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Byron Shire
April 19, 2021

Historic Alstonville trees saved as govt accused of ‘panicking’

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Alstonville resident Ian Cooke, who led the charge to save historic trees in the village, believes the state government wasted millions cutting down trees across the state because it 'panicked'. (Darren Coyne)
Alstonville resident Ian Cooke, who led the charge to save historic trees in the village, believes the state government wasted millions cutting down trees across the state because it ‘panicked’. (Darren Coyne)

Darren Coyne

A community campaign to save nine historic fig trees in Alstonville has highlighted a massive waste of money by the SW government.

Trees in schools across the state were lopped on the orders of the NSW Education Department following the death of Sydney schoolgirl Bridget Wright in February this year.

More than 5,000 trees were removed at a cost of $13 million but opponents say a review of the removals found justification for the removal of just 20 trees.

Alstonville resident Ian Cooke, who led the charge to save the fig trees at Alstonville Public School, which are located on the boundary with St Joseph’s Primary School, said bureaucrats and politicians had simply panicked.

“In my opinion it’s a sin to remove any healthy tree on this planet,’ Mr Cooke told Echonetdaily.

‘These nine historic fig trees provide a huge amount of shade and parents were concerned that their removal would leave the school children without adequate shade during the hot summer months.

Mr Cooke said 1,400 people signed a petition to save the trees but NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli had not even bothered to respond, or investigate anomalies that had been pointed out in reports from arborists.

Instead, as a final resort, an injunction was sought and granted in the NSW Land and Environment Court on the day contractors arrived to remove the trees.

NSW Land and Environment Court Justice Rachel Pepper overruled the department, citing inconsistencies in the reports used by the government to justify the removal of the Alstonville trees.

Mr Cooke said an aborist in a 2013 report had concluded that the risk of harm was 1 in 1,200,000, while a second report a year later said the risk was one in 62,000, or 20 times greater than the initial report.

Mr Cooke said if the minister had considered the differences in the reports there would have been no reason to take legal action.

He said the Alstonville win should give confidence to other communities trying to save historic trees.

‘I like to think people in other communities who have trees they regard as community assets should ask a few questions. And if you can’t get the right answers there’s always court,’ he said

‘And the NSW education department should first consult with parents and citizens before making decisions to remove trees,’ he said.

Mr Cooke also said the department should instigate a monitoring program for trees on school grounds to identify potential risks.

“It was a freak accident with the girl in Sydney and our research showed that it the first time in NSW that a child had been killed by a tree,’ he said.

‘We believe it was a panic situation. Bureaucrats and politicians like to cover their bums.’

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  1. Good, I’m glad the trees were saved. Knee-jerk reactions to a few isolated incidents are becoming all too common. Like re-arranging streets and signage because drunk drivers can’t negotiate a corner.

  2. Couldn’t agree more with Jon’s comments. Trees are part of nature and whether they are in the forest, streets or school yards they serve a purpose. What are the school kids going to think when we start chain sawing them ?


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