Ian Cooke at Alstonville Public School inspects the 100-year-old fig trees.
Ian Cooke at Alstonville Public School inspects the 100-year-old fig trees. The Northern Star

Alstonville's fig trees spared the axe

NINE historic Alstonville fig trees have been saved after the NSW Land and Environment Court overruled plans by the Department of Education to remove them on safety grounds.

The trees at Alstonville Public School on the fenceline of St Joseph's Primary School were targeted by the Education Department following the February death of schoolgirl Bridget Wright in Sydney from a falling branch.

In the Land and Environment Court judgment, Justice Rachel Pepper cited inconsistencies in the reports used by the State Government to justify the trees' removal.

The Education Department commissioned two reports, a year apart, from the same local arborist, and the second report argued the risk of the trees causing harm was 20 times greater than the first.

"The 2013 report…concludes that there is a risk of harm… of one in 1,200,000… according to the second report, [the risk] is one in 62,000," Justice Pepper noted.

The decision is a vindication for the Save the Historic Trees group which has run a six-month campaign to protect the trees.

A petition distributed by the group had more than 1400 signatures including former teachers and students of Alstonville Public School.

Save the Historic Trees president Ian Cooke said a letter-writing campaign in May had no results, forcing the group to take legal action in June to seek an injunction on the trees' removal, the same day contractors were arriving at Alstonville Public School to fence off the trees.

Save the Historic Trees then commissioned a report from one of Australia's leading tree experts, Arboriculture Australia director Mark Hartley, which concluded that the risk of harm of the trees was "lower than the risk of harm from stairs".

Mr Cooke cited a Daily Telegraph report that said this year, 5042 trees had been cut down at 1587 state schools, at a cost of more than $13 million.

"There was no need for us to take legal action, this could have all been resolved if the Education Department had considered the anomaly that we pointed out," Mr Cooke said.


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