THE great English poet William Blake once observed: “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in their way”.
Roughly 200 years later, the same divide still exists between those who feel an emotional response to trees and those who see little beyond their usefulness for shade, timber or produce.
Since 2006, arboreally inclined Canberrans have been able to make a case for the protection of any tree or group of trees on Territory land by nominating them for the ACT Tree Register.
Nominations are assessed according to their scientific, aesthetic and cultural value by the ACT Government’s Urban Treescapes team, who also look after the ones that make the cut and liaise with the landholders.
In the past seven years 118 individuals have been registered along with 28 groups – some of which, like Haig Park, contain thousands – but that’s not enough, according to tree protection officer Samantha Ning, who began working on the Tree Register last June.
“We’d love to get more nominations,” says Samantha, hanging out with “CityNews” under the shady canopy of a gigantic and perfectly balanced English oak that was registered last October.
“There hasn’t been much community engagement as part of it, so I don’t think it’s that well known within the Canberra community. We’d really encourage people, if they know of a tree that they think is really special, why not nominate it?”
She says that along with their beauty and value as part of Canberra’s urban forest canopy, a lot of the registered trees have fascinating stories behind them just like the impressive oak in Deakin, which was planted by former Canberran Andrew Haydon over 50 years ago when he was seven years old.
“I used to pick up acorns and put them in my pockets on the way home from school, and some of them actually grew,” recalls Andrew, who lives on a farm near Cobargo, NSW.
“I moved one into that spot, but then another one from the same batch of acorns was growing considerably quicker. I thought I’d like to see one fully grown in my lifetime so I replaced the first one with what was, I think, a genetically superior tree, in terms of growth rates and overall beauty.”
Haydon loves cultivating plants and has been propagating trees his whole life, but says that the oak is a particularly special example that “exceeded all expectations” for its normally slow-growing species.
“People have actually stopped and taken photographs of it, and a couple of people have even knocked on the door to say what a beautiful specimen of an English oak it is,” he adds.
“The other thing is it tends to lose its leaves late in the season. There have actually been autumns where it hasn’t lost all its leaves; it’s partially lost them, then started to grow new ones so its almost evergreen, which is very unusual for an oak.”
Plenty of other trees all over town in frontyards and backyards, on median strips and at the local shops would meet the criteria for the ACT Tree Register, and anyone can nominate them.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be your own tree,” confirms Samantha, who says the Urban Treescapes team is consistently available to advise and consult tree owners, and assures us that living with a registered tree is not a burden.
“There are certain activities that are prohibited against registered trees, and there are fines along with those prohibited activities,” she explains. “There’s also a tree protection zone, which is the canopy plus two metres, so people will have to gain approval to do anything near the tree.
“If, say, a development was going on nearby, it gives the tree that protection to make sure it is retained; Canberra is known for its urban forest and this is just another way of protecting it.”