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Work to Protect Lombardy Poplar Trees at Christchurch Meadows Begins this Month

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WORK to protect the row of landmark poplar trees along the eastern boundary of Christchurch Meadows will begin this month.

Lombardy Poplar Trees at Christchurch Meadows

The line of Lombardy poplars along the George Street frontage of Christchurch Meadows require tree work to ensure they can be safely retained.

Lombardy Poplar Trees at Christchurch Meadows

Many of the trees in this area are believed to be almost 40 years old and are coming to the end of their natural life (this species tend to live between 30 to 50 years). This type of tree is also prone to snapping, and given the size and location of these trees, they will need to be reduced to a safer height from their current height of 18-22m.

Although some of the older trees are beginning to fail, the Council’s succession planting programme for this line of trees, initiated over seven years ago, has taken into account the limited life span of these trees and planned ahead for the future. 34 new poplar trees were added in 2014 and the majority of these are growing well. It is hoped the new healthier trees will eventually become the dominant ones along the row.

Since the majority of the trees are still healthy they will only be reduced to around 15m in height. The entire row has been successfully reduced to a similar height previously, so this is an appropriate height for them to begin regrowth again.

Where significant decay has been identified, a small number of trees will need to be reduced to a safer height of 5m to spur their healthy re-growth and over the longer term to catch up to the height of the rest of the trees.

Works Begin

Work will therefore need to start next week (13 September) while the weather and ground conditions are favourable. At the same time, work will be carried out to the lone poplar at the end of Wolsey Road, which is also showing signs of decay.

Similar work was carried out previously to a number of other poplars to the north of this area, which have now regrown.

Cllr Karen Rowland, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Recreation, said: “I’m heartened that we continue to monitor and care for this line of Lombardy Poplars, along the edge of our much-loved Christchurch Meadows. The stand of trees form a striking and much-loved landmark for views from within Reading and all along the Thames. We know that a number of these majestic trees are sadly coming to the end of their natural life – something we began to proactively plan for back in 2014 when we planted 34 new poplars here as part of an intentional succession planting programme to ensure this line of trees remains for the future.

“We are also doing everything we can to prolong the longevity of the older trees with this latest round of height reduction. Given their location within a public area and next to a busy main road, we also have safety at the forefront of our minds.

“Although thankfully the majority of the poplars do not have a problem with decay, the entire line of poplars will need to be reduced to the same height, as the canopy effectively works as one in shielding from wind shear and other natural forces. Following this necessary work, the line of trees will be around 15 meters in height. Whilst this may initially look different, it is very much in the trees’ interests and in time they will regrow up again to their current height. We will then need to carry out this similar height reduction again, or once every 3-5 years. Our expert tree officers will continue to monitor the poplars in this area to ensure their survival for many years to come. Importantly, the habitat, ecological and environmental benefits they offer will remain.

“The really good news is that of the new poplars we planted seven years ago, the majority are thriving and will hopefully soon take over as the dominant trees in this area, should the older poplars fail. This well-planned replanting work has meant we can renew what is a significant landscape feature in the area.

“This work links to our wider tree strategy, which details how we will manage and maintain our own trees, as well as undertaking our duties in terms of protection of trees and ensuring new trees are planted as part of developments in the town. The new strategy aims for 3,000 new trees on Council land by 2030, as well as increasing the proportion of land in Reading which is covered by tree canopy to 25% over the same timescale.”

Over the last decade, the Council has planted over 200 new trees every year, with the final total for the 2020-21 season reaching 351 – which exceeds the 330 trees planted during the Queen’s Jubilee year of 2012.

Tree Planting

The tree planting has attempted to increase the diversity of the tree varieties across Reading – including trees ranging from oaks to rowans, and limes to pines. This is an important part of the Council’s new Tree Strategy – and a crucial step in its response to tackling the climate emergency.