The Garden's Tree Management Policy

The following page is designed to provide information on the Tree Management Policy of the Gloucester Square Garden, conforming to the expectations of Westminster’s Tree Protection Officers, in compliance with requirements of Town and Country Planning Act [1990], Bayswater Conservation Area policy, Westminster City Plan, and a Tree Preservation Order covering the entire Gloucester Square Garden.

It is important to note that the authority to decide what works may be undertaken to any tree in the Gloucester Square Garden rests solely with the Westminster Tree Protection team (in the first instance).

Whilst there are a few limited exceptions where emergency works to a tree may be undertaken (see Regulation 14 of The Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation)(England) Regulations 2012), the general principal is that all tree works, even the most insignificant prune to the smallest tree, require the prior approval/consent from a Westminster Tree Protection officer, most typically by means of a (free) planning application.

Where residents request works to a specific tree due to an impact on their property, the Committee will endeavour to raise the concerns and share any provided evidence with the Tree Protection Team at Westminster and request a remediation. However the Committee assume no responsibility for the independent decisions made by the Westminster Tree Protection team.

Residents who are not satisfied with the Committee’s attempt to secure authorisation to prune a specific tree, are welcome to make an application directly to Westminster.

Spot the Tree Surgeons
The Garden's Catalpa Tree had to be removed in late 2023 due to declining health and the risk of imminent failure.

Factors That May Influence Tree Management

The following factors generally influence tree pruning / felling requests in Gloucester Square.

  • Risk of Imminent Failure: Where it is suspected a tree or limb has died, we will more-often-than-not recieve prompt approval to remove it. Any permission to fell a tree will typically come with an obligation to replace with a similar full-standard specimen.
  • Disease Control / Mitigation: Our Tree Surgeon and the expert arboriculturalists at Westminster keep track of diseases impacting the tree population in London, including Massaria. Where evidence of such diseases in our trees, the impacted limbs are removed.
  • Preserving the Tree Canopy: As covered in the Westminster City Plan, Tree Canopies, particularly those from larger trees like our 14 London Planes, are thought to play a key role in combating the Urban Heat Island effect. The canopy of these trees is therefore carefully protected, with any reduction requiring adqueate justification.
  • Overhanging Foot-Traffic Areas: Where trees overhang areas of high foot traffic, such as a pavement, more aggressive prunes may be permissable. We typically apply to prune any of the 14 London Plane trees when their branches beging to overhang a pavement. Where approved, the permission is usually limited to reducing the canopy back to the edge of the pavement (only).
  • Blocking Light / Obstructing Private Property: In some but not all cases the obstruction to a property’s light or enjoyment of a private space (e.g. trees ovehanging a terrace below head height) may warrant pruning, depending on several factors including the relative age of the property/extension vs the tree. The Committee will support any reasonable applications on these grounds.
  • Damage to Private Property: If it is thought a Tree or its Roots are likely causing damage to a  neighbouring property we will might recieve permission to to prune the tree, or in some cases, even replace the tree.

In all cases it should be noted the rights of the Garden Committee and all residents are reserved, and the costs for such works, especially where elective or driven by the actions of a third party, will not automatically be met by the Garden Committee.

Factors Unlikely to Influence Tree Management

In contrast, the following factors rarely influence formal Tree Works requests in the Gloucester Square Garden:

