Duke of Wellington’s tree at Kingston Lacy

The National Trust owns more old and significant trees than any other organisation in the UK including some of international importance such as the Tolpuddle Martyr’s tree or Newton’s apple tree and takes the responsibility of looking after these very seriously. The Trust spends significant resources every year surveying these trees and carrying out work to enhance their useful lives and many staff and external arboricultural consultants and contractors are involved with this.  However for various reasons and no matter how important they are, it is not possible to keep all trees indefinitely but the need to make difficult decisions like the one to remove the Duke of  Wellington’s cedar at Kingston Lacy are fortunately very rare. 

The Trust believes that having carefully considered the advice of all those consulted on the future of this tree the complete removal was the right course of action from a landscape perspective because of its prominent place in a formal garden. 

A large number of people were involved and there were a number of different views and options discussed over a period of time about what could be done to preserve the tree. To keep the tree in its location would have meant significantly reducing the crown of the tree. 

In the end, the decision was made that the pruning would have adversely affected the tree’s appearance – and because of its important position in the historic landscape garden at Kingston Lacy, it would have had a detrimental effect on the views of the garden.

We fully appreciated the significance of the tree, as a 200 year old cedar and because it was planted by the Duke of Wellington – as well as for its importance within the historic and listed grounds of the house. We have done work on the tree for 30 years – since the Trust acquired Kingston Lacy and have always sought to extend its useful life in the garden at Kingston Lacy. We have monitored it carefully over the years. 

But we accept that we may not have explained fully that the felling was because of concerns of the tree’s appearance as part of the historic landscape garden at Kingston Lacy if it underwent extensive surgery. 

It was a difficult decision which involved contributions from many experts both within the Trust and externally and different opinions regarding the long term potential of the tree were proposed. While not everybody was in agreement, it was felt that the major surgery needed would have spoilt the appearance of the tree and therefore the garden in which it was a feature. 

The National Trust looks after millions of trees nationally and we care about them and their location. By caring for our places, we think long term and some years ago we cultivated seedlings from the cedar tree which will be replanted in the same location, ensuring that, while this tree has been felled, its linage will continue in the garden to be enjoyed by future generations.

12 comments

  1. Nobby Clarke   •  

    I have read your blog about the Duke of Wellington’s cedar, and seen the counter arguments.
    As a tree surgeon and consultant and having been in the business 30 years, I find it hard to understand you argument for the removal of this tree. Can you seriously defend the removal of a historic living monument for aesthetic reasons? Surely you have missed the point here, of the association between tree, history and landscape. Some of the most important veteran trees in this country are no oil paintings, but nobody is demanding their removal because work to preserve them would make them ugly. You certainly would not take this tack if this were the preservation of a historic structure.
    I was fairly upset by the removal for what I assumed to be an apparently modest amount of decay, but to find that you have tried to justify this, because of the landscape setting is jaw dropping.
    I have been a member of the trust for a quarter of a century, but this has certainly made me consider cancelling my membership.

  2. Rob Keyzor   •  

    Very poor decision making and frankly I would have expected so much better from an organisation that is the guardian of so many of our important trees. It seems here that the basis for the decision was all wrong, stumbling through health and safety alarmism before settling on the amenity card. It appears as if this Cedar has been treated as an ugly shrub in the wrong place. Its cultural, historical and arboricultural significance has been ignored.(a tough act when its called the Duke of Wellingtons Cedar).
    The question needs to asked ‘who in particular made this decision’. A thorough and open review of how it ended up felled needs to be undertaken. If the National Trust cannot do this then an outside body needs to be recruited. This is required to restore faith in the Trusts ability as a guardian of our heritage.

    • Allan   •  

      Thanks for the comment Rob. One clarification – “health and safety” played no part in the decision or the reasons we gave, despite what has been reported.
      Allan

      • Nobby Clarke   •  

        Allan
        I am a little confused by the clarification here.
        I am assuming Mr Keyzor is under the impression that the tree was recommended to be to be pruned or felled because of worries about the decay in the base.
        So am I.
        If there were no health and safety reasons attached to this decision, then why was the work to be carried out in the first place? Are you now suggesting that actually the tree was not in a dangerous state?
        I am really at a loss to understand your reasoning here or the ultimate decision to fell this tree.
        I agree with Mr Keyzor, and as members of this organisation we really do need to know why this decision was taken.
        I really don’t think anything other than serious health and safety reasons would be justification for felling such an historic tree.

        Nobby Clarke

        • Rob Keyzor   •  

          Allan,
          I have to make similar decisions every day in my professional life, trust me I know that the decision to fell is the most difficult decision to make and a pruning solution can often be seen as simply deferring the inevitable.

          This might appear as an immutable truth but our work with veteran trees teaches us that firstly trees that have been worked upon have a remarkable life span, secondly this is not in the class of ‘old,’ the oldest tree of this type in this country is nearly twice this age, thirdly we are becoming increasing aware of the large impact upon structural security that even minor reduction works have. We are therefore not talking about ‘deferring the inevitable’ in the way we might with human biology. Trees are very different.

