Sunday, 23 November 2014

The gathering of the clans

On a foul, sodden Sunday at the end of November we held the first of our regular Tree Warden gatherings that we announced in October. We were absolutely delighted to welcome 38 people who are either already actively involved or who are interested in volunteering their time and support.

The handsome upstairs function room at The Talbot was soon full of animated talk and friendly catching up and as you can see, the windows steamed up such was the heat of the exchange!

Anthony and Dom gave brief but important presentations about our work and the need to disseminate information about what we do with the aim of involving a greater number of people to help.

click on any of the photos for larger versions

This planting season, with the help of a very significant and generous donation from a local resident, we will be planting in excess of 30 new street trees in and around the conservation area. That's an enormous increase in our workload as an entirely volunteer led group, so it's imperative that we get more of you on board. We have plans and projects that we would like to develop and we can only do it with your help!

See the Contacts tab above if you'd like to get involved. We'd love to hear from you.

The Tree Committee
The Brockley Society 

PS. With thanks to Lesley and the team at The Talbot for their friendly efficiency in keeping us supplied with tea, coffee, sandwiches and cake! (cake credit to Kara and Friends of BrocSoc Tree Committee!)

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Supporting our Tree Wardens

At a recent Tree Committee meeting we decided to try something new to gather together and support the considerable number of Tree Wardens who have come forward to offer their support. 

We are very pleased to announce the first of a series of events to celebrate our Tree Wardens and the work that they do in helping to fund and/or look after our street trees, a get together on 

Sunday 23rd November at 11.30 am 

We will be repeating these events at 4 monthly intervals throughout the coming year.

They are intended to be informal opportunities to get together, disseminate information, support each other and share the workload. 

We very much look forward to seeing as many of you as possible on 23rd November. 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Harefield Rose

Not about street trees this time, but a post about what private land trees add to our local environment (what the planning law refers to, rather blandly, as "amenity value"). 

It happens every year about this time, but this is an extraordinary year, and the spectacle even more impressive - I'm talking of course, about the flowering of that magnificent rambling rose that has been growing up the sycamore/maple in the front garden of the house on the corner of Harefield and Wickham Road for many years now:

Not only is it a beautiful sight, but the scent is also worth catching, particularly at dusk. 

The four houses at each corner of this junction are impressive, and clearly the plantings in each of the front gardens reflect their grandeur. The copper beech opposite this maple is a fine example of its kind. Here it is mid April and mid June: 

Copper beech (fagus sylvatica f. purpurea) in spring -
note pinkish tint to immature canopy

The companion to this tree, diagonally opposite, was lost to honey fungus some years ago. It was replaced by what looks like a maple/acer of some variety, and which has a lot of catching up to do: 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Conference feedback survey

If you came to the Brockley Society Tree Conference we would like to hear what you thought about it. Please would you spend a few minutes answering this small survey so that we can consider your thoughts and opinions about any future plans we have. THANKS!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Trees in the City - 26th April 2014 - Conference Report

The Brockley Society Tree Committee are delighted to report a little more fully about the presentations given at our hugely successful conference last month. 

Wake up and smell the pollution
Lewisham Mayor Sir Steve Bullock opened the conference by raising the issue of rising city pollution and the need for more trees to make the urban environment sustainable. He kindly stayed with us for the opening presentation by Tom Armour. 

Can’t stand the heat? 
Tom Armour, founder and Director of Arup’s Landscape Architecture business gave a fascinating talk about the benefit of urban trees. He showed how the greenest areas in London can be as much as 8 degrees C cooler than the most built up areas. The cooling effect of (large) tree canopies has been well known for some time, but never shown so graphically for the lay audience.

Bring back the birch
Professor Barbara Maher (whose work we reported on here back in October 2013) gave a video-conference talk from Lancaster and presented her celebrated research showing that silver birch trees reduce pollution even at a very local level. Many of us in the audience were struck with the insidious way in which these tiny 'particulates' (from car and lorry diesel fumes) get deep into the lungs. We were surprised at how small the birch trees were in the research experiment (so we don't need to wait until they are mature to reap the benefits!). 

The Silver Birch tree screen in situ for Barbara Maher's important research
Photo courtesy of Barbara Maher
Dwindling resources
A panel discussion which included Lewisham Planning and Lewisham GreenScene highlighted the problem of dwindling council funding and increased pressure to fell trees from insurance companies. Keith Sacre, from Barcham Tree Nurseries, also on this panel, had great ideas on what species to replace lost trees with, and he very generously brought a pile of beautiful hardback catalogues which he donated to the conference attendees (he is happy to supply more if people ask).

Logging the blog
Eamonn, one of our tree committee, demonstrated this blog (which has now passed 10,700 page hits since it started in October 2012!). 

Chainsaw Massacre
Cllr Darren Johnson introduced the afternoon discussing the findings of his (2007) report (blogged here in 2012). Again the issue of contentious pressure from insurance companies to fell trees was raised.

Living legacy
Rachel Mooney from Friends of Hilly Fields gave a fascinating talk showing some amazing photos of Edwardian Brockley with saplings where there are now mature trees on Hilly Fields. It was a sobering reminder that we need to continue planting to protect and extend this legacy.

Photos courtesy of FoHF and Phil Hall

Bearing Fruit
Lewis McNeill from the London Orchard Project in Hackney  showed us pictures of some innovative planting – tiny gardens on street corners or at bus stops tended by local people; apricot trees in Hackney bearing fruit, and fruit trees growing up vertical end-of-terrace walls!  The involvement of local people is crucial for getting these projects off the ground, and then for sustaining them, as they do, by active monitoring, mulching and watering these vulnerable new plantings. He went on to emphasise how young people start to feel protective of "their" trees once they have invested their time and effort in planting them! 

Greening your street
Anthony, one of our tree committee, explained how our scheme developed with Lewisham Council can help Brockley residents fund new trees for their streets.

No blame no claim
Our afternoon panel* discussed practical issues about managing our existing trees and trees being wrongly blamed for subsidence. This is a serious threat to our tree stock and at the moment legal protection for trees is weak. This is something we intend to campaign on at a London-wide and national level. At the end of the panel discussion Angelo very generously offered to donate funds to purchase a new street tree for us, for which we are very grateful. 

Pump up the volume
Our last speaker was Andrew Wilson, Director of Garden Design Studies at the London College of Garden DesignHe reminded us that trees are 'greenery in 3D' and showed great examples of small gardens where dwarf trees add a large volume of greenery/canopy without compromising space (many of our new plantings are very immature trees and will provide little in terms of canopy cover for many years - and as Tom Arbour showed us so graphically in the opening presentation, mature canopy is what provides the cooling effect).  

* Angelo Morgan from TreesUK Tree Surgeons, John Bellman, a consulting Civil and Structural engineer and Richard Evans, Vice Chair of the London Tree Officers Association

Again, our grateful thanks to all who presented, and to all who made the conference such a success (not least the excellent support given us by the staff of LeSoCo on the day, and in the run up to the conference). 

All of us on the Brockley Society Tree Committee 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Conference Report - a quick snapshot

Well, what can we say? We're bowled over!!

The Brockley Society's first ever conference "Trees in the City" held at LeSoCo last Saturday was a huge success, with a total audience over the day of 110 (and never less than about 50!). 

Tom Armour, our opening speaker, Chartered landscape architect,
founder and head of Landscape Architecture Business, Arup, London

Many had travelled a considerable distance to join us, and we were delighted with the range and expertise of our speakers who kept us engaged throughout the day (and one, via video link, all the way from Lancaster!).

Perhaps among the most rewarding comment after the event was this one, which illustrates rather wonderfully what can be done by raising awareness of the importance of our green environment, and our trees in particular: 

It took my husband and I longer to walk home after this inspiring conference because we noticed ALL the trees - our relationship with them has changed us forever!  Thank you. 

