Push for schools to monitor trees after branch kills child

Arborists are calling for the state’s public schools to actively inspect the health of trees on their properties, after an eight-year-old girl was killed by a falling branch on Friday.

Bridget Wright, a year 4 student at Pitt Town Public School, was killed on Friday when she was struck by a branch from a large gumtree shortly after the school bell rang.

Two other students and a teacher were injured.

The incident has prompted calls for schools to follow the lead of local government and conduct regular and systematic checks on the health of its trees.

”They should be conducting audits: trees are potentially the most dangerous things,” said Chris Allchin, a Sydney arborist for 25 years.

”A lot of gums suffer from summer branch drop – the tree can look perfectly healthy and there’s no signs of danger.”

This call was backed by Arboriculture Australia president Henry Haavisto, who said large government departments, such as Defence, made regular inspections.

Wayne Plumb, an arborist who worked on clearing the tree at Pitt Town Public after the incident, said it had been in dangerously poor health.

”It was full of defects,” he said. ”[It had] bark inclusion and a fair amount of decay in the upper branches.”

Bark inclusion is when fibres connecting a tree branch and its trunk do not form a strong bond and can diverge as the tree grows. Arborists often destroy trees with the condition before they grow too large.

The state Education Department said it ”works with school principals to manage vegetation” and employs arborists.

But it refused to say how much was spent on maintenance and inspection of trees on its thousands of properties across the state.

The department said the figure was not possible to calculate because work was undertaken by individual schools.

Leichhardt Municipal Council, like other councils in inner Sydney, has qualified arborists inspect all 10,000 street trees in its council area on a two-year cycle and make recommendations for their removal.

The budget for the council’s tree monitoring and maintenance program is about $200,000 for this financial year.

A report on the health of the tree at Pitt Town will be prepared and sent to the coroner. The Education Department declined to comment on the state of the tree.

The Pitt Town school had applied for permission from Hawkesbury City Council to clear 35 trees from its property about a year ago.

But the trees were on a different side of the school to where the accident took place and the clearance was intended to make way for a new sports oval.

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