UKTC Archive

Re: topping as a management option

Subject: Re: topping as a management option
From: Michael Richardson
Date: Mar 13 2018 15:07:46
Now that is a good explanation.  Glad to know the photo does not represent

Here in Canada we know that topping is bad but we by-in-large do not know
about retrenchment and wildlife posts and the subtleties beyond strict

As you have said all the best conservation prescriptions in the world are
ignored in favour of eventual death.

I have some photos of the Oriental Plane at the Orangery at Kew and these
have provide great support for reductions and preservation of trees that
most thought impossible.

Michael Richardson B.Sc.F., BCMA
Ontario MTCU Qualified Arborist
Richardson Tree Care


On Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 10:38 AM, Jonathan at Astill Treecare <> wrote:

Stumbled on this post this morning and now sat on a log, tapping on my
gadget to offer some clarification.

I can’t say I’m surprised it’s turning into a trial by social media. It’s
a fabulous tree and much deserving of the attention it’s getting after the
considerable works necessitated after half of the crown collapsed during
high winds in January.

For what it’s worth I think its best that I put the jury into the picture.
I was first asked to inspect this tree back in 2013, again in 2016, and
finally after the catastrophic storm damage a couple of moths ago. Like
many of you, I have surveyed / inspected many thousands of trees over the
years and can safely say that this Sycamore has been one of the trickiest.
Multiple objectives included public safety, preservation of this notable
veteran’s longevity, form, amenity and ecological habitat. Broadly
speaking, the people of Frome are a fine, earthy bunch who love their trees
and I knew from the onset that there would be no one management solution
that would tick all the boxes.

In a nutshell, the tree is a lapsed pollard supporting c.12 enormous
primary limbs, some near-horizontal, radiating out from a hollowing bole
(K. deusta and G. australe), with substantial static load, bearing axial
seams, ribs, pruning wounds, tear out wounds and fibre buckling - all the
stuff you would expect to find on a vulnerable veteran. Most critically,
from a management perspective, was the total absence of secondary branching
in the lower or mid crown or epicormic growth (not that I usually expect to
find epicormics on Sycamore). I’m afraid that Acer Ventura’s photo posted
on Jeremy Barrell’s ‘Heritage Tree Management’ Facebook page, gives the
impression that the Sycamore has a dense inner crown, (perhaps due to the
tree in the foreground). In reality, all the assimilative crown was at the
periphery with every limb a lions tail. I’ll post some photos on UKTC when
I’m back in the office to show how it really was before the work was done.

My first report in 2013 (I recall-I’m not in the office) listed a number
of options of management with pros and cons for the trustees to consider.
Nothing happened. A more detailed inspection was undertaken in 2016 where I
visually assessed the physiological and structural characteristics, not
only of the whole tree, but each of the individual 12 major primary limbs
which grew from the lapsed pollard bole and the potential target should any
of them fail. My recommendations included the first phase of selective
crown retrenchment (between 2 or 3 metres on the most vulnerable limbs) as
a matter of high priority, with a view to annual re-inspection, assessment
of pruning response and ongoing review of the next phase accordingly.

No works were undertaken and after 2 years I was told that a substantial
portion of the crown (6 of the 12 primary limbs)had torn off the bole in
high winds in the early hours of 17th Jan 2018. I went to see the tree out
of curiosity, discussed it with the council officer and was then asked to
provide a brief report which was presented at a public committee meeting.

My recommendations were that the remaining limbs were considerably more
vulnerable to further failure due to the huge loss of companion shelter and
further weakening of the decayed bole, part of which was torn away. I had
no confidence that retrenchment pruning was still a viable option as the
selective reduction back to peripheral secondary branches would be
inadequate to render the limbs acceptably safe. A reduction of up to 4
metres distal from the bole would likely result in the death of the tree,
but ensure that the remaining monolith would provide a safe and valuable
ecological feature for many decades. At no point have I suggested that this
post-storm ‘topping’ work is ‘retrenchment pruning’. That ship set sail
after the collapse.

I gave the clients a link to Neville Fay’s excellent paper on Natural
Fracture Pruning Techniques and Coronet Cuts and was very pleased to find
out that they had sourced contractors who were experienced in this work.
When working as a college lecturer, I took students on three occasions to
Ashtead Common to learn about this type of work on their fire damaged
veteran oaks population.

All the large diameter arisings had been cut and laid safely in situ, with
some shaped into rustic benching, as suggested.

I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the tree since the post-storm
work, but have seen some photos. I must say that I think the contractors
have done a sterling job. None of this ‘Bart Simpson haircut stuff. I’m
grateful that Jeremy Barrell has taken time to endorse this type of work on
social media where it is justified and in my opinion, given the
circumstances, justified it is.

I’m fully aware that not everyone will either understand or accept the
final outcome. Such is the nature of our profession.

I expect there may be some comments or questions from the forum. Bear with
me if I don’t respond quickly, it’s just that I find UKTC can be very time
consuming and often wonder how so many of you can find the time to
contribute so copiously and generously.


Jonathan Astill  Dip.Arb.(RFS) M.Arbor.A
Astill Treecare Ltd.
Brickfield Office
Somerset BA9 9AW

Office: 01963 XXXXX
Mobile: 07717 XXXXXX

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The UKTC is supported by Bosky Trees arboricultural consultancy