Update at 8.30pm, Monday, February 12: Uckfield town councillors have voted tonight to save the yew tree in Holy Cross Church.
Members of the environment and leisure committee completely rejected the idea of felling the tree but suggested other ways in which the path could be made safer.
The idea of handrail is to be explored, along with the possibility of making the path surface anti-slip, warning signs and more frequent sweeping of the berries which can cause the hazard.
In introducing the topic, the chairman, Cllr Mick Dean, Trust Independent, New Town, said he had already asked that costings be provided for a handrail.
“This yew tree is a mere twig at 107 years of age because there are yew trees in East Sussex that go back to the Domesday Book,” he commented.
The assistant town clerk, Christine Wheatley, said the council did not require planning permission for a handrail, even though the churchyard was within the town’s conservation area.
However, she had arranged a meeting on site with a Wealden District Council conservation officer to get advice.
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Cllr Diane Ward, Trust Independent, Uckfield Central, was “slightly shocked and stunned” that felling the tree was considered.
She had looked at this website’s Facebook page and seen that people’s responses were exactly what she had been thinking which is “you really can’t cut that down”.
Cllr Ian Smith, Independent, Ridgewood, had looked into the possibility of an anti-slip product being regularly applied to the affected path.
Cllr Donna French, Trust Independent, Uckfield North, said it would be a real shame if the tree was lost.
She supported the idea of a handrail and changing the fortnightly sweeping of the path to a weekly sweep and in between times, “perhaps the church themselves could give it a sweep”.
Cllr Barry Mayhew, Independent, New Town, said: “I think it would be a real travesty if we chopped the tree down. It is only while the berries fall, so it is not a problem all the year round.”
He suggested warning signs were put up.
From our original story published at 6am today: The council was asked to fell the yew tree in because of safety concerns.
The request came from the church which said people had slipped on autumn/winter berries and foliage falling from the tree.
The churchyard is ‘closed’ and therefore the responsibility of the town council.
If councillors agree it should be felled, permission would first have to be given by Wealden Council because while the town council says the tree isn’t subject to a Tree Preservation Order the churchyard is in the conservation area.
A report to members of the town council’s environment and leisure committee who meet tonight, Monday, February 12, says there has been concern about the fall of the berries over the years and various solutions have been discussed including:
- The possibility of installing a net to catch the berries
- Sweeping of the path more often during this period
- The closure of the path during this time and using various other paths around the churchyard available to the public.
The report says the net solution was deemed unviable, and the church did not want the footpath closed. Regular blowing of the path and the removal of debris in general takes place every couple of weeks.
The church has told the council attempts have been made to sweep the path, “which is inherently dangerous anyway” – because of an an uneven brick construction – and efforts are never successful due to the intensity of the berry drop “and berries in their brushed residual state are even more slippery”.
The church says the tree is directly by the path and so lopping would not be the solution. “The only recourse would be its entire removal.”
It adds: “We know that people have fallen and with the advanced age of those involved it is fortunate that broken hips have not occurred.”
The town council report says a letter has been received from a resident saying they recently slipped on the path and knocked their head on a nearby memorial.
It goes on to say: “Having spoken to them they were alarmed to hear that there was a request to fell the tree as they do not want to see this happen.
“They have suggested that a handrail could be installed to assist pedestrians along this stretch of path.”
Committee members are asked to note the report and advise the clerk accordingly.