An oak tree on Featherston’s main street survived plans to fell it on Tuesday. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

Emotions were running high on Tuesday as an old oak tree on Featherston’s main street was set to be felled.

It survived the day but its future remains uncertain.

The tree sits on St Andrew’s Union Church land and members of the small congregation said it could no longer afford to pay the maintenance costs for keeping the branches away from two sets of powerlines that run through it.

The church arranged with Powerco to have the tree trimmed back, and contractor Treescape was on site carrying this work out.

Treescape was also preparing to bring the entire tree down as requested by the church, but this plan was brought to a halt just after noon and the tree was left standing.

Treescape project manager Glen Ayling confirmed his team “left the site due to interference from a member of the public”.

On Tuesday morning it was clear people weren’t happy with the job at hand, with members of the community speaking out in frustration at the church’s decision.

Featherston man, Campbell Moon, said chopping the Fitzherbert St tree down was an “act of vandalism”.

“This is a total outrage,” he said to church members.

He said looking at old photographs, it seemed the tree was planted about 100 years ago.

“Let’s face it, the town hasn’t got a lot of attractive trees in it, and this is the last big tree on the main street.”

Greytown-based consultant arborist Richie Hill estimated the tree to be about 80 years old and said it could “easily” live another 800 years.

He said it was worrying that felling trees seemed to be the go-to option when powerlines were involved.

“We need to be valuing trees more . . . we are losing more trees than what’s going back in.”

St Andrew’s Union Church secretary Faith Wrigley said the decision to fell the tree was made by the parish council and was based on safety reasons.

“We have a tree that has powerlines going through it – it’s not safe for people going under it, it’s not safe for people who have their properties on the same powerlines.

“There are two sets of lines going through the tree and we’re trying to be responsible to the community.”

It cost the church between $1600 to $1800 up to twice a year to keep the tree clear of the lines.

“We love this tree and it’s a shame to take it out, but we don’t have the money for the upkeep.”

The church plans to donate the wood to the Lions Club of Featherston to distribute to families in need.

Damien Taylor, of the Featherston Business Association, said trees were vital for human health and environmental reasons, and the town needed more trees, not less.

“We need to protect our heritage, and trees are part of that,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the community wasn’t notified about the plans to bring down the tree, and it’s on a main road.”

Jeremy Thompson said, the oak added “amenity” to the town, being one of the few grand trees Featherston had.

While he understood the church’s decision was made based on tight finances, it was still disappointing for the town.

Powerco confirmed the oak needed trimming for safety reasons, and Treescape was contracted to carry out the work.

Powerco did not own the tree so any future work on it was the responsibility of the church officials, senior vegetation manager Colin Winch said.