'Land worm' found in stormwater drain highlights common Aussie issue

Getting rid of the tree is just treating the symptom and not the root cause, according to one plumber.

A man's enormous discovery in his blocked stormwater drain has highlighted a common problem for Aussie homeowners and sparked discussion about how to handle the issue.

The man said he pulled a tree’s large root system out the drain on the edge of his driveway after digging into the dirt to where it was blocked and cutting into the pipe. “Gave birth to this chunk of roots,” he said after posting photos of the hefty growth sprawled across his driveway. An established tree — an unidentified species — can be seen about a metre from the driveway, alongside the road.

The tree's roots from the blocked stormwater drain on the man's driveway and the hole in the grass in the background.
The man said he found the huge chunk of tree roots in his blocked stormwater drain after investigating the cause. Source: Reddit

Other social media users were quick to commiserate with the man over what one Redditor deemed the “deadly Australian land worm”. While another said it looked like “someone had done a burnout” one the driveway.

Tree roots main cause of drain blockages

Many commenters said they had encountered the same annoying and expensive problem. “Happened to me once, it was a rubber tree from next door that was the culprit,” one person said.

A fellow Aussie, who identified themselves as a plumber, said tree roots are “the number one cause of main drain blockages” in the country. “It’s very common. People ask me all the time about getting rid of trees due to blocked drains,” they added. “Getting rid of the tree is treating the symptom and not the cause. The cause is a cracked drain. If it isn’t cracked the roots don’t go in there.”

Man warned about council fines over tree

Given the mess now on his hands, the man who found the invasive growth posted about the situation to a group for Australian renovators, asking others about the chances the local council would “do something about the tree” and whether he could seek reimbursement for the cost of the plumber to fix the defunct stormwater drain.

“I’m guessing around 0%,” he added.

The tree roots on the driveway and sticking out of the blocked stormwater drain in the ground.
The man was warned that cutting down the tree council could leave him with a hefty fine. Source: Reddit

Aussies were quick to warn the homeowner that if they touch the tree their council will likely fine them. “Not only will they fine you, they will replace it with a similar sized tree at your expense in most areas. So you kind of get nowhere,” someone said, while another added they “heard of somebody copping a $10,000 fine from a council for cutting down a large gum tree without permission because it’s a native”.

“Ya I copped a fine because I trimmed the eucalyptus on my nature strip. It kept hitting the power lines,” a third person added, saying they “took matters into their own hands”. “Cost me a fair bit but at least I don’t have to worry about the potential insurance claim for a fire…”

In NSW, for example, residents can be fined north of $200,000 for poisoning or illegally chopping down native trees.

So I need council approval to remove a tree?

Council permission is needed to cut down a tree on your property if it reaches a certain height, but it is not needed if it is dead, hazardous, already fallen, a recognised noxious species, too close to your house or in a fire hazard zone, arborist Ben McInerney, who founded GoTreeQuotes and runs a tree service in Sydney, said.

"Every council is different in their definition of a significant tree so you will need to refer to your local council rules to see if you are safe to remove," he says on his website, explaining that councils and cities "take tree protection very seriously" and can issue "heavy fines" typically ranging from $2,000 up to $100,000 for multiple offences.

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