McGee called in the help of a tree expert for a second opinion, Wankja Ferguson. The duo explored and researched several areas around the university last week where trees were cut down for the same reason. They noticed a worrisome trend. ‘They’ve done exactly what they wanted to avoid, which is to set the trees up for failure’.
McGee explains that the maintenance of the trees has resulted in their shape becoming unnatural. ‘They used to have much lower crowns and now, so much of the crown has been removed that only the top of the tree remains.’
She elaborates that this makes the tree more susceptible to rot and disease because it changes the balance between the roots and the branches. ‘They’ve also lions-tailed many trees, they’ve taken all the internal branches out, and this can cause instability. All of the weight is now at the end of the branches and they will break more easily.’
The RUG has based its decision to cut down the tree on a report conducted by tree technicians. ‘It’s not that I don’t trust the report, it’s very thorough’ McGee explains, ‘I object to the fact that the report advises for the tree to be cut-down based on financial concerns.’
Cutting it down would be more cost-effective than annually monitoring the tree. ‘The technicians conduct research in order to establish the health and condition of the trees. They shouldn’t really advise as to whether the tree should be cut down or not, that’s their own interpretation’ adds Ferguson.
She points out that there are other options that can be considered, but if a report says cut it down, annually monitoring the tree won’t even be an option to consider.
According to McGee and Ferguson, the trees are too valuable in terms of the costs of not having them. The University has cut down over 200 trees in recent years for its building projects alone. McGee: ‘They cut down 60 large-scale trees to make a energy efficient academy building, the Zernike area is supposed to be an ecological zone.’
In principle, the University will replace the trees that were recently cut down one for one. However, according to McGee, this isn’t as ‘clear-cut’ as it seems. ‘Larger trees store much more carbon, produce more oxygen and provide more benefits for bio-diversity. They are much more valuable than younger trees, so the problem is that they’re replacing by numbers when they should be replacing by mass.’