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Tree Warden

Tree Warden – blog post #1

Neil Morton
I can be contacted at or on 07768202982

Hi I’m Neil Moulton and I’ve been the Tree Warden for Trottiscliffe since 2015. Tree Wardens are volunteer “Tree Champions” appointed under the the Tree Council scheme with a broad remit which is best described on the Tree Council website.

What’s happening in Trottiscliffe?

I’ll go into more detail in later blogs but here’s a snapshot of tree-warden activity in the village:


Now you will have noticed that Trottiscliffe is hardly an urban environment so tree planting isn’t top of the agenda here. Hedges are a different matter though, with many field boundaries suffering a decline just in just the 16 years since Maria and I  moved here. Hedges are incredibly important for biodiversity and are great indicators of custodianship – so when people kill hedges with weed killer as has happened in Pinesfield Lane a couple of years ago IT MATTERS!

I’ve been working with the Old Chalk New Downs project for a few years trying to get support for gapping up denuded hedges and hopefully we’ll see a breakthrough with funding soon. In the interim, if anyone wants to help with funding/ planting please let me know.

Banging on about trees

I love talking about trees – they are endlessly fascinating and we’d all be dead without them so what’s not to like? I’ll be sharing some amazing facts in later blogs but do you know what makes trees tree-shaped for example (it’s their hormones), how trees protect us from flooding,  and that they can communicate with each other to build defence mechanisms against marauding pathogens?

David Carey, the Kent Tree Warden Coordinator and I have had the pleasure of doing occasional tree walks around the village – it’s been great to have so many people turn up and spend an hour or two chatting about the local species and the natural history of our beautiful village.

Tree Warden Group

Pests disease and safety

As we all know, trees are sometimes ‘thrown’ in high winds or snap out huge sections of trunk and branch. This can obviously present a danger, particularly adjacent to the highway. I’m trained to assess trees for safety and spot early signs of fungal pathogens other disease and structural weakness. So if you see someone walking around the area looking up rather than ahead, it’s probably me! It’s always a shame to have to fell trees but KCC Highways always response very promptly to reports and I’d rather have a tree taken down than see someone hurt or killed.

I’m happy to give an opinion about your trees too, so feel free to contact me on the details above (please note that Tree Wardens aren’t insured to give advice).

Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs)

TPOs exist to protect trees or woodlands which have an “amenity value” to the local area. This can be applied to any size or species of tree. Once in place, it’s an offence to fell, or have work done on a TPO affected tree without local planning authority approval. Fines for breach are significant so it’s important to seek advice if you are in any doubt. Visit the GOV.UK website for more detailed information.

As a Tree Warden I can help with applying for new TPOs (you may be concerned that developers are likely to destroy a tree or woodland for example) as well as looking into existing TPOs.



Tree Warden – blog post #2

Making the best of troubled times

It’s been a funny old spring

At the time of writing in early May, we are still in a state of lockdown, so I hope you are all keeping well and safe during these difficult days. The past weeks have challenged even those of us who are used to working from home, but at the same time maybe it has been an opportunity to remind ourselves of our wonderful countryside in and around Trottiscliffe. We have a rich and diverse natural environment here with many notable trees to provide a welcome distraction from COVID19. Also, the traffic noise is lower and the air so much cleaner, so without detracting from the seriousness of the situation, maybe there’s a glimmer of an upside after all!

But Spring is sprung!

If you’re like me and a bit susceptible to low mood under the gloaming skies of winter, there’s nothing more cheering than seeing the hedgerows burst into life in early spring. One of the first to show off is the blackthorn, Prunus spinosa which, like many of its cherry relations, flowers before the leaves emerge. This absolute belter on the footpath from the Pilgrim’s Way by Commority down towards Coldrum Barrow will be a riot of sloes to feed the birds in autumn if the gin-lovers don’t get there first!



A lot of people think these early flowers are the hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna but these emerge later (appearing now in late April/May) – here’s one from Pinesfield Lane by the nature reserve.


And it’s not just the trees, the wildflowers are bursting into life in our verges and providing nectar for the early pollinators – one of my favourites at this time of year is greater stitchwort Stellaria holostea -every bit as attractive as any garden cultivar.

Cardamine Pratensis

Or if that doesn’t float your boat, how about the dainty ladies’ smock, or cuckoo flower, Cardamine pratensis there’s a cluster of these on Taylor’s Lane near the start of the traffic “calming” zone (or the remaining bits of it the driveway contractors haven’t flattened).

verge flowers

These verges are full of wildlife and conceal those ugly post and wire fences – one to think about before we reach for the strimmer.

