There but for the grace of god…

Tom Wills highlights the importance of an inspection regime for mature trees.

A few years ago on a fine still day, I parked my car in a country lay by in order to walk my dogs. Once walked, I put them back in the car, closed the boot, climbed into the driver’s seat and closed the door. With that, there was an almighty CRASH! I got out to find a large branch lying beside the back of the car where I had been standing moments earlier. Close, Big Man, but no cigar!

I was reminded of this recently, when reading of the result of the inquest into the tragic death of a visitor to Kew Gardens in September 2012. The unfortunate lady was fatally struck by a large branch that had fallen from a 280 year old Cedar of Lebanon on a calm, late summer’s day. The lawyer representing the dead lady’s family stated that the event was due to “summer branch drop”, which apparently can occur when heavy rain follows a period of drought. He argued that the managers of Kew should have been aware of this risk and taken appropriate measures.

The jury heard that the tree was regularly inspected and that there was no sign of rot. Hence it decided that the occurrence was a tragic accident that Kew Gardens could have done nothing to prevent. This case follows a similarly tragic case involving a mature beech tree on National Trust land, which was also held to be an accident.

However, no one should get the impression that these cases mean that all incidents involving trees and the public will be seen as accidents. Quite the contrary both cases highlighted the importance of trees that could potentially harm members of the public, being regularly inspected by suitably qualified personnel, and that survey work being properly recorded.

All owners of trees owe a duty of care to the public and should undertake survey work in accordance with the guidance produced by the National Tree Safety Group. If Chalara Fraxinea really does decimate our roadside ash trees, then the inspection regime will be more important than ever.

If you would like any further information or to discuss any rural related matter, please contact Tom Wills, head of the agriculture & estates department at Sintons.

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