Schools ordered to check on trees

All public schools in NSW have been ordered to assess the condition of trees on school grounds following the death of a year 4 student last week.

Bridget Wright, 8, was killed by a falling branch from a towering 50-year-old gum tree in the playground of Pitt Town Public school, on the north-west fringe of Sydney, on Friday.

The huge branch fell minutes after the lunch bell rang, crushing Bridget as well as injuring two other students - Thomas Hurst, 8 and his sister Matilda, 5 - and year 2 teacher Warren Minton.

The Department of Education announced on Thursday that all public schools had been directed to engage qualified arborists "as soon as practicable to review the safety condition of trees on school grounds".

There will be a particular focus on trees that are overhanging school buildings and playgrounds or any other areas used by students and staff.

Priority will be given to tall trees and gum trees.

Based on the arborist reports, the Department of Education will work with local councils to undertake necessary removals and will foot the bill.

A statement from the department said it was anticipated that the reviews would be completed by the end of the second term.

"The department will also be conducting a review of existing practices in the management of trees on school properties, based on the advice of tree management and safety experts," the statement said.

"This will lead to updated advice and systems for all schools."

An arborist who cut down the tree that killed Bridget told Fairfax Media this week that the tree had been in dangerously poor health.

"It was full of defects," Wayne Plumb 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.

Several arborists told Fairfax that public schools needed to inspect the health of their trees more often.

A memorial service for Bridget will be held in Pitt Town on Friday evening.

smh.com.au

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