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How safe are Australia's native trees?

After a bough from a gumtree hit and killed NSW schoolgirl Bridget Wright, many have been left questioning the safety of eucalypts.

PT1M19S 620 349

Arborists are calling for the state's public schools to actively inspect the health of trees on their properties, after an eight-year-old girl was killed by a falling branch on Friday.

Bridget Wright, a year 4 student at Pitt Town Public School, was killed on Friday when she was struck by a branch from a large gumtree shortly after the school bell rang.

Two other students and a teacher were injured.

Briget Wright

Tragedy: Year four student Bridget Wright. Photo: Supplied

The incident has prompted calls for schools to follow the lead of local government and conduct regular and systematic checks on the health of its trees.

''They should be conducting audits: trees are potentially the most dangerous things,'' said Chris Allchin, a Sydney arborist for 25 years.

''A lot of gums suffer from summer branch drop - the tree can look perfectly healthy and there's no signs of danger.''


Call for an inspection of the health of trees: An arborist cutting the tree in Pitt Town.

This call was backed by Arboriculture Australia president Henry Haavisto, who said large government departments, such as Defence, made regular inspections.

Wayne Plumb, an arborist who worked on the removal of the tree at Pitt Town Public school after the incident, said there were signs that the tree's structural integrity had been compromised.

"There were a number of defects visible, including a significant bark inclusion in the main trunk, a very large piece of deadwood leaning over the playground area and the presence of bees, which would indicate a hollow."*

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.

The state Education Department said it ''works with school principals to manage vegetation'' and employs arborists.

But it refused to say how much was spent on maintenance and inspection of trees on its thousands of properties across the state.

The department said the figure was not possible to calculate because work was undertaken by individual schools.

Leichhardt Municipal Council, like other councils in inner Sydney, has qualified arborists inspect all 10,000 street trees in its council area on a two-year cycle and make recommendations for their removal.

The budget for the council's tree monitoring and maintenance program is about $200,000 for this financial year.

A report on the health of the tree at Pitt Town will be prepared and sent to the coroner. The Education Department declined to comment on the state of the tree.

The Pitt Town school had applied for permission from Hawkesbury City Council to clear 35 trees from its property about a year ago.

But the trees were on a different side of the school to where the accident took place and the clearance was intended to make way for a new sports oval.

* Clarification: This quote elaborates on what Mr Plumb told the Herald in an earlier version.