State agencies spar over trees


Tree-lined avenues have been a distinct feature of the Czech countryside for many hundreds of years. For all their beauty and benefit however, they are also the lethal factor behind one fifth of all road accidents. A great many avenue trees are felled each year to preclude this hazard, and for the first time the Czech Environmental Inspection has found out just how many: close to 9,000 trees are scheduled for felling in 2009. So is it really inevitable they should go? Christian Falvey has more:

Tree-lined avenues have been planted in rural Europe since the late 16th century, at the same time when naturally serpentine routes were being straitened into modern roads. Initially intended to keep the sun off weary travellers, the characteristic shady lanes serve a number of purposes from a natural blockade against snow flurries to creating a microclimate along transit corridors. For all their majesty however, the trees pose various problems for the road maintenance authorities, and the Czech Environmental Inspectorate is wary of the way in which these problems are being confronted. Spokesman Oldřich Janeba explains:

“Naturally one of the activities that the road authority carries out is caring for greenery, that means they’re supposed to be taking care of the trees, pruning them, they should be planting new ones and if a tree is dry they should fell it. In practice however, over the last three or four years of relatively mild winters, what’s been happening is that whole avenues suddenly disappear for no reason, or the trees are treated in such a way that they eventually have to be cut down because they haven’t been professionally trimmed, and we see more of an interest in simplifying the work of the road workers and cutting down trees rather than dealing with complications.”

Spokeswoman Martina Vápeníková of the Roads and Motorways Directorate denies this, saying nothing out of the ordinary is taking place.

“I do not see any problem with the way we have been felling wayside trees. For a number of years now we have been carrying out maintenance on 1st class highways and motorways, pruning trees, removing branches damaged by wind or accidents and felling dead or sick trees. Annually, in Central Bohemia for example, this amounts to roughly 150 trees on 1st class roads throughout the network, that means no more than 1 tree per 10 kilometres, and it really only involves trees that are damaged or have died naturally. The Road and Motorway Directorate certainly has no plan to eliminate entire healthy avenues or even groups of trees along motorways, nor has it ever done anything of the sort in the past.”

The Environmental Inspectorate however is taking a vigilant approach after what it describes as overzealous felling in recent years, which it puts down to road budget surpluses made possible by mild winters. It says that in 2006 an entire avenue was needlessly felled in Kašperské Hory. This has led to an agreement between the transport and the environment minister to halt the blanket felling of avenues, an agreement that the Inspectorate is now making sure is being honoured.