The BBC reports that Great Yarmouth Council has decided against planting fruit trees on the South Quay:

A council will not plant fruit trees in public places because of fears windfalls could be “used as missiles”.

Work on the Queen’s Green Canopy along Great Yarmouth’s South Quay will not feature apple, plum or pear trees, the borough council decided.

Labour councillor Marlene Fairhead questioned the suitability of fruit trees along South Quay, saying “they cause a bit of a hazard”.

“The fruit drops off, nobody claims it, it gets slippery, and also children pick it up and chuck it at each other,” she told the BBC.

“It’s a health and safety issue really. You get elderly people walking along the pavements.

“They assured us they will not plant them along the kerbsides.”

Councillor Fairhead has a very low opinion of her people, both the kids she thinks will pelt each other with rotting plums, and the old folk who will skid over on them.

Want to know why no-one claims the fruit, Councillor? I’ll tell you. It’s because people don’t know they are allowed to, and/or they are unaware that the variety grown is palatable. You meet with apple trees aplenty in the countryside, and they frequently taste disgusting. That is because they do not breed true when cross-fertilised: that apple tree that grew from a discarded core is unlikely to produce worthwhile fruit. But I can assure the councillor that people are not shy about harvesting food, particularly if the council were to put a sign on the trees saying: “Community resource. Please take what you need.” And they could easily plant varieties that would ripen in series. Hell, if they can’t get the public to pick apples, then they could tip off a local food bank to collect them. People collect sloes. They collect brambles. Even bilberries, with the aid of a ridiculous wooden comb whose name I forget. They will certainly take apples, plums etc if they know they can. I certainly would. But I would leave them alone if I was under the impression that someone else had the intention of harvesting them or if I thought they were ornamental varieties.

As an ecologist, few things rankle more than street-tree stupidity. I have recommended fruit trees to developers before, to be met with a pained grimace. “They’re messy,” is the reply. “People don’t harvest the fruit.”

Fruit trees are good because they have flowers (popular with insects) and, um, fruits, which are popular either with humans or birds. Native trees are host to plenty of insects, which in turn become food for blue tits etc.

What do councils plant instead? Frequently non-native species with no biodiversity value. If non-native trees have insects on them at all, they are likely to be non-native insects. And that makes them of low intrinsic biodiversity interest.

Great Yarmouth Council is going to plant:

A selection of trees, including honey locust, English oak and hornbeam

Two native tree species and one non-native tree, which has a single insect known to be associated with it. All three will drop leaves in autumn, which could conceal dog chocolate, and/or cause the elderly to unwillingly slide.

The Custard Curdles

There is something the professional eye will have noticed about one of the three photos the BBC uses to illustrate the story – it’s from Mr. Google, and I’ve clipped a very similar view out of his excellent application Google Earth to use as the featured image here.

What is curious about this image?

Great Yarmouth has already put in tree guards. They look like rather good quality ones too. Not those rubbish wooden ones. These are metal railings. Why would this be odd? There they are, ready for the trees to come. It was with great foresight that Great Yarmouth put these in… according to Mr. Google, at least 15 years ago.

In fact, in aerial photographs from 2006, we can see not only the tree guards, but the trees they are guarding too. In the next clear image, dated 2017, the tree guards are empty. Every single tree has been removed. And the tree guards have remained forlornly waiting for a new job for the subsequent 5 years.

The two-year project involves planting more than 500 trees by March 2023 in urban areas of Great Yarmouth, as part of the Forgotten Places: Greening Coastal Towns and Cities initiative.

The total budget of £261,840, the council said, included £40,000 of Town Deal government money to replace trees along South Quay that had to be dug up in 2013 after they failed to thrive.

OK, so the tree guards have actually been empty for nigh on ten years. And that wince-worthy budget? About £500 per tree. Trees can be had for next to nought, and the public could be roped in to plant them. This is a colossal waste of public dosh.

Now, if you have a very professional eye, you might have noticed something else, too. Them thar tree guards appear to be quite close together, don’t they?

