Winds of Change Blow Through Millennium Park

Posted on October 4, 2011 by


This year, Heeley Development Trust are facing one of the most difficult decisions we’ve ever encountered.  Having spent fifteen years developing the Millennium Park, increasing both tree cover and diversity, we now need to remove some of the biggest trees for safety reasons.  As we’ve discussed this problem with local people, a range of views have been put forward both for and against. This article aims to give community members the facts, and help people understand why a decision needs to be made now.

 Some facts about our trees;

Local residents, schoolchildren, our local Community Tree Officer, and Heeley Development Trust have planted over 2000 trees in and around the Millennium Park, including a hundred oak, a thousand hazel, hundreds of birch, and a whole range of fruit trees (including the Goodwin Road Community Orchard, funded by the South Community Assembly in 2010).

Some of the more interesting trees include copper beeches, four different species of oak, stone pine and Atlantic cedar.  Our Community Spaces Lottery bid for further planting includes a number of ‘heavy standards’; these are trees between 3-4 metres high which will further increase the range of conifers, blossom and native trees.

So far so good.  However….

…the largest trees in the Park, clustered around Well and Gleadless Roads, are now causing concern.  These are mainly hybrid species of poplar planted after slum clearances over 30 years ago.   Earlier this year, high winds brought down a number of their branches very near to footpaths, including one the size of a small tree.  In light of the obvious implications for public safety, these are the issues concerning the management of these hybrid poplars;

Fallen branch in Millennium Park

One of the fallen branches in the park.

–   Hybrid poplars have a life expectancy of about 50 years, but some research shows that they can start to split or drop branches in strong winds after 20-25 years.

–   As they age, hybrid poplars can be susceptible to disease including a canker that increases the likelihood of branches falling.

–   Reducing or pruning is not recommended as it creates weak points, increasing the chance of failure later.

–   The hybrids are a fast-growing form that ‘sucker’ strongly from the roots – ‘suckers’ are now swamping other native trees in the Park, and will cause problems in the future; earlier this year we did work to remove some of these.

We have sought expert opinion from the Council’s Tree Officers as well as independent arboriculture experts: their advice is to remove these trees. We are commissioning an independent report to confirm this which will soon be available.  The Trust feel that in order to secure everybody’s safety, and to continue to develop the Park, we must act quickly.  This work needs to happen before the annual cycle of winter and spring storms begin, since these so frequently feature high winds.   Additionally, since the expert guidance we have received advises us to replace these trees, it will be hard to secure appropriate insurance cover with affordable premiums unless we act on this advice.  We want to use the Park’s limited funds to improve the Park, not pay insurers.

We propose to replace the lost hybrid poplars with even more, appropriate, mainly native, trees.  The landscape will also be improved with new borders and shrub planting. We will reuse as much of the resulting timber on site as possible – for example to make play features.

Park Manager, Thom White, and Trust Manager, Andy Jackson are currently updating information and plans for the Park and these will be posted on this website in the near future.  You can post a comment below or alternatively, contact Thom or Andy to discuss the trees by email:, or phone: 250 0613