I am of course talking to and about yew trees – we have more trees of such antiquity than anywhere else in Europe. Think about it, the youngster on Hayling saw the arrival of the Romans and his older brothers probably pre-date Stonehenge. You can find a list of the oldest ones here: http://www.janisfryart.co.uk/ancient_yew_tours.htm#yew
So what does this have to do with landlord ethics?
Well these guys have survived because they were cultivated and revered by the pagans who may well have planted them although some believe that they could have been planted by visiting Egyptians. Either way, since the arrival of Christianity, many churches were built where the pagans worshipped (as it is easier to convert people to a new deity if you let them worship in the same place and at the same time), so for the past 1,500 years or so, our oldest residents have had the protection of a nice church yard in which to grow old gracefully.
As attendance at church diminishes, increasingly churches are selling off excess land – either for new homes or similar developments and this puts many of the old yews at risk.
Many of us are developers as well as landlords – we look for a site or property which can be developed or improved, such that we increase the value by more than our outlay, which is a win for us and also a win for the wider community and as long as we do it within the rules (planning permission, building control, etc) all is good.
We sometimes have run-ins as locals and councillors think the rules are wrong and, for example, they object to perfectly legal HMO developments – but we normally win out in these situations and on balance, the community is better off (more dwellings, higher standards, etc).
But what if the rules really are wrong? Do you just go with the rules and say ‘not my problem’ or are you an ethical landlord?
Try an example - a piece of church land comes up for sale, it has outline planning for 3 houses around the very old yew tree which has a TPO (Tree Preservation Order), however if the tree was not there you could double your money and build 6 houses.
The issue is that the maximum fine for ignoring a TPO is £500 whereas there are Grade 2 listed gems such as a cattle trough, a thatched bus stop and a pub sign which, if altered without approval, carry a hefty fine and prison sentence – does that make sense?
In France you would be fined much more, as is the case in many other countries but here there is no protection for trees.
So what would you do – buy the church land, build 3 houses, make a fair return and sit and talk to the old yew tree on summer evenings or buy the church land, allow an idiot digger driver to have an accident, apologise, pay the fine and double your money?
If you opt for the maximum return then that is your decision but if you believe that short term gains at the expense of trees of this age should be avoided, please sign the petition to get the relevant laws changed. Find it here
Final thought: A TPO can often be circumvented by replacing a tree with a new one, due to disease or danger or collapse or whatever. So if the old guy on Hayling was replaced in this way, what will the world be like when his replacement gets to the same age in the year 4,019?