There is a lot to glean from such an event, and the BrocSoc Tree Committee are meeting this coming weekend to debrief and start following up on the many conversations and connections that were made during the day. 

In the meantime, a huge Thank You to those of you who came along and, and our gratitude to our presenters and panellists who did such a splendid job on the day. 

We will be posting a fuller account of the day in due course. 

The Brockley Society Tree Committee

Friday, 4 April 2014

Matters Sahari

The recent arrival of Saharan dust has again highlighted the subject of air pollution and is a reminder why trees are essential for the urban environment. 

See image here

After 15 years of warnings, the EU has now launched legal proceedings against the UK for failing to reduce "excessive" levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution - mostly diesel particulates from traffic fumes. The government has pushed back its own targets to cut emissions and is showing little will to prioritise the issue.

We know that trees reduce pollution levels by as much as 30% 

... and have reported here on innovative and inexpensive ways in which tree canopies help to capture and remove these dangerous pollutants from our air, and the scientist who has recently published on the subject will be joining us via Skype on Saturday 26th April to talk about her work (see April 2014 Conference tab above). 

Let's keep planting and replacing trees so that we can all breathe more easily.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

London Plane 1 Developers 0

Last week, the London Evening Standard ran a rather reassuring story about the thwarted ambitions of a property developer who was attempting to build a three storey subterranean basement complex under his Holland Park home. The development was thrown out by Kensington & Chelsea Planning because the work would have involved cutting through the roots of two very mature 60 ft London Plane trees. 

Jonathan Bore, Executive Director of Planning in K&C said: "The impact of development on the health, stability, appearance and longevity of high quality trees on and near the site would be such that the character and appearance of the property and the Holland Park Conservation Area would be harmfully altered". 

Hilly Fields Crescent Plane Tree avenue - February 2014

The ultimate irony is that the applicant, Edmund Lazarus, was appointed by London Mayor, Boris Johnson, as Chairman of the London Green Fund, a £100 million project to invest in schemes to cut carbon emissions. 

Full story here.

Green Park -  famous for its avenues of
mature London Plane (Platanus × acerifolia)
October 2013

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Health Trees, Healthy People - Arboricultural Association Conference

Following on from an increasing body of evidence of the link between human health (physical and psychological) and the wider green environment, the Arboricultural Association is holding a conference this September in London on the subject. 

It will run for three days between 14-17 September at The Royal Holloway, University of London. 

Details here:

And here's a reminder of what can be achieved when we plant the right trees in the right places (Manor Avenue, a few days ago): 

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Deforestation - local & global

Just as we announce the planting of three new jointly-funded street trees in Millmark Grove in this planting round (see last post), sadly we have to report the loss of two existing mature street trees in the same road, one lost to disease, the other a casualty of the high winds in the last few weeks:

We really are having to work hard to replace these losses as established trees come to the end of their lives, fall victim to disease or succumb to storm damage. 

Global deforestation

On a larger scale entirely, new technology is now making it possible to track the loss of the planet's rain forests in near real-time. Using satellite images and data gathered at ground level, startling statistics are waking us up to the scale of the losses: between 2000 and 2012, 230 million hectares of forest have been felled, that's:

230,000,000 hectares

... which, put in more comprehensible terms, is the equivalent of 50 football fields of trees being cut down, every minute of every day over the past 12 years. That is truly staggering.  

The link below takes you to the item:

New Arrivals

We are very proud to announce the next round of new street tree plantings in and around the conservation area. 

Here are some early morning pictures taken in Millmark Grove in mid December: 

The majority are joint-funded trees with costs being shared between Green Scene (Lewisham Council) and individuals and groups of neighbours interesting in preserving the street trees in their patch. 

We will be updating our "New Plantings Map" in the next few days with full details of the trees and their locations. If you are interested in entering into this kind of arrangement with the council, have a look at the "Tree Sponsorship" tab at the top of the page for more details.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

It's the pits !!

