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One Woman’s Mission to Protect Guildford Trees ‘It’s Too Late… When Cut Down’

Published on: 6 Jun, 2023
Updated on: 9 Jun, 2023

By Hugh Coakley

With ancient and veteran trees constantly at risk from road construction and local building work, one Guildford woman has set out to register as many as she can on the Ancient Tree Inventory, giving individual and groups of trees legal protection as valid as tree protection orders (TPOs).

Possibly 400 years old, an ancient willow at the Riverside Nature Reserve near Burpham. It is now officially classified as an ancient tree thanks to Donna Collinson recording it on the Ancient Tree Inventory.

Contemporary jeweller Donna Collinson started recording trees in July 2020 because she said it’s “too late to moan about the loss of a tree once it’s been cut down. I realised I could pre-empt threats and record the trees for posterity at the same time.”

Donna Collinson with her ball of string, measuring the girth of a tree.

She added: “A TPO has to show high public amenity value, it has to be in a very public place. But to get on to the Ancient Tree Inventory, it can be just because it is old.”

Crucially, said Donna, contractors and developers have to work to the National Planning Policy Frameworks (NPPF) which says development should be refused if it means “the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees)” (NPPF 180C).  They would have to prove the “public benefit would clearly outweigh the loss or deterioration of habitat,” according to the guidance.

She has mapped and measured around 270 trees in and around Guildford, at least five of which are classified as ancient trees and about half are “veteran”. Donna is enthusiastic when talking about trees, saying: “When you look at a tree for a few minutes, you realise just how individual and special they are.”

Ancient Tree Inventory around Guildford showing just how much is yet to be recorded.

Ancient trees are defined by the Woodland Trust as “very old in comparison to other trees of the same species and are actually in the third and final stage of their life”. The other phases are saplings and mature trees.

Most of the trees in Stoke Park, woods around Sutton Place and parts of Send, and the ancient woodland at Nut Hill Farm in Ripley have seen her armed with a ball of string to go around the tree’s circumference, a tape measure, a map, a camera, and a pen.

She has also recorded trees at the Riverside Nature Reserve near Burpham, including a row of willows said to have been planted around 400 years ago when the Wey Navigation was being constructed.

But she said: “There are hardly any trees recorded” in the north-west and west of Guildford, around Worplesdon and on the approach to the Hog’s Back and “that needs doing”.

None of the trees around Guildford Golf Club, where mature beech trees were recently under threat, have been classified on the Ancient Tree Inventory.

If anyone would like an easy way of protecting trees with friends or family and adding to the Ancient Tree Inventory is “great fun”, said Donna.

Details of what to do are on the Ancient Tree Inventory website. Donna said: “I’m not a tree expert, it is really simple to do. Once you have uploaded the details onto the website, it gets verified by a specialist within weeks as an ancient, veteran, or notable tree.”

She combines adding to the national tree inventory with a walk, especially trees next to water, but, she warned with a hearty laugh: “Be careful, I’ve nearly fallen in a couple of times.”

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Responses to One Woman’s Mission to Protect Guildford Trees ‘It’s Too Late… When Cut Down’

  1. Fiona Fieldus Reply

    June 6, 2023 at 11:03 pm

    What an incredible woman!

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