June 16 - 22, 2024: Issue 628


Ruskin Row Blockade Provides Reprieve To Flooded Gums: Residents Fed-Up With Council Destruction Of Pittwater's Trees - 30 Thousand Trees Lost Since Forced Union Of Pittwater With Warringah

Photo: Friday's group of tree vigil residents. Photo supplied

A blockade by Avalon residents and environmentalists has won a temporary reprieve for two Flooded Gums on Avalon’s Ruskin Rowe this week, flagged for removal by council staff.

However, two other 70-year-old trees of the same species, Eucalyptus Grandis, forming part of an avenue of trees on the street, fell to the chainsaw on Wednesday.

Pittwater Greens Councillor Miranda Korzy said a blockade of residents and cars surrounding the remaining trees had prevented tree cutters from carrying out the directive from staff to remove the eucalypts. 

“The determination of the community to save these magnificent trees has achieved a a stay of execution for two of them,” Ms Korzy said.

“They are part of an avenue on Ruskin Rowe, rooted in public land within a Heritage Conservation Area.

“I also have advice from a highly trained local arborist (Level 8 AQF with an environmental law degree) who believes that they are not a high risk, but need pruning to remove any branches compromised by decay and inspections from time to time.

“A car parked beneath a limb that fell, crushing it, has unsurprisingly caused distress, however, the trees are many metres away from any homes and one is within a large cul-de-sac at the end of the road. 

“As trees age, they tend to drop more branches and so those inspections and pruning need to be carried out more frequently.

“However, council staff believe it will be too expensive to support the ongoing management of these trees - and that they are a high risk to the community.

“Given, though, that the council received its original arborist’s report with this conclusion in April and the trees haven’t been cordoned off, it begs the question, is the risk so serious?” 

Ms Korzy said a number of residents had complained to her that they’d heard the four trees would be removed and so she had asked a number of questions of staff and for a meeting between the arborist volunteering his time and staff. 

On Tuesday morning, a Ruskin Rowe resident had contacted her to say the tree cutting contractors had letterboxed them to announce they would remove the Flooded Gums between Wednesday and Friday.

Ms Korzy said the meeting was then finally arranged for 7.30pm on Tuesday, after staff had confirmed the crane would arrive at 7am the next morning. 

At the meeting, the volunteer arborist had argued for the preservation of all four trees, but finally agreed that: the two earmarked at the northern end of Ruskin Rowe were in a greater state of decline; they would therefore need more maintenance creating a higher cost to council; and their removal, given the equipment was arriving in the morning, was therefore better justified. 

Meanwhile, staff agreed to his suggestion for an urgent review of the original arborist’s report on the other two trees.  

By 7am the following morning, members of Canopy Keepers, Northern Beaches Greens, and the Avalon Preservation Association, joined by Ruskin Rowe neighbours, were on site to ensure the trees under review remained safe.

Over the next three days, the number of those keeping vigil swelled to about 50, with Pittwater Natural Heritage Association veterans arriving and residents from Avalon and further afield as well. 

Many came and went in between work and appointments, but three young blockaders cancelled work with clients losing three days pay, and on Friday, a neighbour who teaches at a local school was excused by his principal for the day.   

Despite tree cutters felling the two Flooded Gums at the northern end of the street on Wednesday, those rallying remained optimistic about the review’s outcome. 

However, Ms Korzy said the bad news arrived on Thursday afternoon in a phone call from NBC CEO Scott Phillips, soon followed by a visit to the Ruskin Rowe site from senior council staff to inform the crowd.

“Whilst I have a lot of respect for council staff, who I understand are doing their best to protect the community, I strongly opposed the message that the review had concluded ‘council would not be able to manage the trees and they should be removed,” she said. 

“Although the review did not carry out its own risk assessment, we were told that it confirmed the high risk of the two Flooded Gums, and that council’s budget would not allow for the frequent pruning they would need.

“Those rallying to safeguard the trees expressed their views in a forthright manner and determined that they would maintain the blockade for as long as was needed.