Thorny issues at Bramble Park

A few years ago, I was invited by Mike Towler to survey the many veteran trees within the grounds of Bramble Park for a Tree Council veteran Tree project. This project aimed to ascribe value and importance to our heritage trees – we do this for historic buildings so why not?!

As you may have seen, there is a planning application to convert the Park into an educational establishment. Putting to one side the potentially emotive issues over this in terms of traffic levels, I do have a real concern that there’s a risk of damage to these trees should the reconstruction go ahead. None are covered by TPOs because most are not visible from public areas and so have no “amenity value” – this is a real shame because some of them are wonderful and should be protected for future generations to enjoy.  While the planning application makes provision for amelioration of damage through root zone protection, it’s important this is applied in practice – too often trees in construction areas are destroyed through wilful or inadvertent damage to the root structure.

The Coldrum beech

The area surrounding Coldrum Barrow is important beech woodland recognised by the Kent Downs AONG 2014-19 Management Plan. You can’t help but notice the splendid heritage beech Fagus sylvatica at the entrance to the site which is usually adorned with ribbons etc by those presumably embracing the ancient spirituality of the site.

The Coldrum Beech

What they (or other misguided individuals) have also done is to carve a LOT of graffiti into the bark, which is a shame aesthetically (beech have particularly smooth and tactile bark) and potentially endangers the tree as bark wounds may give an access point to fungal pathogens – bracket fungi which can in time destroy the heartwood of the tree. My old arb lecturer at Hadlow college told the tale of attending site to dismantle an ancient oak tree which had developed a very bad stem rot. To his horror, he recognised the initials he himself had carved into the bark some 20 years before right where the fungus had gained its fatal foothold!

I’ve written to the National Trust asking for help to avoid further damage but as yet they haven’t been helpful – fingers crossed mother nature smiles on this iconic tree.

tree etched with graffiti

That’s it for now folks, don’t forget you can contact me if you ‘d like to know more about the trees in your area – distancing guidance permitting!



Trottiscliffe Tree Talk – blog 3

Artificial grass and trees

I’ve noticed a number of homes in the parish have installed artificial grass around trees. As a garden designer this is an anathema to me personally but I understand it makes sense for many people from a maintenance and use perspective. As a tree consultant however I’m slightly more concerned.

Artificial grass may lack the ability to permeate rainwater to the tree roots, and often I see it installed right up to the trunk (we don’t recommend this for grass, let alone artificial grass – at least a 1m diameter of mulch 10-20mm is advisable around, but not touching the trunk).

The image below was released by a vets recently – in the recent hot weather we’re having artificial grass gets HOT! This can be bad for pets, but also it’s not great for the fine tree roots near the soil surface.

Artificial grass temperatures - 34.1 in the shade, 62.3 in the sun. Real grass in the shade 27.8, real grass in the sun 38.1


Think of tree roots like a wineglass – the roots aren’t a mirror image of the stem/bowl of the glass, they are shallow and easily affected by drought and excessive heat.

So if you have artificial grass around your trees, make sure there’s a gap around the stem – if it was me I think I’d cover the area up to the tree ‘drip line’ (the extent of the branches) with a bark mulch to be on the safe side – you can always rake it up when the weather cools down.



Trottiscliffe Tree Talk – blog 4

Trees and the Law – responsibilities of a landowner:

In my day job as an arboricultural consultant and landscape designer, I often hear misconceptions over the legal responsibility of landowners where their trees are concerned.

The most common of these is that the failure of a tree is an “act of God” so no-one can be held legally responsible for any consequent death or injury. This is absolutely not the case, nor is it true that landowners will always be held to account for the failure of their trees.

The law on this subject is based on case precedent (i.e., the common law rather than statutes laid down by Acts of Parliament) and provides a fairly common-sense approach for landowners.

Bearing in mind that the facts in each case will inform the outcome, the general position is as follows:

A landowner has a duty of care (i.e. a liability in tort) to third parties where it is reasonably foreseeable that damage or injury may result from trees in their possession. This is the case whether or not the damage or injury takes place on the landowner’s property – for example the landowner could be held liable for a tree falling from their property onto a public highway or footpath, or onto a neighbour’s land. What’s less well known is this liability may even extend to trespassers (less in the case of tree failure but this would relate to for example an unsafe building or well where the landowner could reasonably foresee trespass).

So, there are 2 things the landowner must take into account – is it “reasonably foreseeable” that:

  1. people or property could be subjected to harm if a tree failed and;
  2. there were outward signs of dysfunction in the tree before it failed.

