Trees axed at historic St Albans ford site

Trees at historic site left looking grotesque after heavy pruning.

RESIDENTS have criticised the district council for what they describe as the “butchering” two mature trees at a historic site in St Albans.

St Albans man David Hawthorn said the heavy-handed pruning of the weeping willows at St Michael’s Ford opposite the Waffle House, had left them looking grotesque.

He said: “It’s awful, you wouldn’t believe it until you see it, it’s just a mass of twisted branches with no leaves.

“My wife rang the council and they said they had found a cracked branch, but you can cut a branch without ruining the whole tree. I’m upset about this, it’s just before the tourist season.”

Another St Albans resident, Alan Smith, also complained about the “butchering” of the willows.

He said: “The trees which had overhanging branches over the path and ford garden only needed a light prune to keep the pathway clear and to expose the view of the ford. It will take many years for these trees to grow back to their former glory.”

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But both St Albans district council and a local residents’ group have hit back, saying the trees’ rampant growth needed to be contained.

Richard Shwe, the council’s head of culture and community development, said: “The pruning of the willow trees at St Michael’s Ford in St Albans has been undertaken in consultation with the Society of St Michael’s and Kingsbury and the Fishpool Street Residents’ Association.

“Local residents recently partly funded an enhancement scheme for the historically important ford and they requested the pruning to help the willows keep their shape and form and provide much needed light to the garden area below which is maintained by local volunteers.”

He went on: “We consider that pruning was also needed to keep the footpath clear and to maintain visibility of the highway and its signage.

“Added to this, on initial inspection of the willows, it was found that one of the trees was leaning and had decay from an old trunk wound on its upper side necessitating reducing the tree’s weight and leverage on its trunk for reasons of public safety.

“We anticipate the willows will recover some of their form inside the forthcoming spring season.”

The road at St Michael’s Ford has crossed the River Ver for about 2,000 years and has historic links to the Romans, the Peasants’ Revolt and Wars of the Roses. But the ford garden was established in 2002 when volunteers planted it and have maintained it ever since.

Madeleine Sansom, spokeswoman for the Fishpool Street Residents’ Association, said: “The trees are very robust, putting on a considerable amount of growth in a relatively short period of time and therefore need containing.

“If this is not done on a regular basis the footpath, nearby telegraph line and garden will be engulfed. The council has agreed to reduce the willow trees again in 2015.

“We are grateful to the council for their support.”