New Report Indicates Council’s Tree Planting Failure

A report shows that 90% of trees planted by West Norfolk Borough Council in their flagship LynnSport carbon offsetting scheme have died since being planted in April this year.

Dr Charlie Gardner, senior conservation lecturer, and Louise Gardner, RHS qualified Horticulturist, have written a report this week which investigates the status of the trees planted at LynnSport. After declaring a climate emergency in September last year, this scheme to plant 6000 trees in the LynnSport area has been a key part of the council’s approach to offsetting their corporate greenhouse gas emissions. Planted in April this year, the status of these whips has since been a topic of confusingly hot debate.

Cllr Michael de Whalley visited the site a few weeks after their planting and suggested that some 75% of the trees were dead. When a member of the public questioned this in a council meeting, she was assured by environment portfolio holder Cllr Kunes that both he and the council’s tree officer had been to the site and the “majority” were alive.

Unconvinced by the report from the council arboricultural officer, Dr and Mrs Gardner visited the site and assessed the status and condition of the plantation. Their method sampled 15 sections of the site and assessed 10 trees in each section. This representative sampling method provides an accurate picture of the whole 6000 whips without needing to inspect each one*. After looking at 150 trees they found that only a mere 15 of their sample were alive. Of the 15 alive, the report explains they are in a poor state of health which provides “no guarantee of their continued survival.”

Recently we have faced record-breaking heat and dry weather which left many plants struggling, but the authors of this report “believe that most of the dead whips were probably already dead before the record heat of 18-19 July 2022.” This lines up with Cllr de Whalley’s finding made in May, well before the heatwave.

The report highlights the poor planting practices as the main reason for the low survival rate in this scheme. Approximately one in six of the whips were not properly planted, where the soil was not tamped down, trees were not planted deep enough to cover the roots, and some were not placed in the soil at all – simply resting inside the tree guards instead. With such a prevalence of improper planting, the shocking survival rate seems less surprising. The tree officer’s report to the environment cabinet member suggested the trees have “been through a bit of a shock” by being transplanted to LynnSport, but made no mention of the quality of their implantation. 

Cllr de Whalley had suggested that some whips had been vandalised, this wasn’t raised by Cllr Kunes or the tree officer, and this report claims to have “found little evidence of vandalism”. The council have installed CCTV in the area to “deter antisocial behaviour”, how effective this would be is not clear. 

A council spokesperson responded to LDRS coverage of this issue by saying that the sample size used was small and hinted that the recent record-breaking heatwave may have affected the survival rates. The spokesperson also blamed alleged vandalism and how the trees are in a “dormant” phase since planting. As detailed above, many of these factors were addressed in the report itself. The council should face reality and accept that this scheme has failed to deliver.

In 2020, the council came under fire when 500 trees, planted by the local “Churches Together” group, were all found dead after the council had promised to take on the management of the plantation. The council later replanted 400 trees on this Fairstead site and has since replanted another 500 on this site again this year.

You can read the full report here.

I’m no statistician, but I know that you can randomly sample to get a good idea of the full population. I think that the sampling used here gives a 5% margin of error – so we can be confident that between 85% and 95% are dead. I’m happy to be corrected on this.

Town Council Insurance Bill Skyrockets

In the Downham Market Town Council meeting on 29th July 2022, the clerk mentioned that there are ten (10) active claims against the council’s insurance. Graham Spark, the new town clerk, estimated that the settlement value of these ten claims totals around £30,000.

This information was brought up during a discussion around approving the clerk to move ahead with entering into the next year’s insurance contract. Last year the insurance premium was £8.6k, when the budget for this year was set a sum of £9k was set aside for the renewal. This year the council is liable for an insurance premium of £17.3k, which is double the cost to the Downham Market precept (tax) payer.

The reason for this massive increase in insurance premium was cited to be these 10 active claims. Though no details of these claims were detailed in the meeting, the current town mayor, Cllr Pyatt, indicated that we rate payers are “picking up past bills” – presumably a suggestion that these claims are related to issues since before he became mayor.

A freedom of information request reveals the nature of each of the open claims and their date. Further specific information about each was not forthcoming as this may “prejudice any cases” still ongoing.

Claim TypeDateStatus
Public Liability29/10/2020Open
Public Liability*26/03/2021Open
Public Liability27/08/2021Open
Public Liability21/06/2022Open

Given that half of those cases date back to 2020, it’s not clear why they have only now impacted the insurance premium that the council pays.

I tried to cross-reference dates with news reports from around the time and the only case I could find that may match up is a child harmed by broken glass on Howdale play equipment, but I believe the Borough Council would be liable in this instance so it’s not clear what any of these are about.