“These trees, though not endemic, are emblematic of the plight of our canopy across Pittwater, where residents choose to live because of its precious environment. 

“Residents are frustrated they’ve been able to do little to prevent the wholescale loss of more than 30,000 trees - amounting to the size of a forest - across the LGA since the council amalgamation in 2016.

“Yet council research shows the number one priority of residents across the Northern Beaches is not roads, rates or rubbish but the environment - and we should be spending the money to ensure we manage it in a sustainable way.

"I do not want to place anyone in the community in danger; rather this is about properly identifying levels of risk and the council budgeting adequately for tree management."

One neighbour to join the blockade on Wednesday, Arabella Lockhart, was particularly distressed by the trees’ plight.

“I was quite aware that birds nested in the tree opposite my kitchen window that I used to see every morning with my coffee and breakfast,” Ms Lockhart told Pittwater Online News.

“As I stood watching that tree being chopped to the ground, I noticed two nests with eggs, which smashed and broke in the road.

“I could no longer bear watching what was happening and had to get in my car and leave.” 

Ms Lockhart said the reason she and her family had moved into the street 18 years ago was because of its trees and wildlife. 

She had seen a large range of fauna in the trees, including Sugar Gliders, bats and hundreds of species of birds, such as Powerful Owls. 

“It truly is quite unique,” she said.

“Many many people come here to walk their dogs each day, and on weekends Ruskin Rowe gets quite busy with people, including tourists, admiring the big beautiful gums.

“A couple who were some of the original residents of the street and lived in our house, in their 80s and 90s, every afternoon dressed up in smart clothes, and with a wine in hand, would walk down the street, admiring the majestic trees.”

Tree defence group Canopy Keepers also deplored the carnage, saying council’s approach was “absolutely not good enough”.  

“For four years Canopy Keepers has as a community group been talking up trees and the importance of canopy to provide us with shade, protection from wind storms, and wildlife habitat,” their spokesperson Deb Collins told Pittwater Online News.

“We stand on the shoulders of many people who came before us wanting to protect this very special place called Pittwater.

“Last week we witnessed the Council management approve the felling of Flooded Gums in Ruskin Rowe: four beautiful large street trees. 

“While the argument continues about the level of danger posed by limbs falling, with the now two arborists we consulted disagreeing with Council’s arborists, we want to focus on a shift that we see occurring.

“This week a wide range of locals, young and old, from environment groups, from Ruskin Rowe, and from we don’t know where, left work and their warm dry homes to stand in front of a magnificent tree towering over the end of Ruskin Rowe; a significant tree in a conservation zone. Nowhere near a house, a playground, a carpark!

“So it is that the Great Ruskin Row blockade came about, forcing Council and the loggers to stop work.

“The blockaders are determined to continue until Council answers questions posed by our fabulous young members of this newly formed group.

“As Canopy Keepers, we have always sought to partner with council to understand and influence policy, to support in any ways we can, to educate our community. 

“We thought we shared a vision to increase canopy, protect habitat trees and prioritize the preservation of our rich and unique biodiversity.

“We do understand and appreciate that this is a complex arena with multiple stakeholders, needs and risks.

“However, last week Canopy Keepers became an opposing force to Council.

“No-one, not even the Councillors, the residents, or anyone from Pittwater’s many environment groups was consulted, or was helped to understand what was going on and why.

“This action stemmed from one arborist’s report, that we believe was unreliable. A report we found flaws in. Council did not provide funds for a project ecologist to assess the trees for wildlife and hollows. And Council is selling the timber. 

“Yet Council staff onsite told us we cannot afford to maintain these trees. But clearly they can afford to cut them down!

“You cannot pen a Tree Canopy Plan, and with one hand months after it is ratified, dispose of a community canopy trees that could be managed wisely.

“The community is serious that NBC must stop this Ruskin felling, come to the table and show us that the vision we thought we shared has some serious intent because right now our trust and belief that preservation and regeneration of our environment is a core concern has been sorely tested and has failed.