Our valuable tree pits

Have you every thought about those tarmac'd spaces that are all that's left after a street tree has been removed? They are very important markers for us, and spaces that we keep our eyes on, waiting to get them back in use again. Thankfully, our colleagues in Green Scene in the council have them all listed on Arbortrac, their tree tracking software.

Over the last few years, the edges of our pavements have been under relentless pressure from the utility companies (and now, fibre optic broadband providers). This has resulted in a considerable loss of existing tree pits in some parts of the borough.

A few months ago (when Skanska started to survey Lewisham streets for the placement of the new street lighting that you will have seen going up all over the borough) we noticed that one of our tree pits in Harefield Road had acquired a bright yellow symbol:

We got on to Green Scene straight away which resulted in a timely meeting between them and the Skanska management, which produced a good result: 

"Ward by ward, all columns are to be replaced, however, old column locations do not, in themselves, dictate new placements - rather column distancing and compliance with legislation pertaining to street lighting levels does. 
The potential effects of placing columns very close to, or in, tree crowns were discussed and all agreed that the ideal is that, as far as possible, column positioning avoids tree canopies. It is appreciated that there are site by site considerations - e.g. not all of the trees affected will be LBL trees and other street furniture prohibits column placement, etc.  Paradoxically there are crossover issues for both column and tree planting. It was also agreed that information exchange and better communication flow could do much to negate problems. 
Further to the above, we have supplied them with tree information from our database so they can create layered maps to compare with their existing project maps therefore are able better plan and address tree/column issues. 
We have emphasised that due to the wide range of other pressures on tree planting in general, and the apparent loss of previous tree pits which no longer appear viable, that pits are a precious commodity, therefore these sites can not afford to be lost to lamp columns …"

At the time of writing this blog post, the shiny new lamp post that appeared in this tree pit in Harefield Road has not acquired a lamp, so we are hoping that Skanska will relocate it before wiring it up.   

As you can see, we are helping Green Scene keep on top of these silent tree pit losses, and we would appreciate your help too! The more eyes we have on those pits, the more we can protect them for future re-planting.

If you've got a few minutes more, have a look at the amazing technology now available to contractors when planting trees (like the high-value site documented outside the Old Bailey in the city): 

Greenleaf - specialists in tree pit design

Postscript - July 2014 - Sadly, after much consultation with SKANSKA we have had to relinquish this valuable tree pit. There were too many conflicting constraints on maintaining this pit and, sadly, this means that the lamp had to be located here. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Hilly Fields tree losses

The vicious storm (named St. Jude) that swept across southern England last night reached south London early this morning. Inevitably, there were tree losses across Brockley, including some very sad casualties in Hilly Fields.

They are nearly all on the rise coming up from Adelaide Avenue and at the crown of the park near the children's play park. It seems that the winds swept up and across the park, snapping mature trees like matchsticks: 

The species are maple, Black Poplar and, very sadly, one of the mature willows that sits on the rise coming up Montague Avenue. Arguably, these trees came down because they were rotting or weak, but nonetheless, we have lost some old friends in the last 24 hours. 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

A Breath Of Fresh Air

More and more often we are coming across serious scientific research that backs up our sense that our urban trees are good for us, not just because they look stunning, but because they are making a significant contribution to our health in our gritty city environments. 

A case in point is research recently presented on BBC2's "Trust Me I'm A Doctor" in which the work of Professor Barbara Maher at Lancaster University's Environment Centre revealed the huge benefits of having a screen of the humble (but beautiful) silver birch (betula pendula) placed between houses and busy roads.

After just two weeks of monitoring the effects of the tree screen, the reduction in the amount of iron-bearing particulate traffic pollution was found to be an astounding 50-60% (compared with a row of adjacent houses without the screen). 

Apparently, much of the effect is due to the tiny hairs and ridges on the leaves which collect the pollution. The open structure of the tree canopy also allows the free circulation of air. Each time it rains, the pollution is washed off and the effect is renewed. Given that particulate matter in car exhaust is a serious risk to those with heart disease, this common tree species could provide a relatively inexpensive safeguard for those living along busy city roads. Oh yes, and it's a beautiful tree too! 

