Tree planting scheme “destroys” area of South Woodham Ferrers

A tree planting scheme has “destroyed” a once fertile area of South Woodham Ferrers – after thousands of saplings died in the dry weather.

Around 2,600 trees had been planted in Creekview Road over the winter as part of Chelmsford City Council’s pledge to plant a tree for every resident in Chelmsford over the next ten years.

Several new woodland areas have already been created across the area, using tiny saplings of mixed native British species including oak, field maple, holly and Scots pine, alongside woodland plants such as dog rose, hawthorn and wild privet.

It means around 143,000 trees are still waiting to be planted over the next decade.

But many saplings have been killed by the prolonged dry spell in spring, leaving the area in Creekview Road looking dry and barren, according to South Woodham Ferrers resident Ryan Sparrowhawk.

Mr Sparrowhawk, who has lived in South Woodham Ferrers for two years, said: “I understand and agree with the initiative, but it has to be thought through properly.

“To me it just seems like a gimmick. It just looks like a bit of an eyesore to be honest.

“As far as I’m concerned all I saw was dead grass and weeds. I couldn’t see many trees. That area was quite a nice area to use. I just think it’s been destroyed.”

Cabinet Member for Greener and Safer Chelmsford, Councillor Rose Moore, said: “All 2,660 whips were mulched individually when planted. It is not possible to water whips following planting due to the scale and accessibility of areas so establishing the whips does depend on rainfall. We have seen extremes of weather in 2020 – the wettest February on record, but exceptionally warm and dry conditions since April – which has meant challenging conditions for all our newly planted areas across Chelmsford and South Woodham Ferrers.

“It is vital to boost biodiversity and flood resilience so we choose a mix of native species best-suited to each area. Some species at Creekview Road, such as Scots pine and oak, have done better than others initially, but overall we estimate that 65 per cent of whips are now establishing within the planting area.

“ As with any other establishing woodland scheme we’re now seeing some naturally occurring grass and wildflower growth, but this is by no means overwhelming those newly-planted whips.”

She added: “Within any mass-planting scheme some losses are expected. We will seek to top the mulch up in autumn, when we would also plan routine gapping up (filling-in of other areas that have naturally died back) and replanting as necessary.

“Establishing a woodland takes time and patience, but the biodiversity gain can be seen within a couple of seasons as pollinators and bird species begin to take up residence. The landscape softens and becomes more dynamic, shifting with the seasons, tree canopy cover is increased and vital habitat is created.

“Recent research shows that just one tree, by the time it’s fully grown, can absorb seven tonnes of carbon. The average person currently generates that in a year, so tree planting isn’t the whole answer, but it is certainly going to make a difference to the environmental impact of human activity in this area.”

However, in response to that Mr Sparrowhawk said: “I don’t know where they have their estimates from because it looks like three quarters are dead. It looks pretty desolate.

“It is also quite surprising they have planted that many. It just seems like they’ve overpacked them.

“It seems rather illogical to say we are hoping they are going to survive if we don’t water them. Surely again it’s something that should be thought through properly.”

The city council first announced the scheme last year to identify suitable green spaces in its ownership for tree planting, as part of a wider plan to move the city to a zero carbon authority and reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter