A large weeping willow tree in Hitchin’s St Mary’s churchyard, which sadly fell over recently, will be replaced this winter. The council provides grounds maintenance for the churchyard and has been liaising with the church as well as canvassing local opinion, to decide on the best way forward.
It is thought the tree fell over due to its buttress roots failing on one side, and the sheer weight of the tree tipped it over, lifting the root plate. In addition, weeping willows typically have a lifespan of 40 to 70 years, and it is thought the tree was planted in the 1970s. Different options were considered, including allowing the stump to re-shoot, but it was collectively decided that the best, safest and most practicable option was to completely remove the tree, and plant another in its place.
Councillor Steve Jarvis, Executive Member for Environment and Leisure, explained: “It’s a great shame this has happened but thankfully no one was hurt. It is such a prominent tree we feel it’s best in the long term to completely replace it so it will grow in a managed way. If we were to leave the stump and mound topsoil against it to regenerate growth, it is likely to grow in an unruly way, and the size of what would be left could become a safetyissue. Willows are quick to establish and grow so we’ve decided that planting a new heavy standard tree of around three metres tall is the best option. Part of the trunk of the old tree will be cut and left on site to be used as a bench and reminder of such a prominent and attractive tree.”
As soon as we learnt of the tree falling, we made the site safe with specialist contractors. We have attended site visits with representatives from the church and the main bulk of the tree was removed on Friday, 23 September.
Cllr Ian Albert, Chair of the Council's Hitchin Committee added: “It’s desperately sad. The willow tree has been a feature of so many photos and paintings of Hitchin over many years. But I agree that safety must come first.
“I have already proposed to Rev Chris Bunce at St Mary's Church that I'm sure that the Hitchin Committee will be prepared to help support a new willow tree for the site. Hopefully, this can be planted in the near future as Hitchin's first memorial to our late Queen. I believe this will be a fitting tribute, alongside the bench that will be made from the old tree stump".
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