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Tree Safety in Winter
Are your trees a danger to you, your property or others ?. The storm season is upon us again and at this time of the year mature trees in any location can represent a risk and/or hazard with regards to high winds, snow and especially fungal infections. Some of these can alter the structural integrity of the tree and some of which could be fatal, causing the death of the tree thereby rendering the tree unstable.
Ironically for deciduous trees this is not the most dangerous time because wind passes much more easily through the canopy when it is devoid of leaves. It is a good time to visually inspect one however because it is much easier to see cracked and broken limbs from the ground when the canopy is bare. If you have mature trees either at the road side or in the garden, it is advisable to have them regularly inspected by a qualified, experienced arborist – tree surgeon. Under the terms of the Roads Act, 1993, landowners and occupiers of land are obliged to take all reasonable care to ensure that the trees, ditches, hedges and other vegetation growing on their land are not or could not become a danger to people using or working on a public road. Examples of hazards might be dead or dying trees, ditches or hedges interfering with traffic, blocking footpaths, obscuring road signs or obscuring a view of the road ahead. You are required to fell, cut, log, trim or remove such trees, ditches and hedges. Adequate signposting should be provided and the Council and Gardai notified before works commence. Hedgecutting operations, as far as possible, should only be undertaken outside the critical nesting period of 1st March to 31st August. The Roads Act states that liability for damage or injury resulting from such hazards will rest with the landowner/occupier.
A tree surgeon - arborist will be able to inspect the tree from ground level and advise on any necessary action, they will also look at the structural integrity of the main frame work and look out for any fungal infections if apparent at that time. Although it is impossible to guarantee the safety of any tree as we are dealing with natural forces there are many operations that can be carried out to reduce the risk of failure thereby reducing the risk to both public and property.
There is a popular misconception that trees that are leaning are much more likely to fall over. Trees are anchored to the ground by their root system and respond to various stresses on it by laying down extra wood in areas of greatest stress. In other words trees naturally anchor themselves. This system breaks down however when soil is permanently waterlogged. The friction between the root plate and the surrounding soil is considerably reduced and in these conditions such trees are more liable to fail. Stability is also reduced when fungi begin to attach the woody parts of the root system. In such circumstances a tree with an apparently healthy crown can fail without warning. Unfortunately most fungi only produce mushrooms and brackets at certain times of the year, so the absence of them does not prove the absence of decay fungi. Both the tree and surrounding soil should be inspected over the spring and summer. If you are in doubt you should consult a qualified arborist.
A common response to the fear of tree failure is to either remove a tree or to cut the top half of it off. However topping disfigures the appearance of a beautiful tree and the regrowth is much faster and thicker than normal growth and can end up increasing the sail effect rather than reducing it. A better solution is to selectively remove branches in the crown to increase the movement of air through the canopy rather than around it.
Trees also suffer branch failure and stem failure during storms. This can be for numerous reasons, the most common of which are the presence of wood decaying fungi and because of a poor growth form in the tree. Evergreen trees are more susceptible to winter storms because they retain their canopy in winter. They are often more shallow rooted than deciduous trees and more likely to fail.
Finally it should be noted that trees can and do fail without any visible warning or symptom. This, while rare, does happen. If you just cannot live comfortably in the shadow of this remote possibility, then perhaps it is better to remove your fear by removing the tree and replacing it with a smaller growing species.
( Information by Dermot Casey Tree Care, Mallow, Cork. www.dermotcaseytreecare.ie )