Green Shoots: Keeping Harrogate district trees healthy
Last updated Apr 18, 2022
David Humberstone

If there is one thing the people of Harrogate can actually agree on, it’s that our trees make it a healthier and better place to live.

Beech trees help soak up pollution from cars on Otley Road and the cherry blossoms provide a brilliant show at this time of year on the Stray.

David Humberstone has been a tree surgeon all his working life and owns The Tree People in Harrogate. A tree surgeon is responsible for the care and general treatment of trees to keep them healthy.

He said people are passionate about their trees here:

“What I love about my job the most is the variety. I enjoy all of it. You can be climbing up a majestic tree that’s been there for 100 years.”

Trees face many threats, from diseases like Ash Dieback to the recent storms, but often it’s people’s own tastes and preferences about how they look that can put them at risk.

Harrogate Borough Council receives around 1,400 planning applications a year from residents wanting to prune, chop or cut down trees, often in their gardens.

Mr Humberstone said part of his job is persuading people that sometimes less is more, and not intervening can help a tree live a longer and healthier life in the long run.

“Harrogate residents usually are quite passionate about gardens but too many people want a clinical garden where everything’s perfect. 

“I find nature finds a better way, man’s intervention is not always desirable. We encourage trees to be thinned, but if you over thin, wind speed can increase and it loses leaves.”

“A lot of people want to cut back as hard as they can to maximise light. But you can shoot yourself in the foot as a tree can react not always in a good way.”

Cherry blossoms on Harrogate Stray.

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Plant more trees

The Climate Change Committee says the UK should be planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year, but we’re still some way off that target.

Harrogate Borough Council is currently planting 10,000 trees in Bilton Fields as well as at Upper Horse Shoe Fields in Knaresborough.

The planting is part of the government’s White Rose Forest initiative to create 10 community forests in England. Oak, hornbeam, hazel, alder, cherry, crab apple and other native trees will be planted.

Mr Humberstone said it’s vital that more trees are planted in the district, whether on a large scale or in someone’s back garden.

He said:

“One mature beech tree can take the pollution from two houses.

“Yes, it also takes a long time for a tree to establish. It gets comfortable for a few years before roots take off and grow. When it gets to 50 years old it is just getting out of its teenage years, it’s very important to maintain our big trees.

“The planet needs more trees and we need to plant more. It breaks my heart when I have to take a good tree down.”

And whilst the equation that more trees will improve the environment is straightforward, they have other benefits that you might not know about.

Mr Humberstone added:

“A beech tree has a pubescent leaf. It has hairs on it that help catch dust particles in the air. So not only does it provide oxygen, it filters dust out of the air. When it rains that dust is washed to the ground. Trees have so many benefits.”

Built environment

Like many of us, Mr Humberstone has a couple of favourite trees that he likes to admire as he works around Harrogate.

“On Granby corner there is a beautiful elm on the corner. On Devonshire Place there’s another beautiful elm. I’m a bit nostalgic as when I started I was cutting down lots of elm.

“Elm doesn’t rot in water and they used it to build Victorian piers.

“I am also very passionate about the yew tree. There’s whole books written about them. Its rock hard and is poisonous. They use it in drugs to fight fight cancer.”

And as Harrogate’s built environment has continued to grow with new housing developments and buildings, sometimes leading to conflict with the natural environment, Mr Humberstone said he will always be fighting the tree’s corner.