“If the fear mongering and the yellow dotted trees along Ruskin Rowe are on point - this is the beginning of changing, forever, this quite incredible treescape. On our watch.”

NBC's Canopy Plan was ratified in September however, work still remains to be done on it to protect existing canopy.

Northern Beaches Greens convenor Evan Turner, one of the young people Ms Collins mentioned as asking questions of council staff, said that the protestors planned to blockade the trees until NBC met their demands.

When staff visited the site on Thursday, he told them these were to: 

  • Explain council’s failure to take feedback from the local expert arborist (AQF level 8) who had assessed the two remaining trees as manageable and, at worst, note even as high as moderate risk.
  • Explain why no community consultation had occurred as to the future of all four trees.
  • For the largest tree - in the cul-de-sac - to not be fully cut down and its stag be maintained as habitat.
  • That a project ecologist be present to assess if native species are present in the trees' hollows or branches and how to safely relocate them if so.
  • Explain their plans, if any, for replacement with endemic trees and artificial habitat.

“These are very reasonable demands, which still allow council to proceed with removing the trees even though there is expert arboriculture advice suggesting flaws in council’s stance and clear community concern with the way council has dealt with the issue,” Mr Turner said.

Another neighbour, Paul Johnson, who on Tuesday alerted Ms Korzy to Wednesday’s planned felling, has begun writing updates for the Avalon What’s On Facebook group. 

He has excoriated the council for its actions in destroying two of the trees and is determined to fight to the bitter end to retain the remaining ones. On Saturday he wrote:

“On Thursday a week ago, the residents of Ruskin Rowe received a notice from a team of contractors, Plateau Trees, that they intended to remove four mature gum trees from the street. Their work would take place between Wednesday and Friday of the following week. The purpose of the notice was chiefly to inform us of the possible interruption to traffic.

“These four beautiful flooded-gums were planted around 70 years ago when the original subdivision was created. In the six months leading up to this moment, a few branches had dropped and one or two residents had complained.

“Council’s arborists recommended their removal while two independent arborists have stated that with appropriate management these currently healthy trees can stay.

“Two of the four trees were removed on Wednesday before any action could be taken. The remaining two still stand due to the urgent intervention of Councillor Korzy insisting Council consider further options. One of these sits grandly in the middle of the open space within the cul-de-sac, and they both contribute significantly to the environment on so many levels. Not least of these is the maintenance of the canopy to provide a contiguous green corridor. The stumps of the two removed trees reveal no ill health at all.

“Our vigil started on Wednesday and continues with over 50 members of the local community willing to give up their time to deter the contractors and let Council know that they cannot undertake such environmental destruction without due process.

“A six day notice given to residents by the contractors is not community consultation. Council appears unwilling to consider the responsible option of a tree management program on the grounds that it will ‘cost too much’. It’s a disgrace how such lethal decisions can be made purely on the grounds of finance over the long-term interests of the environment.

“Council wants to remove these trees after (8) years of neglect, when a tree management plan would probably have prevented any dropped branches at all. We choose to live in the environment of these forest trees but somehow we expect the trees to adapt to our lifestyle. No. To live amongst the trees, we must adapt to their needs. At its most simple, this involves our responsible management of the natural environment.

“We are asking Council to manage our tree assets more responsibly and effectively for the environment by not simply resorting to their execution. These trees are healthy. We argue this for the trees in Ruskin Rowe and for all trees throughout the entire LGA. We are asking Council for a more consultative approach to any important environmental matter and to not just resort to the bulldozer tactics we witnessed this week.

“These two remaining beautiful, healthy trees will stay and will become an emblem of the turning point in Council’s successful tree management program throughout the Northern Beaches.

“This is what we stand for!”

