Christine Tongue: More trees please

A trip to the New Forest

We lack trees in Thanet. So many have been lost to new developments or people who don’t like messy leaves and they’re not being replaced.

So when the leaves started to turn colour I was seized with nostalgia for somewhere where trees ruled.

In the 1970s I used to go camping in the New Forest – a tiny tent and a hitchhikers thumb and you were sleeping under trees in one of the most ancient bits of woodland in the UK.

Going back as a disabled old person was more complicated – accessible transport, hotel that welcomed wheel users and a sense of adventure! In the 70s that attitude was reserved for long distance hiking in wild places, but now has to be transformed into the ability to not be put off by flooded footpaths and busy main roads.

We stayed in Brockenhurst, in the heart of the New Forest. It has a rail station,  at least two accessible hotels, some nice pubs I could scoot into and trees, birds and ponies everywhere.

It had rained a lot – in Thanet you see flooded  roads, in Brockenhurst we saw roads that had turned into rivers  and fields into lakes!

We were glad not to be in to be in a flimsy tent but in a warm hotel, with a swimming  pool and nice food a corridor away from our room.

But going among the trees was the point of being there so I tested my mobility scooter to its limits on forest tracks and managed to go further on sticks than I’ve ever been as the landscape lured me on.

But – as in most places – I’m left reflecting on what would improve life for disabled people in this lovely national park.

It comes down to public policy and technology.

I found good accessible toilets in lots of places – Thanet council please note! The New Forest is not far from Bournemouth, holiday mecca for oldies,  so coaches full of pensioners on day trips keep the forest economy floating. Good lavs are vital!

Wheel users need better forest tracks with no potholes, more dropped kerbs in the quaint old towns. But more importantly, what’s needed is the right attitude among the people in charge of decision making to welcome the old and decrepit.

I mentioned on a local Facebook page installing benches on the sides of the more accessible tracks but any changes in Forest infrastructure has to go through an obscure system dating back to the Conquest .

But technology could play a part. Mobility scooters could be built to be safer in rough conditions. Manufacturers could build more adventurousness into the designs. My scooter is flummoxed by mud, sand, gravel, puddles that are more than two inches deep, and can’t survive in much rain as the electrical controls are not waterproof.

Fortunately my new aluminium scooter is very light so it’s easier to pull and rescue from the sudden sticking places.

So if you’re fed up of giant waves and you’re longing for trees and ponies  get down to Hampshire, or better still protest against developers cutting down trees in Thanet.

Or what about creating our own forest? My friend, Camile Sutton, who died recently, campaigned for many years to preserve Mocketts Wood in Broadstairs. A big green space where we grew trees instead of pricey executive houses would , I think, be her best memorial.

Christine is a founder member of disability campaign group Access Thanet


  1. Thanet has been bereft of trees for centuries. It’s nothing new.
    It would be nice to see some woodland replanted, xlthough.

    • 50 years ago, even many of the smallest roads in Thanet were tree-lined. They were removed for the convenience of cars and (more recently) mobility scooters.

  2. Not quite true.A combination of some householders wanting to create the municipal car park look in their front gardens, and paranoia from highways engineers has removed street trees from some highways.There have been repeated attempts to remove a lovely holm oak in St Laurence churchyard, based on bogus information, is an example of what has gone on.
    Rather than have a national forest in Dorset or parts of the North and North midlands where there are many more trees than east Kent, it would be nice to deliver more woodland and urban forests,Trouble is some Cllrs are not very tree orientated where money is concerned.
    I know of a case where a new woodland could have been planted, and a certain council jibbed at a relatively modest cost.

  3. Clearly there are circumstances when removal of trees genuinely must occur, not just due to disease but to satisfy requirements of property insurers who increasingly treat trees close to houses as sufficient reason to void any insurance claim for catastrophic loss or damage to buildings. With electricity costs still on an upward trajectory, it might well be deemed necessary to fell or trim trees that shade a south-facing roof where solar panels might be a greener option. Anyone who looks at where Tree Preservation Orders have been put in place in Thanet will be appalled by the extent that wooded areas or tree-lined avenues are completely unprotected! WHY, for heaven’s name! It is scandalous.

