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Trees 'butchered' by power company highlight common problem: 'It's sad'

Despite being metres under the power lines these trees were 'butchered' by 'unnecessary' pruning in the space of weeks, highlighting a widespread problem.

It's a sight that's become all too common in suburbs around Australia — streets lined with funnelshaped trees, brutally cut back to avoid contact with power lines — but homeowner Patrick Bates thinks he's encountered one of the worst cases of the trend.

Bates said two wattle trees on council land near his home in Victoria's Yarra Ranges, were inexplicably planted under power lines by local authorities years ago. Now, despite being at the end of their lives and metres lower than the lines, they were "butchered" twice in a month and a half by AusNet and have been left looking "totally whack".

Pruned tree.
This tree will now have to be removed as it has been 'unviable' following two heavy duty pruning attempts, just weeks apart. Source: Facebook

Many residents fear that the brutal pruning trees often undergo at the hands of power company contractors eager to avoid having to return too soon could kill the trees or reduce the curb appeal of their homes, but Bates says he was just annoyed by the absurdity of the situation.

"It’s ludicrous,” Bates told Yahoo News Australia, adding the trees had provided some privacy to his home, which sits on an 11-acre block. “Especially coming back twice and doing a terrible job. I don’t think it was necessary.”

“[The trees] have never really grown in height because of where they are at in their lives,” he said. “The second one wasn’t even under the power line. They never grew over 3 metres high and the power lines are 6 metres, way over the trees. They were never coming close.

One of the trees, a silver wattle, will now be removed as it was deemed "unviable", AusNet confirmed.

“It’s sad. One branch is going out 3 or 4 metres – that branch is just going to break off, there is so much weight on it. When more growth goes on it, it’ll just break off.

“My thoughts are, why don’t you plant the appropriate trees so you don’t have to butcher them? Seems to make the best sense."

He said there had been large storms recently where power had been lost after trees had fallen on power lines so the heavy pruning could have been a response to that.

Tree trimming 'excessive', arborist says

Arborist Ed Jackson said the pruning "does look a little bit excessive."

"Although sometimes you need to do a hard trim, otherwise you're coming back to do it again very soon. And it's hard to trim them right back and still look nice," he told Yahoo.

"Personally, I probably wouldn't trim them that hard, especially those two lower limbs on the first tree."

Jackson said unless the trees started dying, there wasn't too much of a concern about them falling over as the branches would just "fold down" if they did die.

Video of 'terrible' pruned trees sparks debate

When Bates shared a video of the trees on social media, telling local residents that they were "butchered" unnecessarily he sparked a debate in the comments.

Many locals agreed that the trees were left looking "terrible" and questioned why council had planted trees under power lines in the first place, with one suggesting that they should have just planted shrubs in that area.

Pruned trees.
The trees were severely pruned despite being several metres under the power lines. Source: Facebook

"This is what happens when they cut corners and don't employ a qualified arborist," another said. A third wrote: "How ridiculous! Why not shape them nicely!"

Others pointed out that similar and worse examples of pruning could be found in most Australian suburbs.

However, several commenters pointed out that pruning was necessary to avoid bushfires and power outages."I bet those who were cut off of power for ten days not long back would have loved all the trees cut well back from the lines to prevent outages."

Another said: "There are clearances that must be met. There’s nothing unusual here, if anything they have done a better job than is typical."

Trees pruned under 'bushfire mitigation work'

In a statement to Yahoo, an AusNet spokesperson said it “undertakes pruning and vegetation works in the interest of community safety and reliability of the electricity supply”.

Under the company’s bushfire mitigation work, trees are cut away from power lines to ensure a minimum clearance space is maintained.

“The silver wattle and the Cootamundra wattle mentioned have been pruned clear of the high voltage power lines over many years,” the spokesperson said.

“On this occasion both trees were pruned in a manner that meets the required clearances, with the silver wattle being pruned more substantially due to its position directly below the power line and its fast-growing nature. The silver wattle will be removed as it is not viable long term.

“It’s also important to note that back to-back La Niña weather events have meant we need to allow for the faster growth rates of trees and sometimes we have to cut back further than previous trims to ensure they remain clear of the power lines.”

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