A READING Borough Council (RBC) report following the inspection of 'dying' trees in Chestnut Walk has been released.

In the published document, RBC's tree surveyor outlines why the diseased trees in the town will need to be replaced.

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Based on an inspection last month, the report confirms that a 'high proportion' of the remaining trees in Chestnut Walk are blighted with bleeding canker, stem and/or basal decay, fungal brackets and other defects.

The report states: "Because the trees are located on an important pedestrian thoroughfare, they represent a safety risk to the public."

The Chestnut Walk trees are now estimated to be around 160 years old.

Four have already been felled in recent years for public safety reasons, and a further four require immediate felling.

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While horse chestnuts can live up to 300 years in an open field, they are stressed in urban conditions and have declined significantly over the past 20 years due to leaf miner, which does not kill the tree but weakens it leaving it susceptible to disease.

The presence of bleeding canker – which does kill the trees – spreads quickly to others when they are weakened in this way.

RBC has been closely monitoring the condition of the Chestnut Walk trees since 2016, due to their rapidly deteriorating condition.

Reading Chronicle:

The arboriculturist’s report therefore outlines three options to managing and regenerating the avenue of trees along Chestnut Walk:

  • Replacing on a tree-by-tree basis: This would leave a line of trees with different heights, ages and shapes and newly planted trees are likely to develop slowly because of root competition and shading of the existing trees
  • Plant new trees inside or outside the old line of trees
  • Remove all of the trees and to plant a new avenue

The council’s Parks Team have recommended the third option, which involves replacing the diseased trees with sweet chestnuts, a large, robust species known to be resilient to the issues that affected the horse chestnut trees, and for their tolerance in urban environments.

Karen Rowland, lead councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: "The professional arboriculturist’s report makes clear that the trees in Chestnut Walk are coming to the end of their life.

"Trees do have a natural lifespan, and in the case of horse chestnuts that is considerably shortened due to bleeding canker disease which is decimating them everywhere, not just along Chestnut Walk.

"It is of course incredibly sad when mature trees have to be felled in this way, but given the options open to the Council, replacing them now with a more robust variety makes sense for a whole host of reasons.

"And while this is an investment for future generations of Reading residents, it doesn’t make the decision any easier.

"While the report shows the remaining 18 trees are in a range of decline, it also makes clear they are all diseased, they have only a short lifespan left and they are a risk to public safety.

"Given the footfall and range of events that take place along Chestnut Walk over the summer season, including WaterFest, public safety presents an overriding concern which any responsible public body cannot just ignore.

"The last thing we want to do is shut off public access to Chestnut Walk while we wait for all of the 18 trees to die off, which is the deciding factor in the Council opting to replace the trees now."

The arboriculturist’s report and a supporting glossary of terms can be found here.

Work to fell the remaining diseased horse chestnuts and replace them with new sweet chestnuts is set to begin on February 17. Depending on the condition of the felled horse chestnut trees, some of the wood may be recyclable with a view using it for artwork or seating in other parks and open spaces across Reading.

Chestnut Walk does not currently have any pedestrian lighting. As part of a wider £160,000 Council improvement scheme, new lighting will also be installed, as well as a CCTV camera to improve security along what is already a popular direct route into the town centre. Use of the route is expected to increase as new housing developments are built in the area. Improvement work will also take place to re-tarmac the surface.