Littlehampton community saved old oak tree after pledging £1,000

Whispering Smith: My noisy crow is going to have to downsize from penthouse suite to a maisonette
Whispering Smith: My noisy crow is going to have to downsize from penthouse suite to a maisonette

What would the oak tree say now... Could it talk, I think the answer to Emily Dickinson’s question would now be, thank you!

It all began with my neighbour drawing my attention to the yellow sticker attached to a telegraph pole at the rear of my property in Selbourne Road, Littlehampton.

The planning notice LU/186/18/TC was an application to fell the old oak tree, the last tree standing in the eastern part of Selbourne Road which, in the distant long ago, was once tree-lined.

She is around 150 years old and was quite possibly, at one time, a boundary marker – it was common practice to use the long-lived oak tree for such a purpose.

The request was based on the grounds that the tree was unsafe, unhealthy, and, according to the council’s tree specialist, although it would have a significant effect on the landscape, it would be unlikely to survive a rigid pruning.

Unlikely maybe, but not impossible.

I, along with many others in the community – not so-called ‘tree huggers’ but residents keen to preserve the local environment – rigorously objected to its destruction feeling it to be unnecessary.

Because of the strength of feeling in the community we expectantly thought the Development Control Committee would also object.

Not so. In fact, it never went to that committee.

The agenda of that meeting recorded no planning mention of any tree application.

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Instead it was left to unelected council officers using powers delegated to them by the committee to give permission for the work to be undertaken.

I spoke with the landowner and put it to him that, if I could raise the money, would he be prepared to halt the felling and take the advice of another tree specialist.

He readily and happily agreed, having no wish to fell the oak, his main concern being one of public safety and he would himself be sorry to lose the tree.

I consulted with another reputable tree specialist who, although with no long-term guarantees, said she possibly could survive a rigorous safety pruning, removal of ivy and pollarding.

The cost of the work around £1,000.

I approached the people who had so strongly objected, including the local councillors, who pledged their support for the project, and the response was amazing.

In just six weeks the full amount was pledged and the order placed with KPS Contractors Ltd, the tree company concerned, and the action reported to the council who so recorded it without objection.

Work will commence on November 14.

From that day on it will be up to the old lady to dig herself in and drink loads of water as the oak is a mighty thirsty tree

A rainy summer is expected!

As for the myriad of wildlife currently living within her shelter the gathering starlings, other small birds and insects will be content and only my favourite, darkly-plumed friends the crows will be displaced from their penthouse suite and have to downsize to the lower branches – I expect some disgruntled cawing until they get used to it...

MY VERY SPECIAL thanks to all of those who contributed so generously – you know who you are – several from far out of the area and have never even seen the old Selborne oak.

We did it as a community, it could not have been saved it without you.

• If you would like to get in touch with Whispering Smith, please email: whisperingsmith1@gmail.com

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