Elms remain “mighty and healthy”

Friends of Camperdown Elms (FOCE) members are thrilled with the health of Finlay Avenue’s trees after campaigning to stop their planned removal and replacement, which culminated in a public protest in 2007.

DESPITE plans adopted in 2004 to completely remove and replace Camperdown’s avenue of elms, the trees are “looking healthier than ever”, according to the Friends of Camperdown Elms (FOCE).

FOCE members staged an avenue walk to inspect the trees last week and were heartened with what they found.

“There have been no major limb failures and no major tree failures in recent years,” group chair Carol Eagle said.

“The trees have really healthy canopies and are looking beautiful.”

Starting with 12 trees removed from in front of the town’s chemist in 2002, a total of 36 were earmarked for removal after an arborist determined a number to be unsafe and devised a block replacement plan to achieve uniformity.

Corangamite Shire Council subsequently adopted a plan in 2004 to remove and replace the entire avenue in separate blocks over a 20 year time frame.

The plan prompted a public outcry and saw a petition carrying 672 signatures presented to the council and culminated in 250 people attending a public demonstration in the avenue in 2007 to successfully call for a moratorium on the tree removals.

The campaign also drew high profile support from identities including Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, cartoon satirist Michael Leunig and Kew Gardens London director Richard Barley.

“If that tree replacement plan had gone ahead, 90 per cent of these beautiful elms would not be here now,” Mrs Eagle said.

“Since then, the trees have received much better care and are looking really healthy.

“They had a terrific autumn, hanging onto their leaves for much longer than usual – partly because of the milder weather, but also because of their good health, if they were stressed they would have dropped their leaves much earlier.”

Mrs Eagle said the avenue remained one of the most significant avenue of elms in the world due to the decimation of similar avenues in Europe, America and Britain because of Dutch elm disease.

“We’re thrilled with how well the trees are going and that they are still a magnificent feature of Camperdown,” she said.

Fellow FOCE member Fiona Morris said the “mighty and healthy original specimens” contrasted notably with the replacement block of “scrawny trees”.

“Imagine a whole avenue like that if the plan had gone ahead,” she said.

“It also should be noted the rationale for block replacements was on ‘expert’ advice that English elms in Australia, without the long dormant period of England, would only have a lifespan of 150 years.

“Since then there has been a marked shift in earlier expert opinion on how long elms will live in our climate, with it acknowledged now that this is an unknown.”

Mrs Morris said the adoption of mulching around the tree bases had proven helpful to preserve moisture and protect the tree trunks from mower damage.

“It would seem that English elms in our local climate, with rich volcanic soil and good winter rains do very nicely indeed,” she said.

However, locals were asked to keep a vigilant eye out for the destructive elm leaf beetle, which has been sighted in various elms throughout the town.

The beetle hides under wood piles throughout the winter months and then migrates to the elm trees throughout spring. It is six to eight millimetres in length and ranges from yellow to green in colour with a spot on its head and broad dark stripes along its edges.

People are asked to report any sightings to the Corangamite Shire Council on 5593 7100.

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