Yes. They are. On the aerial photograph you can estimate the space between the centres as 13 feet. Perfect, one might think, for a dainty little fruit tree. Not a lumbering oak, which when fully grown will span 25 metres.

Conclusion

Few things annoy this ecologist more than planting the wrong kind of street tree. Maybe fruit trees will not thrive so close to the salty lower reaches of the River Yare. I would plant a range of kinds to see what works. But oaks won’t do unless you go for fastigiate forms, whereas the best kind for biodiversity are the kind that grow into giants with open crowns. A row of holm oaks would certainly thrive, but have low biodiversity scores.

Something that annoys this ecologist even more than the wrong kind of street tree is the use of plastic turf in front gardens as faux lawns. This is so stupid that I would reserve such material for sports pitches if I could. So unless you could persuade me that your front lawn is actually a tennis court, sling yer hook! No Astroturf for you.

Actually, that’s a thought. Perhaps Great Yarmouth council could plant plastic trees? No insects, no birds, no fruit, no leaves in autumn, no mess at all. And most of all, no hazards for the witless public to worry about.

6 Comments

  1. Maybe the people who would normally have nudged the heavy-witted council officers toward more sophisticated environmental thinking, are all off setting themselves alight or gluing themselves to random objects in the name of Extinction Rebellion!

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  2. These days when all costs are spiralling I would have thought that free food bounty in the form of council provided food from planted fruit trees on their own streets would have been fought over rather than be spurned. This might have become a future scenario with people determined to protect their own trees from depredations of others. Hoards of Norwich scrumpers descending upon the street orchards of Great Yarmouth. Someone could write a film script.

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  3. The first duty of an inhabitant of forlorn neighborhoods, like the village of —, is to use all possible influence to have the streets planted with trees. To plant trees, costs little trouble or expense to each property holder; and once planted, there is some assurance that, with the aid of time and nature, we can at least cast a graceful veil over the deformity of a country home, if we cannot wholly remodel its features. Indeed, a village whose streets are bare of trees, ought to be looked upon as in a condition not less pitiable than a community without a schoolmaster, or a teacher of religion; for certain it is, when the affections are so dull, and the domestic virtues so blunt that men do not care how their own homes and villages look, they care very little for fulfilling any moral obligations not made compulsory by the strong arm of the law; while, on the other hand, show us a Massachusetts village, adorned by its avenues of elms, and made tasteful by the affection of its inhabitants, and you also place before us the fact, that it is there where order, good character, and virtuous deportment most of all adorn the lives and daily conduct of its people.

    (Downing, A.J. “On the Improvements of Country Villages.” Rural Essays, edited by George William Curtis, New York, 1853. 229–235.)

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  4. I recall living at Double Oak, between Dallas and Fort Worth and sited upon sandy soil, where there was a competition to grow the mighty trees and, as Downing wrote (above) adorn our lives. All attempts failed. We left before the Double Oakers tried more suitable arboreal adornments.

    Today I live in deep Norfolk where we have no council-planted trees but the main road in my part of town is blessed with wide grass verges. But trees we have a plenty of all different species from towering oaks and horse chestnuts to more diminutive hornbeams and aspens. Those adjacent to the verges provide irresistible smell-stations for my dogs as they are walked.

    This contrasts with my home setting in East London as a youth: row upon row of housing with plane trees along the roads. These trees were pruned every autumn with main branches reduced to stubs. The tree bark would peel all year into irregular patches leaving the tree trunks like Picasso artworks. I was told plane trees withstood the pollution in our air best, although I recall the roads with more prestigious housing had different tree species.

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  5. The total budget of £261,840, the council said, included £40,000 of Town Deal government money to replace trees along South Quay that had to be dug up in 2013 after they failed to thrive.

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. If only Councils would spend money wisely, then monitor and look after projects instead of forgetting about them. So much in the way of “environmentalism” actually amounts to no more than expensive tick-box exercises that achieve nothing and waste a lot.

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