School under fire over tree pruning

The trees at Sans Souci Girls High School have been chopped off.

A row of heavily pruned trees on the grounds of Sans Souci Girls’ High School has caused some concern among residents and environmental groups.

The school did not respond to questions about the stumps on the Main Road side of Newlands, but Clare Burgess, chairwoman of southern suburbs tree protection group TreeKeepers, believes Sans Souci ground staff have simply pruned back the trees to reinstate the boundary hedge.

Concerned reader Dr Suzana Savvi approached the Tatler this week after seeing what she described as the “frivolous chopping down of trees along Main Road”.

“This school has done enough to bring into disrepute the traditions of a previously beautiful establishment,” Dr Savvi said in reference to the hair protests that rocked Sans Souci last month (“Hairgate protests reach fever pitch”, Tatler, September 8)

“Was this an addition to all the negative publicity they have received of late, really necessary? Instead of preserving our leafy suburb, they viciously hack down an entire avenue of trees. What for? It was not encroaching on anyone, the grass was growing – in which case perhaps a trim may have been justified. This is reprehensible.”

Ward councillor Ian Iversen also weighed in, saying Sans Souci had created “another Stonehedge”.

“It seems obvious that whoever ordered that the trees be cut in the way they have really doesn’t have much appreciation for the natural environment. It will take years and years for the lush vegetation to return. It’s so sad,” Mr Iversen said.

Ms Burgess had also been concerned about the “enormous gap” left by the pruning. “I had been concerned, but when I went to have a look it was clear that the school has pruned back a hedge. This appears to have been done in two stages – the first being in August. They have left individual trees but pruned back the Eugenia, which grows like a weed,” she said. “There are a few trees which have been left in place including a small gum tree, a wild date palm and a wild peach which I think shows that trees are valued by the school.

“In fact, the trees pruned in August are already starting to sprout new shoots. I do think the extensive pruning is a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to pruning that should have occurred regularly at Sans Souci.”

However Ms Burgess was concerned that southern suburbs schools were not paying enough attention to preserving more mature trees as they expanded and added new facilities.

“We understand that schools do need to expand, but we have encountered instances where mature trees are being threatened. SACS is currently building a very nice wall around the property, but in order to do this, the roots of some of the trees are being damaged.

“There was also a case at Rustenburg Girls’ Junior School where three trees were removed. The school is in a heritage overlay zone as well. I spoke to the principal who loves trees, but she told me they were making a mess. I am seeing a trend where schools, which are under pressure to expand, are not paying as much attention as they should to preserving their trees.”

Rustenburg principal Di Berry confirmed three trees had been removed, but with good reason.

“The one tree is called the Tree of Heaven, which actually is council’s list of trees to be removed. These trees have incredibly invasive roots, and pop up everywhere. In fact, council will remove them if you do not do so,” Mrs Berry said. “Two of the trees were cypress trees, which were outside the hall. These trees were infected by a disease, had never grown well, and in fact one of them was half dead.

“At Rustenburg, we have hundreds of trees and we look after them. Obviously we trim them regularly, to prevent branches falling on the children.”

Ms Berry said the school regularly planted new trees, including indigenous ones to replace those that had been removed.

Gerard de la Bat, deputy headmasters of SACS Junior, said the school was “fully aware” of Ms Burgess’s concerns and had written a letter to her.

“When we decided to build the wall, we gave directives to the builders not to disturb the roots, but unfortunately some were cut,” he said.

“But we have now begun a process where we are even building arches over the roots where we encounter them. In fact, where we are building steps near the big yellowood tree we have even changed the design to clear the roots.”

He said the school was making every effort to cause no further damage, and was even drafting a tree care policy. “We are always planting trees as well.”