The second duty of care requires the landowner to recognise where a tree is potentially dangerous and if so, to have it inspected by a professional arboricultural consultant. Where a consultant advises the tree is safe, the landowner’s liability ends, even if the tree subsequently fails (this is why we consultants carry Professional Indemnity insurance). If a consultant concluded it is not safe, the tree owner must have remedial works carried out within a recommended timeframe – often this will involve reducing the tree’s crown (lessening the leverage effect of large limbs on the stem), although ultimately the removal of the tree may be prescribed.

This doesn’t mean everyone owning a tree has to be a tree expert! The test of reasonableness here is very pragmatic. Everyone knows that a tree which has recently developed a limbo-inducing lean with its roots exposed on the windward side is probably unsafe. Trees which lose all or part of their leaves in mid summer are clearly showing signs of ill-health, and fungal brackets on the stem or around the base would indicate that something is amiss, as would large cracks in stems or branches.

It should be remembered that seemingly healthy trees do fail, sometimes for no apparent reason. If there are no outward signs of dysfunction prior to failure, it’s unlikely a landowner would be held responsible. On the other hand, if the landowner is found to be negligent in the exercise of their duty of care, a claim for negligence may follow with financial compensation being awarded where upheld by the courts.

Disclaimer: although through my former business career I’m well versed in the law, I’m not a legal professional; you should always take appropriate professional legal advice.



Trottiscliffe Tree Talk – blog 5

Ash die back – what’s happening to our ash trees?

Ash dieback disease (abbreviated ADB) was first identified in Europe in 2006, making its way through infected rootstock and/or airborne spores to the UK in 2012. It’s caused by  a fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus and as its common name suggests, causes the dieback of leaves and shoots of  many trees in the Fraxinus genus, including our common native ash F.excelsior (though not Mountain Ash/Rowan).

Across the UK, ash makes up 12% of our woodland species, though I would estimate a much higher percentage in the Trottiscliffe area. This disease is therefore likely to permanently change our landscape, as we’ve seen with Dutch elm disease following the 1970s outbreak. The impact of this is significant in terms of the landscape character of the countryside and biodiversity. As a common native tree, many species of fauna including invertebrates, birds and mammals rely heavily on ash for food and habitat.

F.excelsior is easily identifiable by the sooty black winter leaf buds, grey/brown bark which is smooth when young and bearing vertical grooves on maturity, opposing buds and branch formation, compound (pinnate) leaves comprising 7-11 leaflets, and drooping seeds (keys) in the autumn:


F.Excelsior buds

Ash dieback

Ash dieback

Symptoms of ADB include:

Overall – sparse foliage; if you can see more sky than tree when standing at the base of an ash in the summer, it’s a sign something’s not right;
Leaves and leaf stems (petioles) contain black blotches;
Branches and shoots – elliptical lesions/dead spots, sometimes white fruiting bodies (c2mm diameter);

Ash die back Ash die back Ash die back

Ash die back Ash die back

It’s important to remember you won’t see all these sypmtoms all the time, for example dark leaf spots ofly only appear in the autumn, before leaf fall.

The prognosis for affected trees isn’t good, young trees often succumb in the first season, while more mature trees may decline over a period of some years. You’ve only to look at the country park from Pinesfield or Taylors lane to gauge the impact of the disease – large swathes of dead trees are clearly visible. Most infected trees will fail, though some (up to 5% of infected trees) show resistance (some of which are being used to cultivate a resilient stock for replanting). A few of the non-native ash varieties such as F. americana and F.mandscurica also show some disease resistance.

To make matters worse, weak, infected trees may be colonised by other wood-decaying fungi such as honey fungus (Armillaria mellea) or the shaggy/velvet bracket (Inonotus hispidus). These can rapidly accelerate the decline of the tree through decay from the inside of the stem outward, eventually stopping the flow of water and nutrients required for growth, or through mechanical failure as the stem or roots become too weak to support the crown.

There are no chemical controls available for ADB, though practical advice for landowners is available, e.g. from the Tree Council.

Like rose spot disease which many gardeners will be familiar with, the fungal spores persist overwinter on fallen leaf litter, so if you are planning to use ash for leaf mould, it’s recommended to cover the leaves with a thick layer of other organic matter and not use the resulting mould for at least 12 months. If practicable, you can gather and dispose of leaf litter from the base of affected trees to reduce the spread of the disease.

Note to landowners with affected trees:

One of the characteristics of ADB is it makes infected wood very brittle. This means it’s dangerous for arborists to climb diseased trees, and non-sectional felling can cause shattering and collateral damage. Early intervention may therefore prove to be commercially prudent where the disease is confirmed.

As stated in my previous blog on landowner responsibility, where infected trees present a potential risk to the public you’re advised to have your trees checked by a professional.