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Broadcasters fight to save ‘landmark tree’ in Dartmouth Park

La Sainte Union says it hope to save soaring cedar but must put pupil safety first

30 March, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Justin Rowlatt, Dame Jenny Abramsky and the tree in Dartmouth Park

BROADCASTER Dame Jenny Abramsky and BBC reporter Justin Rowlatt have joined forces with neighbours to save a soaring cedar tree in the grounds of a school their homes overlook.

The pair, who live close to each other in Dartmouth Park, fear the landmark tree is set for the chop. Estimated to be around 70 years old, it was damaged in the recent Storm Doris.

It lost a limb and now tree surgeons say La Sainte Union Catholic School should err on the side of caution and take it down for safety reasons.

But some neighbours fear the motive for felling the tree stems from long-term plans to build an extension to a school building close by and careful management could save the tree.

Dame Jenny, who chairs the National Heritage Memorial Fund since retiring as the BBC’s director of Audio and Music, told the New Journal the tree was a much-loved landmark.

She said: “It is a beautiful tree, clearly old, and it would be an extremely sad loss. It is part of a group of trees that must have stood for decades.”

Mr Rowlatt, who has also focused on environmental issues for the BBC, said: “It is magnificent. The tree could be managed to ensure it is no danger to anyone.”

Their views have been backed by a number of neighbours, who have written jointly to the school and the council to have the tree preserved.

James Whittle, whose home overlooks the school grounds, told the New Journal neighbours had met school caretakers to discuss if it could saved and had believed pruning would help – but then were told in a second meeting the tree would be taken down completely.

He said: “They said it was ‘in the wrong place’ but how can that be right?”

LSU headteacher Maureen Williams told the New Journal they would do all they could to save the tree – but had to go with experts’ recommendations.

She added: “We want to keep it, but if it has to come down due to safety reasons, then we will need to follow that advice.” She added the school has referred the decision to the Town hall and if it is felled a new tree would be planted in its place.“We hope they say no, it can be saved – but obviously the safety of children comes first,” Ms Williams added.

A council spokesman said the cedar was in a conservation area meaning it was protected under the Town and Country Planning Act. “Prior notice of intent to undertake any tree works must be served on the council,” he said.

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