordinating this initiative, and who supplied the tree. 

Over sixty people attended on the day, from toddlers and teenagers, to octogenarians. 

The ceremony was mostly coordinated by our very own Brockley Society Tree Warden Nicola Ferguson, who was ably helped by students from Prendergast Hilly Fields College, members of the Brockley 50+ Club, the Friends of Hilly Fields, John Thompson, Head of Lewisham Council's Green Scene, Jon Stokes, Programme Director at The Tree Council and our very own eminent local resident, Sybil Phoenix MBE, OBE, founder of the Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust, a Supported Housing Project for single homeless young women. 

The proceedings were added some drama with the arrival of two police officers from the Lewisham Mounted Branch.

Grateful thanks to Glendale for preparing the ground ahead of the planting, and to Jon Stokes of The Tree Council for these photos (unless noted otherwise)

Monday, 20 May 2013

Vandalism - help please ...

In the early morning of Saturday 18th May, one of our new part-funded street trees in Tyrwhitt Road was wantonly snapped in two, by person or persons unknown. 


The incident has been reported to the Met Police and recorded under Crime Reference Number 3210967/13

If you have any information about this crime, please contact the Brockley Safer Neighbourhood Team in the first instance:

It is our intention to have the tree replanted as a priority.

Thank you. 

Anthony, Nicola, Eamonn & James
Tree Wardens
The Brockley Society

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Hilly Fields honoured with Jubilee tree

As part of the on-going celebrations to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, we will be planting the Jubilee Tree donated by the Tree Council at Hilly Fields on Wednesday 22 May.  

Meet at the café from 12.45. Students from Prendergast school will come out at 1.15 pm for the ceremony.  Several people from the Brockley 50+ Club which meets at Brockley Social Club will share some memories of the Coronation with us and then some of them and the students will plant the tree.

This is a prestigious occasion for Brockley as there will only be 60 trees throughout the country to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. A digital record of all 60 plantings will be presented to Her Majesty in June. The tree itself will have a smart plaque which will be readable from smart phones. Please do join us -- Brockley Society tree officers, Friends of Hilly Fields, and Prendergast School students -- for this special occasion. 

If you or anyone you know has memories of the Coronation, do encourage them to attend.

The tree we have selected is a disease resistant English Elm (ulmus procera), a species which was decimated in the 60's and 70's on the arrival of Dutch Elm Disease in the UK. There are two fine surviving specimens in Preston Park, Brighton, believed to be the two oldest surviving specimens in the country:

By Ulmus man (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

PS. Interestingly, there is also a surviving elm in Ladywell Fields, which hardly ever gets any press, so I'll go on a photo hunt soon and post you a picture here ...

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Preaching to the converted ...

Link to BBC News website: Green spaces boosts wellbeing of urban dwellers

Well, no surprise to us, but yet more research to link the considerable benefits of local green space, this time from a UK university who have been collating the data from 5,000 households (10,000 adults) as they move throughout the UK over a period of seventeen years. 

According to Dr Matthew White at the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health based in the Medical Faculty at Exeter University:

"We've found that living in an urban area with relatively high levels of green space can have a significantly positive impact on wellbeing, roughly equal to a third of the impact of being married."

Odd that the rest of us in long-term relationships or those who are single or unattached don't get to feel the benefits, but hey ho, we'll just have to use our imaginations, or just look out of the window on this glorious spring morning: 

2nd May 2013 - View from an attic window this morning

Monday, 1 April 2013

Kick-off for Twelve Trees

This post marks the introduction of our New Plantings map (see the tab above) which details the additions to the street tree stock from 1st March 2013.

Thanks to the generosity of a number of Brockley residents, the conservation area (and beyond) is now home to twelve new street trees, in part, replacing many of the mature trees removed in 2012 due to disease. These trees have been match-funded, with residents sharing the cost 50:50 with Lewisham Council. 

We have attempted to meet the specifications given by our residents whilst also trying to increase the diversity of the species we use, primarily to reduce the risk to our current stock of public space trees from diseases and unusual climactic conditions due to global warming. 

In this rather cold, grey spring, the new trees are not much to look at, but we thought we would give you a flavour of some of what's to come: 

Two Callery Pear, pyrus calleryana, (an ornamental pear native to China and Vietnam) have been planted in Shell Road (on the Lewisham side of the conservation area) and in Wickham Road. Here's a beautiful mature specimen in New York, USA (photo courtesy of at Cornell University): 

A River Birch, betula nigra, (native to eastern USA) has been planted in Tyrwhitt Road, noted for its fabulous autumn colour and exfoliate bark (it peels!). 

And in Breakspears Road, a classic, the Sweet Almond, prunus dulcis, (native to the Middle East and South Asia), the source of almonds and almond oil. Though nothing special in terms of summer foliage, it is stunning in bloom, and very attractive to honey bees, on which it relies for pollination: 

And, for this post, last, but certainly not least, a new oak for Hilly Fields, generously sited in Hilly Fields at the request of a resident of Hilly Fields Crescent. This a quercus robur, (European native), also known as  English or Pendunculate Oak: 

Quercus robur - Hilly Fields
We will post updates about these new plantings in the coming months, and will post in situ photos once the summer arrives and there is something to show you!

Six more trees will be planted in the coming months in collaboration with the Pepys Community Forum Watch this space! 

Nicola, Anthony, Eamonn & James
Tree Wardens
The Brockley Society

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Hilly Fields Fruit Hedge - Update 1

Despite terrible weather, a good 15 or so hardy souls turned up on 16th March to help plant fruit trees and shrubs in five newly created beds to the back of the stone circle on Hilly Fields. We were delighted to have the help and practical support of Jon Stokes and Margaret Lipscombe from The Tree Council (who have funded this project), and our own John Thompson from Lewisham Council's Green Scene who came along to help shift some particularly 'claggy' London clay. We were also joined by volunteers from The Friends of Hilly Fields, Transition Brockley, The London Orchard Project, and, of course, the hard core from The Brockley Society itself. 

Photo courtesy of Friends of Hilly Fields/Phil Hall
Hot soup and reviving beverages were laid on at Hilly Fields Café courtesy of The Tree Council, and Jon Stokes later led a walk around the area to talk about the tree planting in Hilly Fields, and gave us suggestions about how we can best safeguard the trees we have, and plan for the future.

Last but not least, we are very pleased to have made a connection with the pupils and staff of Prendergast Hilly Fields College who came and did some planting on the Friday before. We look forward to working with them again on the Jubilee Tree Planting event planned for May (updates to follow).

We are grateful for the help of Glendale (Green Scene's contractor) who rotivated the plots ahead of time, and who mulched the beds later in the week.



We will be bringing you regular updates about this project as the shrubs and plants become established, and about further plans to regenerate the tree stock in this lovely and precious local park.

Nicola, Anthony Eamonn & James
Tree Wardens
The Brockley Society