The Woodhall Estate comprises 7000 acres set in the Hertfordshire countryside between Stevenage and Hertford.
Over a thousand people form part of its community and, along with the public, have access to the many footpaths and other rights of way that criss-cross the estate. Even without such footfall it would be important to maintain information on the safety of the trees on the land, but such traffic makes it imperative.
Accordingly we were appointed in 2017 to conduct a roadside tree safety survey. This type of estate tree survey takes a risk-management approach to identify and prioritise required tree management. It differs from a woodland management survey, which includes objectives and means of achieving them, and is also not a tree inventory. While we do conduct both types of survey, opting for a targeted approach whereby only trees of concern are listed, is a more appropriate and cost-effective option for large estates.
We then were re-appointed in 2020 for a follow-up survey. We recommend re-inspection every 3 years as much can change in that period of time. Sure enough, we found a certain number of trees needing attention. This is no reflection on the Estate’s management team: such discoveries are to be expected in the ever-changing natural environment. Some required immediate surgery. Other trees required less urgent attention and were flagged for remedy within a longer timescale.
Appropriate, skilled inspection and timely remedial work is both a duty of care to our fellow humans, and far less costly than paying Court-imposed damages. To that end our surveying outfit was happy, where it was practicable, to do a little immediate remedial work, at no added cost to the Estate, when minor defects were found.
At the other end of the spectrum, some of the tree safety defects our survey uncovered on the estate would have been hard for a layman to detect. In one case, pictured, the defect would have likely led to the collapse of a large limb onto the road – a bus route. This could have led to a serious accident, perhaps not dissimilar to the circumstances of the Poll v Viscount Asquith of Morley case where a motorcyclist collided with fallen tree debris and suffered serious injuries.
The tree survey also uncovered items of historical interest. For instance, the pictured ash coppice, with a basal diameter of about 1.8m, is part of a woodbank, a feature marking the (likely) pre-Tudor edge of this ancient estate. Subsequent timely reduction both protected the adjacent lane, a popular cycle route, and protected this item of high conservation value.
Our surveying outfit remained on-site during the survey which helped to minimise the environmental impact of the travel involved.
Our tree survey was completed within a week and presented to the Estate within three working days of finishing the survey. All that the Estate would require to instruct contractors was included in digital form, along with a report highlighting the most urgent actions required.
We look forward to returning to the Woodhall Estate in the future, whether in a re-inspecting capacity or simply to enjoy its landscape.