Submitted by Editor on Thu, 08/10/2020 - 12:38


A new visual assessment looking at the current condition of 49 trees in Charlotte Square Gardens has found that ‘continued instances of inappropriate cultural practices’ are causing damage.

The harms include: alteration of soil structure, physical wounding of surface roots through turf maintenance, and physical damage to a significant number of trees’ roots and stems.

The survey was commissioned by Sophie Moxon, Administrative Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in June 2020.

Physical infrastructure, construction traffic, and footfall associated with that event here since 1983 are identified as the main causes of the problems.

The 56-page report forms the basis of an application to carry out tree works in the privately owned garden (20/04190/TCO). You can read it here.


Practical steps

The document, by Adam Riedi of Blebo Tree Surgery, states that many poor practices ‘are largely avoidable and their impact on the long term tree health is out of all proportion to their necessity’.

It is imperative, he concludes, ‘that garden usage and maintenance do not needlessly compromise tree health and structural condition’.

Riedi does not call for any tree to be felled, but says 15 of them need to be pruned, 10 within 3 months.

For the future, he recommends comparatively simple measures such as planting young trees into mulch beds, using temporary load-bearing routes, and padding lower stems.

More difficult would be to address waterlogging with new drainage to replace the degraded Victorian system.

Most trees occasionally drop parts of themselves and eventually tumble, especially after weather events. Careful consideration should therefore be given to not encroaching upon them (e.g. with benches or dramatic increases in the number of people) in a way that is likely to require they be trimmed or cut down for public safety.

In general, the report insists that the legal status of the trees, and  the laws and guidelines covering their management, should be ‘respected and adhered to’.


What next for the Book Festival?

This report is an unsentimental assessment based on science and observation. It notes drily that ‘A tree can be defined as a self-optimising bio-mechanical structure of lightweight design.

‘Its form is a consequence of available light, load adaptive growth and circumstances set within the context of its own genetic abilities and constraints.’

Crucially, those circumstances have involved the Book Festival for 37 years, and the consequences for the trees do not make happy reading.

The report identifies the causes of harm, remedial fixes, a long-term strategy, and a series of legal obligations. But whether the much-loved Book Festival can adapt within these constraints is less clear.

To this corresponent’s untutored eye, damaging soil compaction appears to be an unavoidable consequence of concentrated footfall and a possibly insuperable obstacle to this space’s continued use as a festival venue.

The time may therefore have come to find, or to build, a permanent alternative venue with hard standing; or to disperse the event across multiple indoor locations as recently suggested by the Cockburn Association.

Credit where it’s due

To their credit, Book Festival organisers commissioned the report, and have said they're keeping an open mind about how and where to hold future events in a post-Covid-19 Edinburgh.

In this correspondent’s opinion, what we should not consider is normalising the semi-permanent submergence of George Street beneath marquees and commercial pop-ups.

Replacing one set of damages with another is not an appropriate option.AM

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