          The question of whether the tree would lose its amenity following the reduction (why this is required I am now unsure of) to such an extent that it now requires felling is a curious question. I can only assume the garden was designed with the characteristic shape of a mature Cedar in mind. The Ist Duke would likely have been very familiar with such trees in his travels. To now remove it in the middle of this epoch in its life and replace it with a tree whose immature shape is nowhere like the desired design shape and wont be for a number of human generations seems wrong headed.
          Would the reduction have been so abhorrent to the landscape character of the place? For deciduous trees this is a difficult trade off as the winter shape of the tree loses the ‘natural’ tracery of ranches for large to medium to small to twig.However this is considerably less discernible with trees that retain their foliage cover all year round. I have put the word natural in inverted commas because natural trees have this form typically only when they are young. As they get older typically from maturity onwards natural means having deadwood, broken branches, truncated branches etc. I’m not suggesting that this is the way forward in a formal garden but that a tree that has been sensitively reduced is not such an abhorrent, intolerable freak is perhaps the point I am making. It is part of their individual histories and in many cases adds to the character of the tree. That it so out-weighed all the other compelling historical and cultural considerations is what I find so difficult to understand.

          I am sure Allan that none of this is news to yourself- as I assume you are a professional within the NT, it is the detail of the decision making process in this particular case that really worries me and which hopefully you can shed light upon.

          I appreciate the time taken getting back to me.

          Many thanks,
          Rob.

  3. Guy Meilleur   •  

    How ‘major’ a surgery was proposed? Were those specifications included in the consultants’ reports? Specs are often left out of reports seen in the US, diminishing their usefulness by leaving managers to fear the worst.

    Repeating Barrell’s previous work done to his specs from the 1980’s may well have sufficed. Why was this approach rejected? Not sophisticated enough for 2014??

    Crunching numbers–based on blatantly bogus formulas, of data derived from imperfect machines, imperfect software, and especially imperfect operators (myself included)–is just one part of an objective assessment.

    Objectivity comes from direct observation and analysis of the living tree. The use of machines and mathematics, as in tomography and pull tests, does not guarantee an objective assessment. After all, the decisions on what to test, where, how, why, when, and how to analyze the results–these are subjectively made.

    “Overreliance on machines and math while downplaying the tree’s response and adaptations is VOODOO! ” (Paraphrasing Frank Rinn, Developer of resistographs and tomographs)

    Fears of ‘spoilt appearance’ were not founded on specs for proper pruning. BS3998: If, owing to decay or structural weakness, there is a need to prevent failure in a veteran tree, lapsed pollard or lapsed coppice stool, some kind of crown reduction (see 7.7) should normally be adopted as the main solution.
    7.7 Crown reduction and reshaping
    COMMENTARY ON 7.7
    Crown reduction alleviates biomechanical stress by reducing both the
    leverage and the sail area of the tree, and can allow retention of a tree in
    a confined space. It can also be used to create a desired appearance or to
    make the tree more suited to its surroundings. Unlike topping (see 3.28
    and Annex C), it retains the main framework of the crown and therefore
    a high proportion of the foliage-bearing structure, which is important
    for the maintenance of vitality.”

    http://www.historictreecare.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/RETRENCHING-HOLLOW-TREES-FOR-LIFE-131126.pdf

  4. Helen Gazeley   •  

    It seems to me extraordinary that no attempt was made, for a tree with such history and age, to do remedial work before taking the irreversible step of destruction. Surely as a guardian of our heritage, the National Trust should always approach such decisions conservatively. You may care for the trees you have – but not enough, it seems.

  5. Pip Howard   •  

    Would the National Trust care to publish the Visual Analysis which led to the removal of the tree due it’s position from a ‘landscape perspective’? Dangerous wording to use – whose landscape is it anyway?

    This decision is momentous, juggling with established academic research into heritage, culture and landscape and coming to your own conclusions. Is National Trust land exempt from the European Landscape Convention and other legal instruments concerning landscape? If nothing else you are clearly guilty of decision making which undermines the very core of why the National Trust exists by way of taking the course ‘landowners can do as they wish’ based on false consultation, rather than acting as custodians. Are we to see a further fragmentation of the wider landscape and the habitats contained within it because NGO owned land can exempt itself as it chooses (and who is making this choices exactly?).

  6. Philip Sale   •  

    I cant believe in this situation pruning was not undertaken first before a final decision was made, the look of a tree is often hard to envisage until it has been carried out. I have remedially pruned many trees for similar reasons and most often the final result is better than everyone expected. For an organisation charted with conservation of the historic this was a shameful act.

  7. Becky   •  

    The tree could have functioned just fine with up to 80% decay in the centre of the stem! and also there was no sign of decay of the roots. The National Trust keeps a list of retained tree’s meaning that they try their best to keep it but it doesn’t seem like that has happened in this case. Reducing the tree would have been better than losing it and I’m sure a lot of people would agree with that, and visitors would have recognised the heritage value of the tree even if it was reduced. The fact is this was a BAD decision. The tree was felled rather than reduced simply because it wouldn’t look quite so ‘pretty’.

  8. William Hackman   •  

    National Trust or ‘A Betrayal of Trust’? Quite frankly this was an appalling decision. Beware all ugly people, euthanasia is upon us. Names should be named, who’s aesthetic judgement wielded such power in the face of sound and respected arboricultural advice? Come on, own up.

  9. Thomas G-W   •  

    Having looked at all of the above and other evidence it does seem that the aesthetics argument is hard to understand. The prominence of the tree in the landscape was obviously a real issue and thus so surely was its removal. I cannot see how removing it improves the setting of the house it will be another 100 years before its replacement has the same impact and thus the retention of the tree even with a modified crown would surely be better aesthetically (certainly historically) if retained.

    Echoing above comments if Health and Safety was not a consideration at all as stated by the NT then why was any work proposed. Let nature take its course and let trees live.

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