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Urban Forestry in the Bamboo Garden

Many city-dwellers are shy of large trees near dwellings, for obvious reasons. We believe, however, that even a small residential block can support a significant fragment of the surrounding urban forest estate, and provide benefits to land, people and wildlife far in excess of the risks posed by healthy, well-cared-for trees. If we are to make our cities healthier, happier and in any way “sustainable”, we must all make allowances for these effortlessly useful citizens, and take responsibility for their welfare: by sensible design, careful monitoring and fearless management.

One of the oldest and most important trees in our urban permaculture wildlife haven, The Bamboo Garden, was our old Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta). A prolific flowerer with a devoted following of nectarivores and small hollow-dwellers in attendance for a large part of the year, in late 2012 it suffered from severe dieback at the end of several months without useful rain.

Then, with a loving lick of major ex-tropical cyclone Oswald’s tail, approximately half a ton of the tree’s dead timber was sent crashing into the crown of another of our mature trees. It hung there for several days until we discovered it upon returning from holidays. Having avoided any worse effects of the mega-storm (many others were not so lucky) I did some hasty barefoot forestry with a bamboo pole-mounted saw, dropped the hung-up log with minimal damage to the supporting tree, and gave thanks for small mercies: no injuries or property damage sustained by us or our neighbours!

Now we knew that we couldn’t just leave it there as habitat for hollow-dependent fauna, as I had naively hoped. Although the tree definitely qualified as a “significant landscape tree” under the local council regulations, it was also now a “dangerous tree”, and the risk to person and property was just too great. But all was not lost: not only would we be able to retain the biomass of the lopped tree as woodchip mulch, but the main trunk of the tree was a massive log of high-value cabinet timber. Also, thanks to our forest succession strategy in the garden, we had some suppressed-advanced canopy trees and many thousands of dormant seeds in the litter under the old tree’s eaves, waiting patiently for just such an opportunity. We know that these will begin to fill the gap in our canopy and in the lives of millions of organisms (including ourselves) who depended on the Silky Oak for shade, nutrient, nectar, pollen, housing etc.

After we climbed and felled the tree and chipped the crown and smaller branches (I suggest you seek an insured subcontractor for this sort of job, if you don’t have the necessaries yourself), our friend Brendon Collins, of Arakai Estate (a mixed agroforestry farm near Woodford Queensland) visited, and checked out the log. He judged that with the small amount of sapwood on the log, it’s value at the mill-door should easily cover the stumpage (our costs in felling, snigging and transporting the timber).

The next task is to snig the log (drag it to a loading area), load it on a truck and transport it to the Collins’ mill. This will probably prove tricky, but will be a worthy challenge of my 4WD vehicle-recovery skills (mercifully untested for quite a while) once the log has cured for a while, and we gather our resources for the job. Watch this space…

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