UKTC Archive

RE: topping as a management option

Subject: RE: topping as a management option
From: J Finlow
Date: Mar 13 2018 15:19:04

Thank you for posting that history. Really interesting timeline of events , 
and always re-assuring to see similar episodes/timeline of events that lead 
to a potentially controversial outcome when observers don’t know all the 
issues involved.

Especially good when it confirms one's own thoughts - 'its always easy to 
criticise tree surgery , but you might find you should have known what all 
the factors were before commenting' . Needless to say I have been known to 
break my own rules.


Jono Finlow

-----Original Message-----
[] On Behalf Of Jonathan at Astill 
Sent: 13 March 2018 14:39
To: UK Tree Care
Subject: Re: topping as a management option

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 

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 

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