Trees Felled and Planted

“Please provide the following information regarding local tree felling and planting:-

1. Figures for the number of trees felled by the council or its contractors in the Local Authority area for every business year from 2014-2015 until the present.

Most tree surgery is carried out in response to health and safety concerns; particularly when the tree is likely to cause a danger to pedestrians or traffic, as part of habitat management, or for development projects such as the Torbay Link Road scheme. Much of the tree surgery carried out for the County Council is in its role as a Highway Authority, only some tree surgery involves felling and only some of the works are on public land. Numbers of trees felled as a result of Highways work are only partially recorded on the Highways database. Trees are also felled as part of cycle route and public rights of way maintenance, for example, and at Stover Country Park, which recently felled an unquantified number of conifer plantation trees as a timber crop to clear land ahead of the construction of their new reed beds, and the Grand Western Canal.

We are unable to provide this information under Regulation 12(4)(b) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 – ‘Manifestly Unreasonable’. This is because, due to the volume of information held, and the different locations at which it is held, the time it would take to locate, retrieve and extract all this data would be deemed to be ‘manifestly unreasonable’.

We recognise that this exception is subject to the Public Interest Test and are confident that, given the Council’s duty to carefully consider the use of staff time and the spending of public money, the public interest is best served by withholding this information at the present time.

Recorded information we hold relating to trees felled on council properties (including County Farms) over the last few years are: –

Year      Number of live trees felled as a result of scheduled tree inspections on premises
2013       61
2014       42
2015       44
2016       24
2017       52
2018       48
2019       44 (to August 19)

A high percentage of the live trees felled are Elm regrowth which has subsequently re-caught elm disease. Although these poles get felled, the rootstock remains and regrows, so although we are felling these trees we are not actually removing them.  The same trees will be back again in another 30 years re-catching elm disease and being felled all over again. The same is true to a lesser extent with other species. The percentage of trees felled where the rootstock is deliberately removed is very low.

2. Figures for the numbers of trees planted by the council for every business year from 2014-2015 until the present.”

Devon County Council (DCC) maintains no formal or systematic records of tree planting which it undertakes, we do not, therefore, hold the requested information. DCC does not have a formal policy to replant trees felled for reasons of public safety. The Council has adopted an Ash Replacement Strategy in response to the huge threat from ash dieback, which will be implemented by supporting tree planting undertaken by third parties. To date it has supported one main planting scheme in early 2019 to compensate for ash trees felled by DCC and is currently planning future approaches in liaison with the Devon Ash Dieback Resilience Forum.

DCC has a policy of planting three trees for every large mature tree felled; but not necessarily at the same location. There is no clear definition of what constitutes a tree and what doesn’t.