Updated: Apr 19
The Government of Jersey understands the value and importance of Jersey's trees and hedgerows. "They provide environmental, social and economic value. They contribute to carbon capture and improve resilience to climate change, they are integral to the Island's ecosystems and biodiversity, they reduce soil erosion and improve soil quality, they add nature and beauty to built-up areas and to roadsides, they reduce noise pollution and they improve air quality. We use trees and woodlands for recreation and leisure. They are part of our sense of place and they provide for improved mental health and wellbeing." Jersey Tree Strategy 2022.
With a register of trees and further legislation to protect trees within planning and building laws in the consultation process, how could the Municipality of Grouville fell these Poplars at the beginning of August 2022 on land owned by parishioners without any notice to or consultation with parishioners?
At the time of felling this group made representations to Connétable Labey. Apologies for poor communication and promises were made for improvement. Requests to meet with the Connétable to discuss ecological impact assessments discuss replanting and how to avoid similar incidents in the future were overlooked with the Connétable prefering to make a statement through the JEP to our group that "all the relevant information about the history of the trees in La Rue du Marais à la Cocque has been posted on our website..." The JEPs independent report on the felling can be found here.
According to the Municipality, the catalyst to their felling was "advice from JE, following consultation with a tree surgeon...that there was a significant danger, if another storm blew, that some or all of the remaining trees could come down on the power lines opposite the road." It is not clear though what action has been taken by the JE to investigate the possibility of protecting power supply in this small lane by relaying cables underground.
Nearly seven months on with no (promised) information published on the Grouville Parish website about the history of the felling project, no survey report that stating that the felled trees were dying or dead, no community discussion about replanting, and no (promised) replanting in the autumn of 2022, the healthy tree stumps keep producing shoots and the roots are producing suckers, which the Municipality destroy.
Being alerted to activity on this site at the beginning of February, this group feared the healthy tree stumps may imminently be removed. The group, again, made representations to Connétable Labey and also to the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Jonathan Renouf. Following discussion with the Connétable, Deputy Renouf advised:
the Connétable make public whatever survey work was done to establish that the trees were beginning to die before they were felled.
that the decision about whether to leave the stumps in situ to grow into a poplar hedge, or whether it be replaced with a thorn hedge was a management decision that should be capable of challenge at a Parish Assembly.
This group campaigned face to face and in writing to the Connétable making the following representations:
That he publish the independent evidence that the trees felled at the beginning of August 2022 were dying or dead.
The fact that the tree stumps and roots are continuing to actively produce shoots and suckers is an indication that the trees are healthy.
What review did the Connétable undertake on this project, which predated his appointment, and what changes did he make to the project prior to felling the trees?
That the felling of trees in the Parish of Grouville is a very sensitive subject. It warrants a Parish Assembly to discuss the project and options to put right the felling of healthy trees. An invitation to a site visit with the Procureur with less that 24hrs notice does not override the necessity for a Parish Assembly. Offering the community an opportunity to express their voice and influence changes to the project would align with the promise to communicate better with parishioners, and importantly improve Parish Governance.
That the field is very wet and that poplars absorb excess water keeping it arable.
That this field belongs to parishioners, not the Municipality.
That there needs to be a fully costed business case for the project. Currently, there appear to be two options:
Continue to destroy the healthy poplar stumps, plant a new thorn hedge and 21 trees, of unknown species. Destroying the healthy poplar stumps will be labour intensive and ongoing as its roots continue to send up suckers.
Allow the healthy poplar stumps to send up shoots and its roots to produce suckers which are managed into a hedge. The necessity, timing, quantity and type of new trees to plant under this option would need to be determined; it may be the same as option 1.
That he call a Parish Assembly, it being a good tool to collaborate and co-create with parishioners. The alternative being for parishioners to make a Requête.
Despite receiving these well grounded representations, Connétable Labey is refusing to call a Parish Assembly to discuss and reshape this project. Furthermore, the Connétable will not answer the direct question about whether he has independent survey reports which prove the poplar trees were dead or imminently dying before they were felled. He states "We are currently compiling a timeline of the activities surrounding these trees going, hopefully, back to 2019 when one of them fell into the powerlines over the road. We will put this information on our website for everyone's information." The Municipality timeline was published 24hours after the first publishing of this article and can be found here.
