talkingtrees report 1996

In 1996 David Rose, head of pathology (Alice Holt Forestry Research), was commissioned to do the report 'Health of Braintree's Trees': This came about at the instigation of the Queen.
Here is our report:

On tree problems in and around Braintree, Essex.


I have been increasingly worried at the rate at which trees have been dying, first in my local area, then nationally. As a tree surgeon ten years ago I started noticing that trees I was felling were rotting in the middle. Apparently healthy trees, all species with similar staining or rot. Externally each species had individual fungal or insect predators, but internally all had the same stain. I became very worried and with the fate of the elm tree in mind, I wondererd if something similar might be happening to all other species. I started digging them up and found the roots were rotting in the ground. The ten years of investigation and query are the background to this meeting.

My worries were that the water the trees were drinking was poisoning them. If this was true we could be losing all our trees.

Finally Mr. Rose came to look. Surely an expert pathologist from Alice Holt Research Station, responsible for the health of trees all over Britain, when he saw the dead trees in my town would get something done.

Well he did. This report. I am still worried. What do you think?


For three years I took different samples of trees and roots to my local MP's surgery. He is the leader of the House Of Parliament. Eventually he also saw that this was happening. However he said in Government there was no door at which to lay this problem.

We wrote a letter to every M.P in parliament. We received five replies.

We wrote to Prince Charles, Lord Bath, The Tree Council, told people, went on T.V news, local papers and finally a letter to the queen. We told her of our fears. Then a letter advising us to get in touch with Alice Holt from the Queen. Still it took some perssuading to get Mr. Rose out.


I said at the outset that I thought Mr. Rose would find a name for everything I would show him. My intention was to show him as many trees of different species as possible during his visit. Trees that were all sick or dead. Each species showing exactly the same symptoms. Different fungi or insect predators on each species but exactly the same visible symptoms as they died!
1. Thin canopy
2. Branch die back
3. Weeping bark
4. Bark loss
5. Major branch die back
6. Death

The first site was a row of poplars. Recently 30 trees were removed. Every other tree along a 60 tree run, all aparently healthy, all were stained in the middle at ground level. A slice from the end was shown to Mr Rose. The same slice was shown to Dr. David Bellamy and also Mr Newton. Dr Bellamy agreed that it was rotten in the middle.

Many of the standing trees showed varying stages of die back.

However, Mr. Rose said as the trees had been topped this was obviously the cause. At the same site he was shown Alder and Apple that had died.

He had no comment about these.

This site was Mr Elliot's house, Bocking, Church Street.

We also showed him a row of Lombardy Poplars right opposite Mrs Elliot's that were dead. No comment.

Next, John Bunyan School. Young trees of mixed species. Some already dead many with extensive bark cracking. Mr Rose said it was grafting problems from the nurseries where the trees originated. The trees were Hawthorn, Chestnut, Silver Burch, Sycamore, Prunus, Crab Apple and Conifer.

Then we looked at a dead Ash at Meadowside. Alongside Coldnailhurst, Lime and Sycamore. Many thin canopies, bark cracking.

Bockling Cemetry - Large Beech dead this year. First dead Cherry. Sycamore also sick. No comment from Mr Rose.

Public Gardens - Here two large Beech have died and been felled recently. Honey Bark Fungus is on three large Beech. All Beech starting to thin. Bark cracking on many. Also Sycamore, Silver Buch and Cherry looking sick.

Next Stisted woods. Many dead or dying trees. Mr Rose said the wood stood on chalk. He took no soil samples. We saw no chalk on the ground or in the stream. That was why some of the Pine were dead. Also dead were Ash, Sycamore, Beech, Larch.

The roads and fields between each site had many dead trees. We pointed them out from the moving car.

Next stop Bradwell Bluebell wood. Oak, Ash, Pine, Sycamore - half dead.

Mr rose and I both agreed the wood was half dead. We both agreed that up to one third of the root could be dead before any external signs were visible. That many standing healthy trees had thin canopies and bark cracking.

