Submitted by Editor on Tue, 08/11/2016 - 15:29

An independent survey has revealed the damage being done to trees in St Andrew Square by the Events held there. 

Essential Edinburgh, which commissioned the survey by the Potter Tree Consultancy (PTC) and manages the events, is now applying for permission to act on all the report’s recommendations (Ref. 16/05408/TCO). 

These concern 79 trees examined in the Garden in mid-October. 

The report (slowly available at the link above) makes clear a fundamental problem stemming from intensive use of the area as an Events space: 

The biggest issue facing trees on the site I feel is related to soil compaction caused by a combination of heavy pedestrian traffic and also vehicular movements on the site, particularly within retained trees rooting zones.

The long-term impacts of this are now becoming clearly visible in a significant number of the tree crowns on the site, which are showing signs of significant dieback in the upper portions of the tree crown, and in some cases the spiral of decline has been set in motion and [is] advancing quickly.

First things first

If and when Essential Edinburgh receives permission to go ahead, it will within 1 month, undertake a programme of crown reduction and deadwood removal to lower the risk of falling material harming people or property.

Also within a month, it will undertake ‘root collar excavation to decompact and apply mulch’ around seven particularly at-risk trees.

Within six months, it will ‘create 0.5m radius mulch ring around tree base and decompact’ in a further 20 cases.



Long-term commitment needed

Credit where credit’s due – Essential Edinburgh may be the source of the trouble, but it appears to be taking the matter seriously, and is acting promptly with remedial measures.

But, this is not a problem which can be solved with a short-term fix. As the report continues:

In terms of future management there needs to be a concerted effort to create a soil management budget for the site, with the emphasis being on making funds available to utilize new technology in the form of soil de-compaction techniques, making use of compressed air soil displacement equipment. This would allow for some of the soil compaction issues around high amenity value trees to begin to be remedied, with the long term goal of arresting decline and prolonging the life of retained trees on the site allowing for the benefit of future generations of visitors to the showground.

The report’s guarded language in that last paragraph is telling. If these long-term measures were put in place, some of the issues around some of the trees would begin to be remedied with the hope of arresting decline. More needs to be done, including soil amendments, perhaps fertiliser, and the application of pure wood chip mulch. Unfortunately, optimum application of mulch would not be ‘possible or practical on specific areas of the site’. Why not? we wonder. Is it because it would interfere in some way with the needs of Events organisers?

Nevertheless, PTC conclude that if all their recommendations were properly carried through, then the trees on the site could be maintained.

Can Essential Edinburgh be trusted?

We contacted Essential Edinburgh this afternoon. We asked if they would indeed make the kind of long-term and expensive-sounding commitment which PTC recommend. Here is how they replied:

Essential Edinburgh commissioned Potter Tree Consultancy to carry out a full survey of the trees and grounds in October within this private garden.

Some of the recommendations have already been implemented, with others due to be actioned in the New Year. The survey was designed to ensure that we continue to monitor the health and well-being of trees in the Garden, and to take appropriate action when required.

As St Andrew Square Garden sits within the New Town Conservation Area we applied in mid-October for permission for works to begin.

As a private Garden, managed by Essential Edinburgh on behalf of the owners, funding to keep the Garden open and maintained comes entirely from the coffee pavilion rent, event funding and BID levy payers.

Essential Edinburgh is a Business Improvement District that looks after almost 600 businesses in the city centre, all projects and initiatives carried out are funded privately though a business levy.

Not very reassuring at all.

Of course, the cheaper and more sustainable long-term option would be not to treat the Garden as a ‘showground’ in the first place.

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 Rebecca Bridgland They need to find another place for events. Science festival installations, fine. Film festival, fine. But the massive events during fringe and Christmas are just too much.

 Lizz Rennie the grass had just finished regrowing from the festival stuff and now all the xmas stuff, maybe they should find somewhere else for this stuff or put down astroturf

 Nicole Roberts Who actually owns the square? Because it sure seems like Essential Edinburgh owns it and clearly profits hugely from it! But, as we all know, this was meant to be a park for the public, an oasis of calm!

