Tree rage

SIR, — The angry letter from Michael Martin about the wholesale destruction of healthy trees on Nomansland Common (Herts Advertiser, February 21) hit a chord here in Harpenden. He seeks the identity of the faceless bureaucrats so eager to tear down beaut

SIR, - The angry letter from Michael Martin about the wholesale destruction of healthy trees on Nomansland Common (Herts Advertiser, February 21) hit a chord here in Harpenden. He seeks the identity of the "faceless bureaucrats so eager to tear down beautiful mature trees" who "far from conserving the Common seem hell-bent on destroying it". They are, as your regular Nomansland correspondent John Stocker would know, the project managers employed by a quasi Herts County Council quango known as CMS, the Countryside Management Service - say it aloud, emphasising the last word, and then ask rhetorically: who exactly is it they serve?

Local residents here on East Common have been consulted and informed for nearly two years about the town council's new Common Management Plan. We are what's known euphemistically as stakeholders, although after the recent trail of destruction of mature healthy trees I know where I would like to insert my own stake.

We were reassured at three public meetings, annual common walks and in all the various propaganda spewing out of the town hall that the work involved would be woodland and scrub clearance, removal of weak saplings and any specimens found to be unhealthy and/or threatening the health of the established trees.

The programme of work, supported by local residents and other interested parties, suddenly developed a vitality of its own and it turned into the catchily-named Apple Tree Project which sounded like an eco-friendly handle to get the public on side and attract grant funding - which duly arrived. It eventually emerged that the CMS hidden agenda is to restore this part of Harpenden Common to how it used to be more than 50 years ago.

Contractors arrived on site at the end of January and proceeded to carry out woodland clearance of low-level brambles and scrub, exactly as predicted and agreed. Then on the third and fourth days, the chainsaw gang started to attack all the mature healthy wild cherry trees. This part of Harpenden Common now looks like a film still from The Day of the Tryffids.

The various parties are now in denial and predictably, the CMS officer in charge of the project has gone on leave and is about to defect to another Government agency with the Harpenden Common Management Plan highlighted as career progression in the CV. The town council is now claiming firstly that local residents were told this work would include the felling of mature healthy wild cherry trees - absolutely untrue - and secondly that all the trees scheduled for destruction were marked with green spray paint -the cherries were not thus marked. As for the contractors, they say they were carrying out orders and did not destroy healthy specimens for the sake of it - and the value of the wood?.

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The apple trees now exposed - prosaically described in the article "£5,000 to revive ancient orchard" (Herts Advertiser, January 31) are not especially interesting and are of recent origin either planted by well-meaning residents or self-seeded, and definitely neither historic or significant, nor an orchard. Vigilant readers will spot the irony - apple and cherry trees both bear fruit and very attractive blossom. Apples stay, cherries go - where on earth is the logic?

The Observer's Book of Trees (1975 edition) describes the wild cherry as "presenting a beautiful appearance at every season of the year, its large bright brown buds burst in April to release long-stalked oval leaves and in October these leaves turn to brilliant shades of gold, orange and scarlet-brown...they bear nectar and attract a steady stream of pollinating bees. They have a sweet juicy pulp and in late June the birds strip the trees."

Michael Martin ended his letter as follows: "Nomansland...needs to be placed in the care of someone who understands and cares about the landscape - not in the hands of someone with a mindless chainsaw. Can nothing be done to stop this madness?"

Yes indeed it can, if residents and lovers of Nomansland and Harpenden Commons get together to kick our local councils' love affair with and dependence on the Countryside Management Service where it belongs - into the tall long grass where no serious harm can be done.


East Common, Harpenden.