London Borough of Bromley: Removal of 18 Mature Poplars

Gristwood and Toms was commissioned by the London Borough of Bromley to survey, provide a condition report and to carry out the recommended works to 18 mature Poplars in Watermeadows Open Space, Orpington. Utilising our considerable resources, including a wide range of plant and equipment, and over 40 years’ industry experience, we ensured the works were carried out safely, efficiently and cost-effectively.Gristwood and Toms have been working in partnership with the London Borough of Bromley for 12 years.  In this time, we have delivered a wide range of arboricultural services including surveying, pruning operations and tree planting. We help manage and improve their stock of 36,000 street trees, 22,000 park trees and 20,000 school trees, along with woodland and conservation sites that cover 552 hectares.

The staff involved in delivering the project included;

  • Qualified Tree Surveyor – to provide the initial survey and condition report
  • Trained arboricultural teams – to carry out the removals
  • Specialised contractors –providing the bridge, ground protection, mobile crane and Mobile Elevated Work Platform
  • Project Manager – to co-ordinate staff, contractors and plant
  • Appointed Person/Site Manager – Management and safety of on-site works and the crane operations


There were several operational and logistical challenges to overcome:

  • Access and Ground Conditions
    Watermeadows Open Space is surrounded on all sides by the River Cray making access very difficult. We had to provide safe access for our arboricultural teams, their equipment and large plant, to include a mobile crane. It was also vital to ensure suitable ground protection and a safe and productive work area. This was successfully planned and accomplished with a portable, modular bridge capable of taking loads of up to 110 tonnes and high density plastic matting. This thorough preparation meant that all staff and other contractors were provided with a safe work area at all times.
  • Environmental Management
    We worked closely with the Environment Agency and the London Borough of Bromley to ensure any impacts that our work could have on the local environment (watercourses, flora and fauna) were considered. Procedures were agreed and implemented to ensure their protection every step of the way. Accordingly, we were able to carry out our work without impacting on the local environment.
  • Waste Management
    The large size and number of trees, meant that there would be a considerable amount of wood to process. This was acheived efficiently by using a mobile crane, whole tree chipper and 40 yard roll on – roll off skips. By using this equipment, we minimised manual handling, thereby making the whole process more efficient. We processed all the wood generated (over 150 tonnes of woodchip), to be used as biofuel.
  • Safe Working Practices
    From our initial tree condition report, we assessed that the majority of the trees had serious structural weakness. This could pose a hazard to the staff working on them. To effectively manage this risk, we used a 100t mobile crane and a 32m self-driven Mobile Elevated Work Platform (MEWP) to carry out the removals. The benefit of using this equipment was that the MEWP allowed us to minimize manual handling and time spent in the tree by our climbers; as did the crane by allowing us to remove larger parts of the tree.

Prior to our commission to carry out these removals, several of the mature Poplars had failed in the previous winters storms, narrowly missing some adjacent properties. It was these failures that prompted the works to be carried out. With the removals and pruning completed, the risk of this happening in the future is lessened.

With the completion of the work taking 8 days, instead of the predicted 10, we came in ahead of time and under budget.

One unforeseen gain, was the opportunity to provide our staff with valuable on-the-job training. Projects of this complexity and size arise infrequently, so we took the opportunity to give our less experienced staff the chance to watch, and participate. They benefited from the experience by seeing and learning first hand, the skills needed to work on a project of this scale and complexity.

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