I asked when a problem became an epidemic - 50% dead, 75% dead or 100% dead?

Mr Rose made no comment.

Mr Rose also said three large Sycamores had died of drought. Their roots actually reach the stream nearby.

We realised Mr Rose would look at dead trees all day and still not see a common cause.

We drove through the lanes of Notley to Notley Mill. Silver Birch, Pine, Alder dead.

Back to Rose Hill, Willow, Sycamore, Pine and Oak dead or sick.

We took Mr Rose on this route to show town and country were affected. We could have gone on in any direction and it would be the same in any part of the country.


Mr Rose's description of how a tree drinks is very interesting. That no tree drinks from below a depth of 60.cms. By my tape-measure the distance from my knee to my heel. There are flower's whose roots go deeper than this.

What we have seen all over the country is tree's dying. Each year more. The Alder is advised not to plant anymore.

Oak decline and dieback an acknowledged fact.

The Elm wiped out.

We have seen dead trees of all species and all sizes. If one tree in a row dies, so can others. It happened with the Elm.

Something is happening to the trees and no one is doing anything about it. If you want more information get in touch:

The following documents have been sent to us by David Rose and can be obtained from;
Forestry Commission Research Division: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/
Air Quality and tree growth in open top chambers. Research information note 208.
Air quality and tree growth: Results of the open top chamber experiments 1991. Research information note 221.
Conclusion; (note 221)- Some effects of ambient(polluted) air on tree heights and diameters continue to be recorded at Headley, but not at other sites. This contrast, first reported from the 1990 results, have not increased further in 1991, probably because of a cool, cloudy summer reducing ozone events.
The data suggests trends which may increase in magnitude with time and as a result, parts of the experiment are being continued through two more growing seasons by incresing the height of the chambers. This will further extend the already uniquely long trial of comparing trees grown in ambient(normal) air with those in continuously filtered (pollutant free) air.
"These tests started ten years ago and the Forestry Commission are obviously concerned, about the effects of polluted air and the health of trees.
The problems facing the trees is ever worsening and continued monitoring is not sufficient and will not provide or improve air quality.
A series of reports monitoring tree health deterioration.
Forest condition 1993 - Research informaton note 251
Forest condition 1995 - Research information note 282
Forest condition 1996 - Research information note 291
Summary (Research information note 291)
Crown density and various other features were assesed on a total of 8952 trees of five species - Sitka spruce, Norway spruce, Scots pine, Oak and Beech - distributed over 373 plots. With the exception of Beech, there were no major changes in crown condition this year. Oak and Norway spruce deteriorated slightly but the condition of Scots pine was virtually unchaged following a three year improvement which began in 1993. Sitka spruce has improved continuously since 1998. The condition of Beech improved significantly but this was not sufficient to eliminate fully the severe deterioration observed in 1995.
"The summary of the last report paints a worrying picture. This report was three years ago and today the problems are more prevalent and ever worsening.
The above summary clearly states that Oak and Beech are suffering but what about all the other mixed species of trees which are not mentioned but are badly effected and suffering.
These reports seem to concentrate on non native spruce or pines, trees which are becoming much to common in the British countryside.
The fact is the trees of Britain (and worldwide) are dying.
Monitoring has been going on for too long, action is now needed."
Ozone effects on trees. - Arboriculture Research and information Note. 132/96/EXT
Summary - Ozone a photochemically produced pollutant, is present in summertime in Britain, particulary in rural areas, at concecentrations which are potentially damaging to trees. There is evidence of such effects in the field on both coniferous and deciduous species, with indications of changes in sensitivity to other stresses. Current knowledge does not permit the quantification of the importance of such effects for tree health.
Again very worrying, here we are being told pollution is damaging trees.
So what are our experts doing to combat these very serious problems?
Absolutely nothing! They seem to think monitoring will save us all from the current environmental crisis.
The problems we are facing are very serious and to leave the fate of the planet in the hands of our so called experts is not a good idea.
We hope the web site can offer some solutions and to share the problems each one of us faces.

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