Large gum trees in residential areas pose a threat to life and property

Large gum trees in residential areas pose a threat to life and property

Like most people I am all for protecting the environment and greening our towns and cities but we do need to balance this with the risk to life and property.

Today in much of South East Australia strong winds are again forecast. As a child growing up in Brisbane I always thought of August as Kite month. While the weather is great for kites it also brings danger.

Many councils are still very reluctant to allow the removal of trees yet every time there is strong winds or a storm we see a house or car crushed by a fallen tree. Over the past month we have seen 3 separate incidences where sadly innocent people have lost their lives as a result of a tree or tree branch that has come down.

There are so many branches [pun intended :)] where this topic can go. I just want to touch on 2.

For people in new homes, please carefully consider the type of tree that you plant. Make sure it is not a type that is going to damage your home, a neighbours home or put you, your family or others at risk. This is not just from falling branches or trees but also tree roots which can lead to serious water damage claims and or subsidence/cracking issues.

Secondly, for those with existing trees I encourage you to keep an eye on the health of the tree and check to see if any branches have broken off and are caught up in the canopy.

Across the road from my home an elderly couple have a very tall gum tree in their front yard. I noticed a branch has broken off and the fork of this branch has straddled a branch lower down.

The branch is still so high up that I cannot reach it with my tallest ladder and to be honest it is too large for me to tackle even if it were able to be reached by ladder. The couple themselves do not have the funds to call in an arborist with a cherry picker tall enough. They were not aware of the hazard when I brought it to their attention.

As the branch is hanging directly over the footpath/nature strip I thought the local authority (Stonnington Council) may assist but they refused outright to become involved despite the clear and present danger to the public.

I have obviously warned my family and neighbours but saw the owners of the tree doing gardening beneath the tree during the high winds. As I would never forgive myself if the branch were to injure or kill someone I will work with the neighbour(s) to see what we can do to remove the hazard. If I have my way the entire tree will go so that it does not create the same danger again. A smaller more appropriate tree can be planted in its place.

These type of branches, colloquially known as “widow makers” not only cause property damage and injury in residential situations, I have been involved in many claims where people, including school children, have been injured in caravan parks, camp grounds and even just bush walking.

A hazard such as this can lead to a liability claim against the owner and or occupier of the property whether it be a residential or commercial property.

As an aside, one claim involving a falling branch sticks in my mind despite it happening more than 20 years ago. It was one of my staff at the time that did the site visit. A chap was by himself in a small boat in the Murray River, and rather than go to the toilet out the side of the boat, he pulled into shore and went behind a tree to urinate. Yes, you guessed it he was a true English gentleman. A branch fell and killed him on the spot. What are the odds!

Please, do not become a news story. Have a look around your property and make sure that after the strong winds we have had around much of Australia of late you do not have an accident waiting to happen literally over your head.

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