(With thanks to Anthony for spotting this item).

Useful links: 

1. entry for silver birch - go here
3. Professor Maher's research paper - go here

Silver Birch outside the Tate Modern in London - February 2008

Notable birch (betula pubescens perhaps?) - Yorkshire Dales - summer 2012

Changing Of The Guard

After a spate of vandalism against our newly planted (2013) street trees earlier this year, your Brockley Society Tree Wardens have been working with the council's Green Scene to find and re-cycle redundant tree guards around the conservation area. 

This guard in Tressillian Road has done 
its job and will be recycled

So far we've identified about 15 guards that can be removed and re-sited. The job of refitting them to provide protection for our still-vulnerable street trees will go ahead in the next few weeks. 

If you spot a tree guard that looks like it's done its job, please drop us a line at 

… and we will pass on the details to the council. 


Friday, 16 August 2013

Biodiversity in the City

Native vs. Exotic Tree Planting

Biodiversity is the term used to describe the degree of variation of life forms within a given territory, or ecosystem (see this Wikipedia article for a comprehensive account: So, the Brockley Conservation Area could, at a stretch, be described as an ecosystem. How we support local biodiversity is something that your BrocSoc Tree Wardens (and others) are trying to keep in mind. 

We already subscribe to the mantra: "Right Tree, Right Place". Trees are best planted with an eye to their location and the eventual size of the mature tree. We wouldn't for example plant an oak on a narrow kerbside; in the city they are really parkland trees, needing the space to spread and extend their wide, bushy canopy. They are also very slow growing and would not survive well in the relatively harsh environment of the kerbside. 

But an article by George Monbiot in today's Environment Guardian raises really interesting points about the pros and cons of planting native and exotic (foreign) species: 

It turns out that native species like oak and birch support a vastly greater number of insects (and mites, and lichens) than imported (exotic) trees. This is mostly because insects have 'co-evolved' for millennia alongside our native trees. So, our native Oak species typically hosts some 284 insect species; birch, 266. Yet the Horse Chestnut (imported from the Balkans) hosts only four. Surprisingly, the London Plane (a hybrid of two exotic species), hosts only one!

To see the complete table (extracted from various scientific papers by The Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust) go here:

So think twice if you are planting trees in your back gardens. Is this a good tree for the location? How large will it grow? In what time? How big will the mature canopy be? How invasive are the roots? Is it a thirsty tree (like the Eucalypts)? And then, just when you thought you were done, think about favouring one of our glorious natives, like this veteran beech spotted in Devon last autumn: 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

OUT'ed - for our notoriety!

TIME OUT picks up our spate of tree vandalism 

Perhaps if you agree that "all publicity is good publicity", then our appearance in TIME OUT in early August was a coup (and judging by the spike in our visitors on 5th August, people were interested in reading more ...)

Click on the image below for a readable enlargement:

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Destruction of street trees

We reported the first incident in May when one of our part-funded trees was snapped in two in Tyrwhitt Road (see

Now we are in the disheartening position of having to report the destruction of a further two trees: one of the two rowans planted at the pedestrian crossing at Brockley Cross, the other, a part-funded street tree on Wickham Road, both destroyed within a few days of each other this past seven days. 

It is hard to understand why people feel the impulse to take out these trees - presumably they are the worse for alcohol at the time - but perhaps not - in which case it's even more incomprehensible. 

Lewisham Council have assured us that all three trees will be replanted in the autumn - they were insured. Cages will also be fitted retrospectively in an attempt to deter further vandalism. 

Anyone with information about the perpetrators should contact the police on 101 or contact the Brockley Safer Neighbourhood Police on 020 8284 8558

Photo courtesy of
Brockley Central/Monkeyboy

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Drought Man's Contract

As welcome as it is, this period of hot weather can spell the end for our newly planted street trees (and for any of our smaller street trees in fact).

