The following blog was posted in good faith on Monday 31st August 2015 in an attempt to raise my concerns over what I understood to be the loss of 12 Elm Trees in Hove. I have subsequently been contacted by Rob Greenland who has written a much more informed (and informative) blog in response to my own. Rob was until his recent retirement the city Arboriculturist, a job he held throughout the1970s onward. His ‘expertise’ is in Elm disease management and Brighton Elm trees, I totally commend Robs blog to anyone reading this statement. It appears that the photo I chose is not even of Dutch Elm Disease! If you read the blog via the link, you will find out that the Elms destroyed amounts to 14, not the 12 mentioned in the Argus so the loss is even more substantial. I hope my blog has not offended any of those who do know the difference between heart rot and Elm Disease, or who work with wood in a professional or amateur capacity such as Ron. My own knowledge is extremely limited although my Father was until his recent death someone who had spent all of his working life as a clerk in a timber merchants. He would have known the nature of the diseases mentioned and probably shared Robs frustration at my ignorance.
This morning a local newspaper published an article on the failure by a popular and prestigious private School to manage its estate, leading to the loss of more than 12 mature elm trees in the city to Dutch Elm Disease. The historical link between the city and Dutch Elm Disease goes back to the 1960s when a particularly virulent strain of the disease arrived in the UK destroying nearly all of the elm trees across the nations with the exception of Brighton & Hove and the Isle of Man. According to the news report in todays Argus, some trees that had been felled by St Christophers School were not destroyed as regulations demand, but left on site, allowing the deadly fungus to survive and to be spread by disease carrying beetles to healthy trees. According to a Council spokesman the authority is not planning to pursue further action against the owners of the private land where the logs were found. He added: “Our concern is saving elms. To best achieve this we need the cooperation of our residents and we believe we are less likely to get this cooperation if we pursue a policy of confrontation, naming and shaming or punishment.” It seems to make a great deal of sense, to ensure that the best outcome for the city as a whole is achieved. However the difficulty with this sort of approach is that it could lead to inconsistencies being perpetuated. This use of a restorative justice approach needs to go beyond appearing to turn a blind eye to one or two high profile culprits. It is disappointing that the response from the School is so passive. The paper reports “No one from St Christopher’s was available for comment during the summer holidays.” No doubt the School has been open during the holidays for various purposes and if this issue was being treated as a matter of priority by the school management, someone would certainly have made themselves available to the newspaper. One of the principles of restorative justice is for the perpetrator of a crime to acknowledge their actions and provide a remedy that will be acceptable to those affected. In this case the Council is acting on behalf of local residents and the wider environment. Clearly no one can replace 12 mature elm trees on a like for like basis, but the School could replace the trees they have destroyed with younger trees. That would be a great way of raising the profile of this important issue amongst staff and students and indicate that they were aware of the impact of their actions more widely. In addition to this, perhaps the Council could explain their policy on this matter in a more strategic and positive manner than the statement released suggests. Otherwise restaurants breaking food hygiene rules, or transport companies failing to maintain their vehicles might expect the same sort of approach to their own misdemeanours, free from punishment and confrontation!