ALTHOUGH a mature, healthy Scots pine tree contributed significantly to the attractive setting of a Sussex church, and its loss would be detrimental to the appearance of the churchyard, the risk of injury to passers-by who might be struck by falling pine cones justified felling the tree, the Consistory Court of Chichester diocese ruled.
The petitioners were the churchwardens of St Peter’s, West Blatchington, who sought a faculty for the felling of the tree, which was situated at the junction of two paths within the grounds of the church. Its crown spread over an area used as an entrance for a pre-school.
The petitioners indicated that two adult men had been struck by falling cones in the recent past, and relied on an expert report which stated that the “falling of pine cones upon passing persons does pose a significant risk of injury”. The report stated that other options had been looked at to mitigate against injury, but all had been discounted other than felling.
Public notice led to a letter of objection from a married couple, indicating that they were long-term residents of the area, although not necessarily of the parish. The wife recalled playing under the tree as a child in the 1960s. The couple considered that it was not a good reason to fell the tree simply because someone was struck by a falling pine cone. They considered that the felling of the tree would be detrimental to the visual amenity of the church and the graveyard.
The Chancellor, the Worshipful Mark Hill QC, said that he was sympathetic to the observations made in the letter of objection, but “the size and weight of the cones [were] such as to cause significant injury were they to fall on a child or an infirm elderly person.” The number of cones was such that the risk of one striking a passer-by could “properly be categorised as significant, rather than speculative or fanciful”.
The determinative factor was the proximity of the tree to a well-used pedestrian thoroughfare where young children, attending pre-school events or Sunday school, would be particularly vulnerable. The Chancellor said that the Consistory Court would not “lightly interfere where a parish has carried out a careful assessment of risk in good faith”.
A faculty was granted permitting the felling of the tree by a suitably qualified contractor with adequate public-liability insurance, and on condition that a replacement tree of a species approved by the Archdeacon be planted during the current or next growing season at a location approved by the Archdeacon.