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Special report: trees in transit

The possibility of replanting fully grown trees should be considered a complement to good urban design

In order to use semi-mature and mature trees successfully in the urban environment, basic principles have to be used to make sure that the trees transplant successfully and are given a fair chance of survival in the inhospitable environment in which they are forced to live and perform.

The Civic Trees Group, based in Tring, Hertfordshire, is aware of the expertise necessary in not only ensuring this survival but also in the type of tree that will suit the situation. The company uses principles that were first used at Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire in the mid-nineteenth century by William Barron.

Barron was employed by the Earl of Harrington to create an 'instant garden' for the earl and his actress wife, but on a scale larger than either Alan Titchmarsh or Charlie Dimmock could ever possibly imagine. Barron's ground-force team consisted of his patented tree transplanting machine, up to six horses and as many men.

Never before had such large trees been transplanted at such speed. The normal time required was more than two years - Barron managed to reduce this to three months.

As he later recalled in his book, The British Winter Garden : 'In pointing out to my noble employer the utter impossibility of accomplishing his object . . . and witnessing his disappointment . . . I told him that if he would risk his trees, and would support me in forming a system that would answer, I would risk my character, which was all that I could afford . . . I then set about conquering the mechanical difficulty . . . '.

In time Elvaston became a showcase collection of rare and exotic trees on a scale never before seen in Britain.

In 1830, Barron was asked to move three Cedars of Lebanon, with an estimated height of 35 feet and as much in width. He went against the usual principles of moving them horizontally, with a great loss of branches and roots (and thereby putting the tree under great stress), and moved them vertically with very little pruning. This proved to be a great success as very few trees suffered, unlike the windows of the neighbouring cottages on route to Elvaston. In 1871 he successfully moved a cedar tree 43 feet tall with branches 48 feet in diameter, using only Victorian ingenuity and a horse and cart. He succeeded in this feat and others by boring tunnels under the trunk and inserting heavy wooden beams, which supported the tree when it was levered up and hauled to its new site many miles away.

Queen Victoria learned of his work and procured his services to replace a specimen of Picea Nobilis, (silver fir) at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, which had been lost. The tree was carefully lifted complete with the root ball, which in itself weighed half a ton, and transported to Osborne where it was replanted to the delight and satisfaction of Albert.

Barron's tree moving achievements became renowned and he was soon able to successfully transport and transplant trees of a size and age that had never been achieved before. The great Joseph Paxton consulted with Barron and as a consequence bought a number of conifers and had them transplanted in the grounds of the Crystal Palace. Barron's greatest feat was the moving of the Buckland Yew in Buckland Churchyard near Dover.

This tree, mentioned in the Doomsday Book was more than 1000 years old when it was moved to make way for the extension of Buckland Church.

Barron finally retired at the grand old age of 81 and was acknowledged by the horticultural world as the leading authority on coniferae. Elvaston Castle, through the work of Barron, boasted the widest collection of evergreens in the country at that time and pride of place went to the famous golden yew, Taxus baccata variegata 'Elvastoni', developed by Barron himself and still to be found at Elvaston.

There is now only one remaining example of Barron's tree transplanting machine to be found in the world and this has fortunately been the subject of a major restoration project undertaken by Kew, where it had been on show for many years.

Monies were raised by the Friends of Kew, and the restored early landscape machine will be back on display in the near future.

Today, Civic Trees has taken on the mantle of Barron and his pioneering work and move trees as large as the ones moved by Barron, only this time, in the case of the largest trees, with a police escort.

Deric Newman, the son of the company's founder, says: 'Large, mature trees are more popular than ever today as the demand for instant effect and visual impact is increasing. Large trees are also more resistant to vandalism. However, if the wrong tree or location is chosen, it may block town centre CCTV cameras or road signage. It is therefore important that when the architects, landscape architects and developers are designing public spaces, the advice of the tree expert is sought at an early stage.'

The tree expert can also advise on the suitable surroundings and overall performance of the tree, as well as innovations in tree planting such as growing trees in pots with automated watering systems. Newman has, over the years, seen many changes in the use of trees in the urban environment and welcomes the current interest in different varieties.

Gone are the days of one or two choices. Now, with increases in nursery stock and technical advances, more types of trees are available.

With the wider use of service channels and more considered planning, the risk of failure is reduced even further.

Trees play a vital and diverse role in the urban environment, providing opportunities for shade in the summer and helping to slow the formation of street level ozone. They also help cool the city by reducing 'heat sinks' - areas six to nine per cent warmer then their surroundings. Trees can be seen as natural air conditioning. It is said that the evaporation from a single large tree can produce the cooling effect of 10 room size air conditioners operating 20 hours per day.

But most importantly, they offer the urban dweller a feeling of well-being.

The design of urban green space therefore becomes an increasingly important issue as we all strive to make our cities more attractive and liveable. Unfortunately, architects, like most members of the public, are notoriously bad at identifying and specifying trees correctly.

Education is needed to make professionals aware of the varieties of trees available.

There are many landscape possibilities for the design of our towns and cities and this, in turn, might lead to more dynamic, bold and humane layouts.

With this specific point in mind, the 'Greenspace 2000' conference is devoted to reinventing urban green space.

It intends to identify trends for the future direction of our urban green spaces - spaces which are rapidly being seen as important elements in each and every urban regeneration masterplan.

Mike Townsend, chief executive of The Woodlands Trust says, 'We believe that the presence or absence of trees plays a central role in determining people's perceptions of the quality of their local environment. If we want people to choose to live in urban areas we must ensure they are not disenfranchised from an experience of nature.'

Civic Trees will be at 'Landscape 2000'/'Greenspace 2000', offering urban professionals the chance to view the latest varieties of trees on offer as well as the chance to talk to the experts in this field. It provides an opportunity to view a wide range of innovations in landscape as well as practical workshops and high profile seminars with influential speakers covering key issues in the landscape industry.

'Landscape 2000' and 'Greenspace 2000' will be held at Earls Court on 13 to 15 June. For more information, please contact Landscape Solutions, tel 01543 419322, e-mail ksn@landsol. fsnet. co. uk

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