Professional experience Noel Ruting, Director of LandArc, has over twenty years experience in the preparation of Significant Tree Registers in the greater Sydney metropolitan area.
The preparation of these registers requires specialist skills in heritage research, analysis and assessment, botany and plant identification, urban tree management policy, community consultation and documentation.
What is a significant tree? Significant trees are integral components of an ever-changing landscape through their dynamic cycle of growth, maturity, ageing, senescence and renewal. They reflect the patterns and processes which have shaped our natural and urban environments over time. They may represent the last vestiges of former natural or cultural landscapes – symbols of our environmental, social and economic histories. Significant trees are inextricably linked to the quality and identity of ‘place’.
Significant trees retain exceptional values in terms of their contribution to our environment. They have a recognisable range of heritage values – natural, cultural, scientific, aesthetic, visual, social, spiritual and commemorative. These trees can be symbols of great spiritual power. They may have associations with individual people and communities or tell stories of other times and places, or the historic development of a place, trade routes, connections and communications.
Remnant trees from former natural ecological communities may retain valuable habitat for other endangered and dependent species. These trees also offer a valuable gene pool for future scientific research, conservation and restoration.
In recognising these trees in terms of their contextual relationships, greater meaning can be brought to the past, allowing a richer understanding of the present. This in turn can provide the basis for better methods of protection, care and management for the future. The assessment of heritage significance is a dynamic process, changing with the passage of time and reflecting the way people interact and perceive the relative importance of places and items, particularly as parts of this collective heritage are lost.
Assessing significance Significant trees are assessed through systematic research, field work and documentation in accordance with heritage criteria established in the Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter and guidelines of the Australian Natural Heritage Charter. The approach acknowledges the principles of intergenerational equity, existence value, uncertainty and precaution.
A thorough physical examination of trees in relation to their natural occurrence or cultural history is conducted and supported through extensive field work and examination of reports, photographs, archival material and oral evidence. The collected data is evaluated on the basis of an item or items contextual relationships and relative importance in term of heritage-based criteria. Assessment takes into consideration:
1. Natural or historic (cultural) significance either a significant remnant component of a natural ecological community or cultivated as part of an historic or designed landscape. 2. Aesthetic significance based on existing physical fabric and relating to qualities of integrity, scale and visual contribution to defining local character and the “spirit” or sense of place. 3. Scientific significance associated with botanic and/ or ecological research and educational values, based on provenance, rarity and representative values. 4. Social significance focusing on qualities such as spiritual, political, national and cultural sentiment including influences by historic figures, commemorative events and patterns of development.
The heritage significance for each listed tree or group of trees is encapsulated in a Statement of Significance which involves interpretation and analysis of comparative points of importance as follows:
· rarity value; · biodiversity value; · individual and/ or group value; · landmark value; · representative value; · integrity value; · research, teaching and understanding; · social, cultural or spiritual associations; and · associations with significant individuals.
The criteria relate to both cultural and natural significance of an item and place. Some have a specific cultural or natural bias. Nevertheless, the heritage values of a significant tree or groups of trees are almost always multi-layered.