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‘It Will Grow’ Says Councillor About Replacement Tree in Upper High Street

Published on: 16 Apr, 2024
Updated on: 21 Apr, 2024

Flowers can be seen on the new tree. These precede the leaves which should appear soon. Photo Fiona Giles

By Martin Giles

A new wych elm has been planted to replace the iconic tree which stood outside the Royal Grammar School in the upper High Street until it was damaged in a storm last June and fell across the street.

County councillor Fiona Davidson (R4GV, Guildford South East) said: “It’s admittedly a shadow of its magnificent predecessor at present, but it’ll grow!

“I had allocated funding from my SCC councillor’s highways allowance to replace the very uneven surface under the old tree last year, but this plan was scuppered by the storm.  However, with the assistance of the Highways Stakeholder Management team at SCC and the Placemaking Group I was able to make up enough funding to dig out the stump and vast roots of the old tree so that a new one could be planted.”

The removal of the stump and roots also enabled the pavement to be replaced to make walking along this section much safer.

Cllr Davidson continued: “An amazing 59 tonnes of root and other debris had to be removed from the ground underneath the pavement, and the excavation required digging down 1.7 metres.

The sapling is not yet large enough to make much of an impression yet but might grow to 130 feet. The pavement slabs around the tree have also been relaid.

The Lee family, who were passing the new wych elm sapling on Sunday (April 14), generally approved of the new planting. Mr Lee senior said: “As long as they’re sensible with it and keep it trimmed, fine, lovely.” The rest of his family were also in favour. One grown-up son, an RGS old boy, recalled the tree and chaining up the school’s head boy nearby as a prank.

The fallen branches of the previous tree (which appears to have been an ash) completed blocked off the upper High Street last June when it partially collapsed following a storm. Photo Ben Paton

Cllr Fiona Davidson

Today three women who worked in the RGS offices also expressed approval with one saying she was “delighted”. But when told of its predecessor’s collapse one of her colleagues asked: “What happens if it falls over the road again?”

Cllr Davidson added: “I’d like to record my thanks to all those at Surrey County Council who helped make a new tree a reality. I don’t know how long the original tree stood as a landmark on the upper High Street, but I hope the new one will flourish for as many years and become as cherished a feature of Guildford’s street scene.”

Wych elms

Wych elm leaves show asymmetric base and serrated edge.

Wych elms can reach heights of 40 metres (130 feet). They are moderately shade-tolerant, but require deep, rich soil.

The hermaphrodite flowers appear before the leaves in early spring, produced in clusters of 10–20; they are 4 mm across on 10 mm long stems, and being wind-pollinated, are have no petals.

Although rarely used as a street tree owing to its shape, it can be surprisingly tolerant of urban air pollution, constricted growing conditions, and severe pollarding.

While the species is highly susceptible to Dutch elm disease, it is less favoured as a host by the elm bark beetles, which act as vectors. Decline of the species following the disease has been extreme, and the wych elm is now uncommon over much of its former range.

The word “wych” (also spelled “witch”) comes from the Old English wice, meaning pliant or supple, which also gives definition to wicker .


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Responses to ‘It Will Grow’ Says Councillor About Replacement Tree in Upper High Street

  1. John Dawson Reply

    April 17, 2024 at 12:32 am

    I doubt very much that 59 tonnes of roots and debris was dug out. That would be three 8-wheeler tipper trucks full. Maybe a decimal point was missed on the invoice?

  2. Penny Panman Reply

    April 17, 2024 at 1:15 pm

    I really hope that this nice young tree is going to be watered regularly.

  3. David Smith Reply

    April 17, 2024 at 6:29 pm

    I don’t doubt the amount of roots and debris that were pulled out, but with what must have been a large hole left, it’s such a shame a bigger tree was not planted – this will barely make an impact.

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