Image: Ruskin Rowe tree vigil on Thursday June 13. Image supplied

David Palmer on Tree stump of one of the trees destroyed by Northern Beaches Council

Tree stump of the Ruskin Rowe tree destroyed by Northern Beaches Council

Logs from the trees already destroyed 

Council response of May 30 to Ms Korzy’s questions about the Flooded Gum trees 

Ms Korzy: I’ve received a number of complaints about the proposed removal of the four

Eucalyptus trees in Ruskin Rowe, Avalon Beach …. An independent arborist has told me he thinks the trees are probably up to 100 years old, and as such could well be part of the original plantings in the street – which is heritage listed.

I acknowledge that these four trees are not endemic to the area, however, they contribute a large part of the character of Ruskin Rowe. The street is also very close to Angophora Reserve, and they provide habitat for wildlife migrating from the reserve.

Could you therefore please answer (the following) questions … before any further action is taken to remove the trees:

Response: Four individual Eucalyptus grandis “Flooded Gums” located at 23, 27, 29 and the turning circle outside 31 Ruskin Rowe, Avalon Beach require removal. 

In answer to the specific questions:

1. Why are these trees proposed for removal?

The removal of these trees follows a visual tree inspection undertaken by Council’s level 5 arborist and diagnostic testing undertaken by a consulting arborist. Each tree has multiple defects leading to multiple branch failures over a short period of time. This issue poses a substantial public risk on road frequently used by pedestrians and Vehicles.

2. Who suggested this plan?

The trees were inspected following a customer request from a concerned community

member after a falling branch damaged their car.

3. Were risk assessment criteria applied to these and what was the outcome?

Yes. Council’s arborist and the consulting arborist both use the Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ) methodology to assess the risk posed by the trees. TRAQ is the certification provided by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and is the industry recognised methodology for the risk assessment of trees in Australia. The outcome is that trees pose too great a risk in this situation leading the decision to remove them.

4. What alternatives to removal were explored?

Pruning of high risk limbs was considered but in the opinion of both Council’s arborist

and the consulting arborist the impact of such significant pruning of this species would lead to tree failure in any event.

The trees will be removed within the next month due to their compromised structural

integrity and the potential for failure and each tree will be replaced with a local species in consultation with the residents.

Key resident groups Avalon Preservation Association and the Clareville Bilgola Plateau Residents Association have been notified.

Following your subsequent request I can confirm that a meeting with (the independent Level 8 arborist who has helped Ms Korzy) is also being arranged through the Director Planning & Place’s office.

By way of update, last night 29 May a substantial branch fell across Ruskin Rowe. Council’s after-hours officers attended to arrange the removal, make the road trafficable again and make safe. 

The same occurred for the recent removal of a large old gum tree on a Burrawong Avenue North Avalon nature strip by Council contractors as well – complete destruction because the tree was ‘dropping branches on cars that parked under it’ – with no wildlife officer present during the destruction.

Residents have suggested that if people have to park their 4th or 5th car, boat or trailer on the street because it won't fit on their property, they don't park it under a tree, as even those not as old as the two giants already destroyed by the Northern Beaches Council in Ruskin Rowe last week, will drop branches as part of their growing process.

Those with older trees on their property find that a yearly inspection by a qualified arborist, and management by qualified tree contractors, not only keeps them safe, it also keeps those trees healthy.

Trees and vegetation in Pittwater, even those on private land, are protected under the State Environmental Planning Policy (Biodiversity and Conservation) 2021 Chapter 2 Vegetation in non-rural areas. 

Wildlife is protected too - all of it.

However since what is now called by Pittwater residents ''the reinstallation of Warringah Council over Pittwater’' the escalation and destruction of trees in Pittwater in public spaces has been soaring, with no replacements for trees already removed taking place.

Wiggly lines are feeding trails of the native Red Triangle Slug, feeding algae on the trunk.

The 1 cm insect is a species of Tree Hopper. ''Not all fauna of value is feathered or furred.''

The Ruskin Rowe trees marked for destruction by Northern Beaches Council prior to 2 being destroyed - all images on this page 'supplied'