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Ashley Down Oak may be safe at last

Community standing by the Ashley Down Oak with banner.

Photo credit: STADO

For over 100 years the boughs of the Ashley Down Oak have provided shade shelter and joy to local residents. Thanks to the efforts of campaigners the tree will continue to bring its benefit for many years to come.

Thousands of locals objected early last year when a 120-year-old holm oak tree at the top of Ashley Hill was scheduled to be felled after the insurance company of a nearby house said the oak’s roots were causing subsidence. 

This week, STADO, a campaign group established to fight the gelling in February 2021, learned that specialist contractors Geobear have injected geopolymers into the ground around the oak to prevent the roots growing further towards nearby houses. 

According to Geobear, the injection of the geopolymers should make it unnecessary to remove the tree, safeguarding it for the future.

The decision validates the work of STADO in their two-year fight against the felling, which included campaigners camping in a make-shift treehouse and setting up community watch schemes to warn of the arrival of tree felling teams.

The treehouse STADO built in the tree to protect it from being felled. Image: STADO.

Whilst the work by Geobear may have resolved the issue for the homeowner, STADO are still frustrated by a lack of clarity from Bristol City Council, who originally issued the tree felling order.

In particular, they want clarity on whether the council will proceed with plans to pollard the tree, a technique in which the upper branches of a tree are heavily pruned, which STADO say could affect the long-term health of the tree.

Read more: Community rallies to save 100-year-old oak tree

STADO spokesperson Torin Menzies said: ‘STADO welcomes this resolution for all involved, however, in light of subsidence mitigation options like this one being available, we are dismayed that Bristol City Council ever made a decision to fell the Ashley Down Oak – local communities should not need to resort to direct action in order to prevent such unnecessary and unwise tree removal.

‘Mitigation strategies should be seen as the primary tactic to deal with this sort of situation, with felling only used as a very last resort.’

The campaigners have had a rocky relationship with the council in their effort to save the oak. 

Meetings with councillors failed to produce results, whilst multiple Freedom of Information requests to the Council regarding the matter were denied, including from Bristol Tree Forum and The Bristol Cable.

In May – shortly after the mayoral and council elections – Mayor Marvin Rees publicly announced that the oak would not be felled.

However, in his announcement, made via a video on Facebook, Rees notably failed to mention the efforts of STADO or of the local community who rallied to save the oak.

The Ashley Down Oak is one success story, but there are many other trees in the city threatened by developments.

Professor John Tarlton from Bristol Tree Forum said: ‘Mature trees such as the Ashley Down Oak are not only beautiful Bristol landmarks, they also act as carbon sinks, reduce air and noise pollution and provide crucial cooling to city streets as our summers get ever hotter, and dangerous heat waves get more frequent.

‘We need to do all we can to look after these green giants as more and more of our urban trees are threatened by city centre developments such as St Mary le Port and Baltic Wharf – Bristol’s health and happiness depends on it.’

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