By Greg Buchanan
THE old Moonah trees growing around the coastline of Churchill Island are perhaps 200 years old or more. Their twisted and gnarled limbs and dense canopy may have been part of the landscape for indigenous Australians well before the issue of a pastoral lease and farming of the island in the mid 1800s.
This iconic species, a feature of Robert Ingpen’s drawings of Churchill Island, are as memorable as the heritage-listed buildings on the island.
At Cowes a huge Moreton Bay fig tree over the waterfront still makes its presence felt, long after its neighbour, the historic Isle of Wight Hotel, has gone.
Trees within the road reserve, like the two old trees at Newhaven, can add so much to the amenity of an area, not only for their size and structure but also their setting in a coastal view, a rural roadside, residential street or other location.
Even small trees, their physical shape, history, botanical rarity or social and cultural connections can be regarded as significant.
The small Monterey cypress tree that sits watch over Captain Grossard’s lonely grave at Ventnor contributes much to this coastal setting. It has stood its ground over many years, even withstanding dieback from the wind and the creep of housing – a scene considerably changed from the one Eric Juckett enjoyed from his pottery studio and landscaped garden that once adjoined the grave site.
The value of trees to the environment, as lifetime memories of places we live or visit and for children in understanding nature and for play – are often undervalued.
The National Trust has long had a fascination with significant trees and has a state register that recognises them.
Now the Phillip Island Conservation Society and the local branch of the National Trust is inviting the community to assist in compiling a list of the most significant trees on Phillip Island and Churchill Island.
The register will fill a gap in existing planning controls, assist in future planning processes and act as a guide to future development. It will also add to the historical knowledge of Phillip and Churchill islands
The register applies only to public land, with an option for private land owners to become involved.
The process will begin with a public forum later this year, to be announced shortly.
Initially it is intended to focus on significant trees located on public land. Those on private property will only be considered in this pilot project if consent is received from the landowner concerned.
Other municipalities across the state have significant tree registers that are directly linked to the local planning scheme, with vegetation controls. The National Trust also has a state wide register.
It is hoped that the public will participate in the project by submitting nominations for significant trees, which will then be carefully assessed by a qualified panel including an arborist and botanical and heritage experts.
Greg Buchanan is president of the Phillip Island branch of the National Trust.