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Planting a change of attitude to trees

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I read with interest the article 'Trees root ruling means more chance of redress - and liability' (AJ 7.9.00), which accurately reflects the legal position and common attitude of lawyers, architects, surveyors and especially insurance firms. I was struck by the one-sided tone of the paper which clearly holds trees to 'blame' for cracking and movement in buildings. This attitude is sadly only too typical.

While I would not deny that trees can and often are a contributory factor to desiccation of the soil and subsequent shrinkage, resulting in movement of foundations, is it not obvious that there are many other causes?

The buildings themselves cover the ground with an impermeable layer, and any water falling on them is collected and run into pipes that whisk the water away to the drains as fast as possible.The surrounds of the buildings are covered in materials that also prevent or restrict water penetration (car parking areas, driveways, paths etc). Again the bulk of water falling on these areas is collected and drained away.

This removal of water not only desiccates the soil directly but also results in denying the surrounding vegetation any replenishment of soil moisture content. This then causes the vegetation to seek moisture from further afield. Given the current (very late) concerns over global warming, air quality and general sustainability, I would have thought that an attitude change towards the 'problems' of vegetation is long overdue. Trees and other vegetation provide major benefits in terms of oxygen supply, pollution filtration and climatic mitigation, as well as soil stabilisation.

Imagine a town without the softening and humanising effects of vegetation! Every effort should be made to keep as much vegetation as possible while addressing how we deal with soil moisture content and drainage. This requires fresh thinking by all professionals in the building industry.

Martin Volhard, London N10

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