    This should not be a subject that divides political parties: work together, Councillors! Put in a bye-law to prevent developers from cutting down any tree without giving sixty days’ notice and explicit consent from the Planning Committee upon pain of the imposition of an immediate £5000 fine for each offence. Make developers have to pay a £1000 fee to TDC when applying for planning permission to remove any tree on land acquired for any housing or commercial redevelopment. Sort this out!

    Thanet has by far the poorest level of tree cover of any Local Authority in Kent. This isle was once covered by trees, as anyone who knows the history of Thanet will know full well. Everyone should consider planting at least one tree in their garden, particularly if any other tree has had to be removed.

    • I think that Thanet lost its tree cover thousands of years ago, when humans turned from being hunter gatherers to being farmers.
      If you look at old maps of Thanet, going back hundreds of years, you’ll see that very few trees appear.
      I agree that we should have far more trees.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with this article.
    We should absolutely be planting more trees in our green spaces and on our streets.
    It makes sense too.
    Tree-lined streets tend to be cooler than non-planted streets and help capture carbon.

  5. I’m glad you managed to have a lovely break away from thanet. Maybe I will have a hoilday down there instead of never going out in thanet .

  6. There have been tree planting initiatives in Thanet for some time – Dane Park, Dane Valley, the Sunken Gardens (just ask all the locals and families who took part in these areas), plus some of the Westbrook Avenues to name just a few. Ask Peter Hasted.

  7. As long as there is a plan in place to maintain them and water them in urban streets. Trees planted in urban areas have an appalling survival rate as they are neglected once planted which is a complete waste of money.

  8. Thanet is the place in Kent where there are less trees than anywhere else. Some of the trees planted in parks are dead now due to lack of care and water. Planted and then left. Some are doing ok though. Planting saplings too early in their life is one reason so many fail to live. I notice Devonshire Gardens that some were replanted with older saplings and are doing well. Planting trees willy nilly is not always the best way to do it. Planting them too close together is another mistake but then I am not a tree expert. However too many trees are cut down for no good reason. Trees provide nature avenues for animals and birds. I do agree with this article, well written.

  9. This all nonsense.
    Hundreds of trees have been planted recently in Northdown Park, Dane Park, Dane Valley, the Sunken Garden, Elington Park, St George’s Park……
    I know an Activist Tree Hugger who’s happy to see this imposed on the rest of us but wont plant any in his own garden.

  10. We all want more trees but TDC that means more sweeping.The whole area is a Health and Safety risk.Along with the litter its totally neglected.In other boroughs I see teams of workers blowing them away.Not here!

    • There’s plenty of trees where I live, yet they NEVER sweep. I complain about rotting and slippery leaves outside Birchington Station ONCE A YEAR, and then they get cleared! Why can’t they at least pop along once in a while without being reminded of their civil duty to council tax payers???

  11. This is something relatively simple for TDC to take forward. Pay for, or subsidise, trees for people to plant in their gardens. Chances are they will have a higher survival rate due to being looked after better and we can increase the numbers in Thanet.

    • Why do TDC Planning department not stipulate with planning permission that all new build house must have two trees planted in gardens ? Probably a bit too simple for them

  12. A workforce to clear the leaves up has to be paid for so let’s put up everyone’s Council tax to pay for it.
    No. No one wants that do they.
    Easier just to blame poor Thanet Council trying to do their best on a limited budget.

  13. Don’t need to plants trees.We have the most weeded area I have ever seen in England.There are more neglected weeds in Thanet than the South East.Get out TDC and visit other boroughs.So you could argue Thanet does have an abundance of greenery saving the planet.

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