It’s the Village Sign or the Oak Tree!

There has been much concern expressed on the part of residents with regard to the fate of the young oak tree situated on the small traffic island outside the village hall and the parish council’s decision to apply for its removal in order to facilitate the re-erection of our newly refurbished village sign.

This concern is understandable since nobody wishes to see any tree felled without a very good reason for doing so and I might say that this sentiment was clearly demonstrated by the members of the parish council at their last meeting.

I should say at this point that I also am not for removing the tree without good cause but I do believe that any decision should be an informed one based on the facts which I lay out below.

Our sign was originally erected in 1983 as a gift to the village by the Chapman family then resident at Foxearth Hall. It was made of 4 pieces of Brazilian mahogany by H & K Mabbit & Co. and was finished in lead based paint. The oak tree was erected circa 2000. It has already grown to a point where it is starting to dominate the island and will of course grown much larger.

As the tree has got bigger, the rate of deterioration of the sign has accelerated. Having taken advice on this, it has become clear that the proximity of the tree to the sign has had a tangible and detrimental effect. The mechanism responsible for this is the rainfall that has fallen on to the tree and which has then been blown on to the sign. These rain droplets contain organic matter collected from the leaves of the tree which then penetrate the sign through the joints and cracks in the painted surface. This in turn provides an environment in which microbes can flourish that then produces a moss like growth which starts to rot the wood.

This was evidenced on the rear of the sign when I undertook the refurbishment. On the side facing the tree, the wood has already started to break down. The joint at the shoulder had opened up and the wood was already starting to twist. The engraved dedication on the back has also suffered some damage. This contrasted greatly with the front surface of the sign which was still in near perfect condition.

As the tree grows this effect is likely to intensify. There have been some suggestions that a “roof” structure could be erected over the sign. This would not be very effective as most of the water arriving on the sign will have been blown there by the wind and, in any case, the bulk of the damage was to the rear shoulder of the sign which is near to its base and would be afforded little or no protection by any type of roof structure located some three feet higher up.

Anyone who has parked a car under a tree for any length of time will be aware of the deposits that collect on its roof and which can eventually do serious damage to the paintwork if not removed. Our sign would be liable to suffer the same fate if returned to its original position with the tree still in place.

One last point to consider. Our sign has lasted as long as it has because of the materials used and in particular the lead base paint finish. These paints are highly durable and provide a finish that performs well for many years. Unfortunately they are no longer in mass production as their use has been banned by law. Modern lead free paint finishes are more brittle, are more prone to cracking and in general have much shorter useful lives as anyone who has had to paint the outside of their house will know.

Our sign has lasted 28 years before needing any refurbishment. Paint manufacturers suggest that today’s products will last around 5 to 7 years only and that estimate is without the adverse effects of any trees close by.

So the real question we need to be asking ourselves is not whether the tree should be saved or not but where do we want our sign to be located. Most people seem to think that the island is the best place and several have pointed out that the sign was there some 18 years before the tree. On the other hand there are plenty of residents who would prefer to save the tree.

Alternative sites for the sign are in very short supply and such that there are face the same problem of being under or close to trees.

In the end it has to be for our community as a whole to decide the best way forward. What is abundantly clear is that our sign and the oak tree cannot coexist on our diminutive traffic island.

Clive Waite

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