Understanding Veteran Tree Management – The Basics

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The Principles of Veteran Tree Management

The principles of veteran tree management, pioneered in the United Kingdom, have been gaining traction in Australia in recent years as a way to mitigate risks associated with tree failure whilst allowing for the successful retention of old and valuable trees within the urban landscape that would historically have been removed, whilst at the same time reducing costs associated with Arboricultural management and intervention.  The environmental and ecological benefits of trees is widely accepted by the general population and, as environmental issues become more prominent throughout the media landscape, the importance of retaining and protecting these old trees in our communities becomes more valid.  In order to understand the principles of veteran tree management we must first gain a basic underpinning knowledge regarding the natural life cycle of trees, and consider that in the context of the urban settings within which these old trees may be growing.

When trees are young and newly planted in the ground, they have very little static mass i.e. they are small, but they have a huge amount of dynamic mass i.e. they have lots of potential for future growth with good vigour.  At the other end of the scale, when trees are old and have been growing in the landscape for many decades, they often have lots of static mass i.e. they are big, tall and have broad spreading crowns that offer shade and shelter etc, but they have very little dynamic mass i.e. their potential for future growth is much lower and they often have low vigour.

Beyond that, as trees become very old and senescent, that relationship between static and dynamic mass continues to change, and ultimately trees will start to reduce their static mass to prolong their lives.  This happens in two main ways, firstly these old trees will develop internal growth in the form of epicormic shoots which occurs from adventitious or dormant buds along the stems and branches. In environmental/conservation arboriculture terms this is referred to as natural crown retrenchment and signifies that point in a trees life cycle that is beyond peak maturity.

Secondly, at some point, these senescing trees will shed part of their large static mass through natural crown failure.  This failure part of the cycle is the problem when managing trees in urban settings, as failure plus target equals risk! As mentioned, historically this risk would be managed by either tree pruning, in accordance with generally accepted pruning standards (AS4373:2007 “Pruning of Amenity Trees”) or, when pruning would not comply with the standard, by completely removing the trees.




Natural Life Cycle of Trees

The premise of veteran tree management is to intervene in this process of the natural life cycle of trees by anticipating the cycle and by promoting the desirable component i.e the internal epicormic growth to generate foliage for photosynthesis etc, whilst removing the risk component via the targeted reduction of the trees existing static mass, often associated with the outer extremities of the trees crown.  Quite often the problem here is that in order to reduce the existing mass to a point where the risk has been appropriately mitigated, the pruning goes beyond what the amenity tree pruning standard allows or generally defines, and as a result, arboricultural managers quite often defer to tree removal. This has been exacerbated by a risk averse workplace, particularly when dealing with public tree assets.  At this point it’s worth pointing out again that the removal of these old and often very large trees can be an expensive process. Not only does it cost a lot of money, but it also results in the loss of parts of the urban landscape that contribute in many valuable ways including visual and aesthetic amenity, local bio-diversity, provision of habitat for local wildlife and historical connections with our past, costs which are often overlooked in our pursuit of a risk free environment.

Beyond AS4373:2007

Modern Arboriculture isn’t just about the blinkered application of a black and white standard that defines guidelines for amenity tree pruning. As we discussed, this approach will often result in the removal of valuable tree assets which can still be retained in our communities for many years, and sometimes decades to come.  Of course this standard exists for a reason, and when applied appropriately, is essential in managing risks associated with the general care and maintenance of large tree populations, but veteran tree management provides us with a strategy that goes beyond that, and offers avenues for tree retention, risk mitigation and reduced management costs that can often be applied to some of our most valuable tree assets.  We can also start to implement more advanced Arboricultural techniques to expand and enhance this basic premise of veteran tree management to further promote the positive benefits these trees have within our communities and urban environments.

Using advanced cutting techniques such as coronet cuts can assist in making this Arboricultural intervention appear more natural, reducing the visual impact that significant target reduction pruning may otherwise have, whilst also promoting biodiversity and habitat values.  Introduction of artificial habitat creation can be carried out in association with veteran tree management, again a technique far removed from the general guidelines of AS4373:2007 but a valid and important modern Arboricultural practice essential for promoting local wildlife and biodiversity values.



Habitat Creation Veteran Trees Brisbane



Engaging qualified and experienced Arborists in today’s tree care industry isn’t just about hiring a bloke with a chainsaw, more often than not there are practices and techniques that offer more appropriate, cost effective and sustainable solutions and which have far greater benefits that have often been overlooked.  The consultancy team at Heritage Tree Care can offer advice in relation to environmental and conservation Arboriculture techniques and solutions and their potential application in the management of your tree assets.

Contact Us For More Information

For all your Tree Care needs, call Heritage Tree Care on 0737155444 or email sales@heritagetreecare.com.au for a free, no-obligation quote, our qualified Arborists will be delighted to advise you on the best course of action for your trees.  We cover Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Redlands, Toowoomba and Gold Coast area in Queensland, Australia.