If you are looking after a newly planted street tree, please make sure you water it once a week with about 20 litres of water (= two large watering cans or two buckets of water). 

A good dousing is preferable to 'little and often' to encourage the roots to go down deep, rather than to come up to the surface. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Vivat Ulmas!!

Jubilee Tree Planted in Hilly Fields

On Wednesday 22nd May, a disease resistant Elm tree was planted in the eastern section of Hilly Fields to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II. 

Photo courtesy of Karl Brandt

This was a tremendous honour for Brockley being as it was one of only sixty sites across the UK chosen by The Tree Council who are coordinating this initiative, and who supplied the tree. 

Over sixty people attended on the day, from toddlers and teenagers, to octogenarians. 

The ceremony was mostly coordinated by our very own Brockley Society Tree Warden Nicola Ferguson, who was ably helped by students from Prendergast Hilly Fields College, members of the Brockley 50+ Club, the Friends of Hilly Fields, John Thompson, Head of Lewisham Council's Green Scene, Jon Stokes, Programme Director at The Tree Council and our very own eminent local resident, Sybil Phoenix MBE, OBE, founder of the Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust, a Supported Housing Project for single homeless young women. 

The proceedings were added some drama with the arrival of two police officers from the Lewisham Mounted Branch.

Grateful thanks to Glendale for preparing the ground ahead of the planting, and to Jon Stokes of The Tree Council for these photos (unless noted otherwise)

Monday, 20 May 2013

Vandalism - help please ...

In the early morning of Saturday 18th May, one of our new part-funded street trees in Tyrwhitt Road was wantonly snapped in two, by person or persons unknown. 


The incident has been reported to the Met Police and recorded under Crime Reference Number 3210967/13

If you have any information about this crime, please contact the Brockley Safer Neighbourhood Team in the first instance:

It is our intention to have the tree replanted as a priority.

Thank you. 

Anthony, Nicola, Eamonn & James
Tree Wardens
The Brockley Society

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Hilly Fields honoured with Jubilee tree

As part of the on-going celebrations to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, we will be planting the Jubilee Tree donated by the Tree Council at Hilly Fields on Wednesday 22 May.  

Meet at the cafĂ© from 12.45. Students from Prendergast school will come out at 1.15 pm for the ceremony.  Several people from the Brockley 50+ Club which meets at Brockley Social Club will share some memories of the Coronation with us and then some of them and the students will plant the tree.

This is a prestigious occasion for Brockley as there will only be 60 trees throughout the country to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. A digital record of all 60 plantings will be presented to Her Majesty in June. The tree itself will have a smart plaque which will be readable from smart phones. Please do join us -- Brockley Society tree officers, Friends of Hilly Fields, and Prendergast School students -- for this special occasion. 

If you or anyone you know has memories of the Coronation, do encourage them to attend.

The tree we have selected is a disease resistant English Elm (ulmus procera), a species which was decimated in the 60's and 70's on the arrival of Dutch Elm Disease in the UK. There are two fine surviving specimens in Preston Park, Brighton, believed to be the two oldest surviving specimens in the country:

By Ulmus man (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

PS. Interestingly, there is also a surviving elm in Ladywell Fields, which hardly ever gets any press, so I'll go on a photo hunt soon and post you a picture here ...

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Preaching to the converted ...

Link to BBC News website: Green spaces boosts wellbeing of urban dwellers

Well, no surprise to us, but yet more research to link the considerable benefits of local green space, this time from a UK university who have been collating the data from 5,000 households (10,000 adults) as they move throughout the UK over a period of seventeen years. 

According to Dr Matthew White at the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health based in the Medical Faculty at Exeter University:

"We've found that living in an urban area with relatively high levels of green space can have a significantly positive impact on wellbeing, roughly equal to a third of the impact of being married."

Odd that the rest of us in long-term relationships or those who are single or unattached don't get to feel the benefits, but hey ho, we'll just have to use our imaginations, or just look out of the window on this glorious spring morning: 

2nd May 2013 - View from an attic window this morning