A large mature beech tree came down onto St Wulstan’s Road, Welsh Newton Common shortly after midnight this week. This tree is on common land that, in this case, has no known owner, so Herefordshire Council oversees the common to a limited extent.

Over a year ago a local resident reported this tree to Welsh Newton and Llanrothal Group Parish Council as a potential danger to life, particularly as the tree is on the roadside. I believe that the parish council contacted Herefordshire Council but were told that the county council weren’t interested because the tree was on common land.

I inspected the tree myself early last year and saw that it was infected with polypore fungus. This fungus does not affect the trunk, branches or leaves, so the damage is not visible when looking at the tree. Diagnosis is the presence of the fungus at the base of the tree. It attacks the tree roots, the tree eventually loses it’s ground anchor and falls.

The council’s tree officer visited my property on May 7, 2019 to inspect two beech trees in relation to a planning application. While he was on site, I asked him to take a look at the beech tree on the common with the polypore fungus infection. During this informal inspection he assured me that it was perfectly healthy and was not in danger of falling. His reason was that the crown of the tree was healthy. But the polypore fungus doesn’t affect the crown!

In contrast, a similar mature beech tree adjacent to St Mary’s Church, Monmouth was felled recently due to polypore fungus being found around the roots. The tree itself was healthy otherwise, but the root damage would have resulted in it falling.

The tree at Welsh Newton Common blocked the road and caused a power outage for almost 12 hours because it also fell on the power lines. Two broken poles were replaced, and accessing one of the poles required sending heavy vehicles across my property causing damage to the ground.

Western Power and their contractors, Smerdon Trees, responded very quickly and did a fantastic job, working virtually non-stop to clear the road and restore the power.

A power cut and a temporary road block are not the end of the world, but who would have been liable if the tree, which had been reported to Herefordshire Council’s tree officer as being dangerous to road users, had fallen on someone and killed them?

Hilary Boughton (Welsh Newton Common)