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Letter: Walk under trees at your own risk

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SIR – A recent court case in Staffordshire will send shivers through our timid local councils and probably Forestry England.

In October 2019 a gentleman was killed, whilst walking his dog, by a bough falling from an oak tree, although it is not clear whether the branch killed him outright as he died from a cardiac arrest. In the subsequent recent court case, Staffordshire County Council were fined £300,000 plus £13,346 in costs and now face the prospect of being sued by the family.

Whilst we all feel sympathy for this man's death, surely this fine is worrying in that it's a product of the nanny state. Councils in this area do have annual inspections on their public areas, but I feel they do go over the top with some of the decisions.

Are councils panicking about the risks of falling branches?
Are councils panicking about the risks of falling branches?

I run the Warren Copse and Holbury Manor Conservation Group in a semi-ancient woodland which we are trying to restore to its former glory; a woodland that is enjoyed by many dog walkers or for general exercise.

The 2021 report has listed 63 trees to be felled, and other work such as crown cleaning, lifting, reduction or general pruning on a further 72 trees. Okay, we do have ash dieback which is going to be an ongoing problem, but we have had six trees fall over in the past few months and not one was on the list!

But what is worrying is where do we go from here when we have a must-blame-someone society? What are the options for the councils? Will they have to close all footpaths, fell all the trees, or erect signs saying "Anyone that enters do so at there own risk"? And how legal would they be?

How will Forestry England fare? Close the Forest or cut down all the trees?

In an age when we are being asked to plant trees to preserve the planet, in a few years they will have to be felled in case they might injure someone.

I think we have to take note of the recent case, and the government needs to clarify what the future holds for our green countryside and public open spaces.

Councils will be panicking, and any cost or finds will be paid by us all, at the end of the day.

So let's be sensible – trees fall over, branches fall off, mostly on windy days, so everyone has to be responsible for their own safety. So if you walk under trees, you do so at your own risk.

Eddie Holtham,
Chair of the Warren Copse and Holbury Manor Conservation Group,

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