Come Christmas and Fringe the square is ostentatious, loud and horrid. Also the Christmas market is meant to have a local Scottish "market". I can vouch for small businesses that the entry price completely precludes us from entering or taking part.

It's all very sad really, this square could've been so lovely, but it's being completely destroyed..

 Broughton Spurtle The landowners in buildings around the Square own the Garden. They have leased it to CEC who have basically sublet it to Essential Edinburgh.

 Nicole Roberts So 3 different owners/managers type situation. Ugh. I'm waiting for the same thing to happen to Charlotte Square.

 Dominic Berry I hope the owners will take it back and close it again. If I lived there I wouldn't let the Council have it, because they have done nothing but trash it since day one. This morning I noticed that they are now trashing George Street. The western end of the street is closed and men in high vis jackets are erecting ugly scaffolding in the middle of the street. No doubt this is for two months of compulsory festivities at the council tax payers' expense. Something similar is happening in Festival Square -- high vis jackets and compulsory amusements.
 Euan MacGuzzi McGlynn Speigltent on Lothian Road

 Cal Daniels It's so short sighted of the shops and business that own/let out the Square to not realise that it being there full of lovely trees makes people more inclined to be in the area shopping with them. There are so many statistics that prove it, so even if the don't care about the trees wee love, you'd think they'd care about their profits.

 Tom Hogg Kafka-esque. Only Essential Edinburgh can save the trees that were damaged by events, using the money made from those self same events to employ specialist tree consultants.

 Euan MacGuzzi McGlynn No doubt they will just chop down the trees to give them even more space for their tacky crap.

 Andrew Heald Crown die back was visible when the trees came into leaf in the spring of 2016. As the report and article highlights, mulching and other soil "decompaction" work might stop the situation getting worse; but the only real solution is a wholesale review of how the garden is managed.

 Pamela Dobbie The ice rink et al need to go somewhere else. This lovely square should remain a green lung in this very busy area of town.


 Dominic Berry Five years from now the Council will doubtless have concreted over the square, to prevent further damage.

 Broughton Spurtle You're not paranoid. Partial paving is indeed being muttered about in dark CEC corners. Those who don't like that prospect need to let councillors know in run-up to Council elections in 2017.

 Alan Kennedy Are they listening, you ask. Have they ever? We're seeing the square, along with Princes Street Gardens, turned over to "Christmas Market" use. Where all available space is filled with trite, tacky, revenue generating festive ventures, leaving the square a swamp like mess until the spring, when it will be reseeded, left for the enjoyment of the people for a month before it's once again swamped with tacky, revenue generating festival ventures, to be left a muddy wasteland again for another few months. 

I am all for the use of public spaces, but surely it could be for a shorter period of time, could be done on a smaller scale and in a more sustainable manner than it currently is.

 Rhona Stewart Cameron Whatever happened to all the beautiful cherry blossom trees which encircled the gardens? i always looked forward to seeing them full of blossom in the spring.

 Rhona Stewart Cameron Perhaps the CEO of Standard Life will not take too kindly to the festivities in the square when he moves into his new penthouse office.

'Please bear with us while the new grass beds in.' Photo courtesy of Mike Orr.



History repeating itself in St Andrew Square. Photo courtesy of Mike Orr.




 Marc Robertson Just AstroTurf it. I appreciate its hideous but then so are the nine months a year of mud.

 Paul Foley Astro turf or fake grass isn't hideous when you get the top end stuff.

 David McFarlane AstroTurf does not solve the problem of compaction from heavy vehicles and the effect that has on tree roots

Rhona Stewart Cameron Astroturf philistines begone.

 David McFarlane A matrix of pad foundations could be inserted into the grass. Similar to what has been used for the big wheel where all you see when the wheel is not there is a few metal covers that are flush with the grass. Those pad foundations are then used to mount a bespoke deck above the grass to host retail hell events. Mount growlux lights under the bespoke deck to keep the grass alive. It can even be cut with a robot lawnmower under the deck.

 Dominic Berry In public squares in other towns and cities, they don't have to be putting down new turf all the time, because they take care of their lawns and do not allow them to be churned into mud.