Footscray residents are staging a last-ditch battle to stop the destruction and removal of an enormous oak tree they say harbours abundant wildlife.

Cowper Street residents Lesley Walker and Leanne Webb say arborists have been engaged to cut down the mature oak tree, which dates back to the 1800s.

The trunk of the tree is situated on a private property in Hyde Street and its foliage extends over the rear of at least five properties, providing a safe habitat for birds and possums.

Ms Walker said the “significant” tree is more than 135 years old and has a canopy that’s almost as large as three houses.

She said neighbours understand the property owner plans to clear the tree on Wednesday this week before lodging an application to build a number of dwellings on the site.

“It’s healthy, there’s nothing wrong with the tree,” she said.

“I heard one arborist was asked to do the job and he refused, so they asked another arborist.”

The neighbours have taken their concerns to Maribyrnong Council officers and councillors, but fear there is nothing left they can do to save the tree.

Ms Webb said she attempted to have the tree listed on the National Trust’s Register of Significant Trees last year, but found the process too onerous and complex.

“It just got too hard for me, I didn’t know the exact specimen and genus so I ended up giving up,” she said.

“This is a warming environment we are living in; to take something like this away beggars belief.”


The oak tree from above. Photo via Google Maps.

The oak tree from above. Photo via Google Maps.

The National Trust’s Register of Significant Trees has classified more than 1200 significant trees, avenues and stands of trees, based on community nominations assessed against set criteria by an expert Significant Tree Committee.

While inclusion of a tree on the Register does not impose any legal obligations on property owners, many trees have received protection through local planning schemes as a consequence of their classification by the National Trust.

National Trust of Australia advocacy manager Felicity Watson said the west of Melbourne already has issues relating to low canopy cover, and research shows this correlates with poor citizen heath, heatwave related deaths, and lower quality of life.

“We should be planting more trees as a matter of urgency – not cutting them down,” she said.

“The National Trust would love to support the City of Maribyrnong to establish a Significant Tree Register to recognise, celebrate and protect trees on both public and private land.

“Given current development pressures in Footscray and other areas in the municipality, including infrastructure projects such as the West Gate Tunnel, now is the ideal time to complete a municipal-wide tree survey.”

Maribyrnong Council considered just such a tree register in 2013, but is yet to follow through on the plan.

Ms Watson said neighbouring Moonee Valley Council has recently contracted an arborist to identify all trees of potential significant on public and private land within the municipality.

“Expanding the protection of trees to neighbouring Maribyrnong would be a positive step for the environment, and for the community.”

Maribyrnong Council has been contacted for comment and Star Weekly has attempted to contact the property owner.