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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 15th August 2008
Can we imagine Ripon without trees? asks David Winpenny, Co-Chairman of Ripon Civic Society.

Holidays are wonderful things. When you are away from home you get new perspectives – and not only of the places you visit; you learn something more about home, too.

Going to somewhere almost entirely devoid of trees – like Iceland – gives views of mighty fells and turbulent rivers, thunderous waterfalls and cinder-grey lava fields. The light is wonderful, and nowhere is the vista impeded by trees. When there are trees they tend to be small and low-growing – hence the Icelandic joke – ‘If you are lost in an Icelandic forest, stand up.’

So having time largely without trees means that back in Britain – and in Ripon – the trees seem to take on an added significance. Their size and the luxuriance of their leaves at the height of summer are particularly impressive, and so is the abundance of them.

Ripon is particularly blessed with trees, on its approaches and even near the city centre, and the city would be a very different place without them. Approach the city from any side, and trees are among the chief features of the landscape. Come in from the east and there are fine trees at the racecourse and along by the canal on Boroughbridge Road. Approach from Harrogate and admire the trees along Harrogate Road (though some in large gardens are under threat) and by the bridge. And Hutton Bank, too, has its fair share of fine trees.

Then there are the specimen trees of different shades that enliven the award-winning Spa Gardens, and the trees in the cathedral churchyard. These are no doubt the result of careful planting at some time; but other trees – for example those along the banks of the Skell, are more likely to have been seeded naturally.

And trees to not have to be big to make an impact – there is, for example, a small Rowan tree in the courtyard behind the houses fronting Low Skellgate and Somerset Row. It makes a perfect foil to the angularity of the houses and, no doubt, would offer shade should the sun even shine for long. Commercial premises, too, can use trees to advantage – as Ripon City Motors in North Street have done, planning a row of small, narrow trees that add interest to the street and offset the severity of their premises and the cars on display.

Trees in full leaf are useful to disguise less pleasing structures. A churchyard tree at the end of High St Agnesgate, for example, overhangs the road and partly covers the dull and unworthy facade of the new house that has been placed facing down the street.

Because trees are such a valuable piece of the look of our towns and cities, the planning authorities have powers to protect trees by making Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs). If a tree is covered by a TPO it is an offence to cut it down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or destroy it without permission, except in very closely-defined circumstances. In Conservation Areas – like much of the historic centre of Ripon –trees are automatically protected, and consent must be obtained for any work.

And preserving trees must be only part of the planning process; trees, though long-lived, are living things and will die. Sometimes the end will come unexpectedly, as recently happened when a tree fell, on a still day, in Princess Road. So we need an active programme of planting new trees, too, to ensure that future generations can take as much pleasure in them as we can today.

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