  • Obstruction of Views: Applications to reduce trees (solely) to improve views of the central Garden are unlikely to be supported by either the Garden Committee or Westminster Tree Protection team.
  • Falling Branches: The Garden Committee take proactive steps to detect and remove dead limbs / branches from our tree. However it is impossible to predict factors such as Sudden Branch Drop (where a tree drops a large limb unexpectedly), or branches coming down during high-winds. Lopping / heavy-pruning is not considered a reasonable means of prevention.
  • Falling Trichomes / Seeds / Leaves: In most cases pruning trees leads to densification, where 1 cut branch leads to several new branches. Pruning is therefore not considered an effective medium-long term solution for this issue. Whilst pruning may be supported where leavefall is causing drainage issues, applications will typically have to show the issue can’t be managed by other means such as regular gutter-cleaning, installing of gutter-brush system, etc. Residents applying on such grounds are asked to be mindful that the trees likely predate their building (at least in its current format).
  • Allergic Reaction to Trees / Pollen / Trichomes: Whilst it is unfortunate that some residents can have allergic reactions to the trees, and most of us are bothered by the seasonal Trichomes dropped by the Plane Trees each April / May – these events do not outwiegh the environmental benefit of the trees and therefore will rarely warrant tree-intervention – as found by a Barrister in Maida Vale.
  • Subsidence: Is not considered likely in and around Gloucester Square. This is in stark contrast to surrounding neighbourhoods like Maida Vale and Notting Hill, where a high clay content in the initial substrate increass the risks that surrounding trees may cause clay-shrinkage subsidence, and leads to pollarding policies as seen on Hamilton Terrace in the following photo.
Pollarding of Plane Trees on Hamilton Terrace in Maida Vale to minimise subsidence (not an issue associated with Gloucester Square)

The Garden's 14 Plane Trees

The Garden is home to 14 Plane Trees that were planted as part of the original formation works of Gloucester Square, over 180 years ago. Aerial photos as far back as 1922 show these trees already towering above the original 48 townhouses on Gloucester Square.

Benefitting the Environment:

Plane Trees play a huge role in improving the environment in London. They remove significant amounts of pollutants from the air, and their extensive, high tree canopy shade large areas, helping combat the urbane heat island effect.

Causing the “Chelsea Cough”:

Unfrotunately the Plane Trees do come with one irritant. Each Spring Plane Trees drop substanial amounts of “Trichomes”. The bristle fibers on these Trichomes include tiny hooks that cause them to get stuck in the throats of residents and cause coughing fits.

Because the Trichomes are light and carried by the wind, it is difficult to know how much of the Trichomes landing in Patios and on Window cills come from the Gloucester Square Trees, we nevertheless take steps to try and minimise the impact on residents by:

  • Not conducting any elective pruning to the Plane Trees during the Trichome-drop season
  • Performing a weekly collection and removal of any Trichomes dropped in the Garden

At risk of Massaria:

Plane Trees also suffer from a specific disease known as Massaria, which was first detected in the UK in 2003. Little is known about the cause of Massaria, though one theory is that the spores are carried by the wind, leading to concentrated outbreaks of the disease.

Massaria is a soft rot causing large lesions on the top-side of branches, causing dieback and potential failure of branches and larger limbs. Once cut, infected branches will typically show an upwards v-shaped discolouration in the cross-section of the branch.

A Natural Compass:

One fun fact about the London Plane is that its bark responds to sunlight by becoming smooth, wheras shaded bark will remain wrinkled. Providing no obstructions, (in the Northern Hemisphere) the middle of the wrinkled side of a Plane tree will point north, wheras the middle of the smooth side will point south.

Tree Inspections

As part of the responsible management of the Garden, our tall trees are aerially inspected at least once a year. This process involves a tree surgeon climbing the tree to inspect its branches from above. Aerial inspections are not only important for a closer, more dilligent inspection, but also because dieases like Massaria appear on the top side of branches first, so is best viewed from above.

As part of a standing approval from the Westminster Tree Portection Officers, our Tree Surgeon will remove any dead / diseased branches on discovery, in order to minimise the risk of any disease spreading or any branches failing.

Where a troublesome disease such as Massaria is found in the Garden, our policy is to repeat inspections at 6 month intervals until no further evidence of a disease is found.

Sudden Branch Drop

Early in the Summer 2022 heatwave, we became the first Garden Square (as far as we know) to put up signs warning of Sudden Branch Drop. This was not owing to any particular concern with our trees, and instead a precautionary measure having explored what other is common in countries with a warmer climate and similar tree population (such as Australia).

Little is known about Sudden Branch Drop, where an otherwise healthy tree suddenly sheds a limb, though there is anecdotal evidence to show it more often occurs during or directly after periods of excessive excessive heat.

In 2023 we experimented with wilding circles around the base of the Plane tree to discourage residents from sitting there (in the are at highest risk, albeit still unlikely, of a branch drop). In 2024 the intention is to seed similar sized circles with meadow seed, encouraging wildlife, and improving the safety of Garden users.