In addition to this unsatisfactory impasse for the Parish Community, this group is left with the overriding question about how the Parish Municipality can make decisions which polarise with Government strategy?
On 23rd February 2023, after original publication of this article and following up on the refusal of Connétable Labey to publish the independent professional survey reports prior to felling, I made a Parish Freedom of Information (PFOI) request asking for:
A) A copy of the survey report or/and other such reports prepared by independent, appropriately professionally qualified persons that confirm that the poplar trees felled on La rue du Marais a la Cocque at the start of August 2022 were dead or imminently dying immediately prior to their felling.
B) Any ancillary documents or emails where the aforementioned trees are mentioned.
C) A copy of the fully costed business case for the project.
D) Minutes of the meeting at which the documents at A), B) and C) were discussed, the decision made to fell the trees and notify parishioners.
If the requested documentation does not exist, please can this be advised.
The PFOI response has revealed that all 11 poplar trees were felled over two visits without written survey reports. No business case was prepared to support effective decision making and extract minutes appear to have conflicting information. Procureur Rebours advised on 30th July 2022 that the 6 remaining poplars must go because of the electric overhead power cables. Connétable Labey appears to have given instructions to fell 6 healthy poplar trees in August 2022, without reviewing the full project history. These trees were felled in advance of enactment of legislation to protect trees within the planning and building laws. Surely the Municipality should be a leading example to its community in applying best practice and thinking regeneratively? A summary of the PFOI response is provided below:
There was no written survey report, or other such report prepared by independent appropriately qualified person confirming that the trees were dead or imminently dying prior to felling.
Reports were apparently received orally. The only oral report formally minuted (post felling) relates back to 2010, some 12 years earlier.
Minutes of the Connétable and Procureurs Bien Public dated 26th November 2010 refer to boundaries, access to, condition of the poplars and damage being done by their roots in the field being tabled for discussion at a Parish Assembly on 1st December.
Email 7th September 2021 from a concerned parishioner stating 3 trees with fungal growth need cutting down. Email 8th September 2021 from The Jersey Royal Company stating that their agronomist “probably agrees that 2 of the 3 trees should be cut down.”
No business case was prepared. Two quotes were received in Autumn 2021 under the leadership of Connétable John Le Maistre one for £1,550 to cut down 5 poplars the other £2,143.36 to cut down 7 poplars. Only 2 trees were reported to need felling without survey report.
Conflicting minutes of the Connétable and Procureurs Bien Public stating 2 quotes on 29th September 2021 and 3 quotes in minutes dated 29th October 2021, although quote(s) may have been omitted from the PFOI on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.
Email dated 30th July 2022 from Procureur Bernard Rebours states that “the 6 remaining trees on this field…must go because of the electric overhead power cables.” Quote £2,200 plus GST to cut down the remaining 6 poplars. No documents dated November 2021 supplied refer to monitoring the 6 trees for growth as stated in point 10. of the Parish timeline.
Minutes dated 26th August 2022, (post felling) Procureur Bernard Rebours refers to an oral statement he recalls being made by the States Horticultural Officer in 2010, that some of the trees had fungus growing at the bottom and that Poplars have a short life, particularly in land that holds water. From the information supplied in the PFOI, the minute wording appears to have been mixed from 2 sources and possibly wrongly attributed to the States Horticultural Officer - the reference to fungus actually came from a concerned parishioner in 2021 in relation to 3 trees which were felled in the first round.
Minutes of a meeting dated 5th December 2022 identifies planting 23 trees to replace the 11 trees felled. No options or costings proposed. No trees have been planted to date.
Email on 30th January 2023 from the Parish Secretary - Poison to be applied to tree stumps by Dave Cummins during that week.
Email dated 8th February 2023 (sender redacted) states that “most of the trees were healthy and have been sprouting” and that “allowing them to form shrub sized growth was one good option”.
Email on 13th February 2023 from Procureur Bernard Rebours (post checking parish records) stating the first record regarding the Poplars is on 26th November 2010.