MORE than £16,000 of taxpayers’ money has been spent making West Oxfordshire trees safe to avoid costly claims from the public.

A West Oxfordshire District Council project began last year to check the condition of 12,000 trees and 35 hectares of woodland.

The survey plotted the position of each tree on an electronic map and gave details of their species, size and condition.

Trees that needed work within one year – including trees that required felling to reduce the risk to property and residents – cost the council £16,600.

The council is half way through that work, which also involves cutting back tree branches at risk of falling. The authority began surveying trees six years ago after a number of high cost claims In 2006, four out of nine public liability claims against the council were tree-related but accounted for 80 per cent of claim costs. One claim had a settlement cost of £108,000.

The number of claims had dropped to zero by 2008 after the surveying project began.

David Harvey, cabinet member for environment, said: “We have a wonderful variety of trees in West Oxfordshire which are vital to our local towns and rural areas from an environmental and aesthetic standpoint. Carrying out a regular survey helps us to improve and enhance their health, safety and quality.

“Since our first tree survey and subsequent works in 2006 there has been a marked reduction in the number of public liability claims.”

He said the council now plans to re-survey each tree on district council land, including in town centres and car parks, every five years.

Bristol-based firm Treework Environmental Practice spent three months surveying the trees last year to produce the data.

Managing director Luke Fay said: “We took data which we had collected in 2005 and reinspected the trees and surveyed the new ones that we came across.

“Most trees do not require any work but occasionally you come across a tree with rot or decay in a car park and it needs to be reduced in height or felled to reduce the likelihood of falling. “If a tree were to fall and someone were to be hit there would be a Health and Safety Executive investigation and possibly a civil or criminal case.”

Chinnor-based tree surgeons Complete Tree Services is now in the process of managing about 150 trees on which work was deemed necessary.

Director Steve Burkitt said: “Basically, trees in natural situations do not need anything. They are quite happy getting on with it.

“But when you put them in unnatural environment, such as urban sites, you do need to apply management.”

He added: “It is fantastic and very forward-looking of West Oxfordshire District Council to make sure the trees are in as good a condition as can be.”

Fallen trees can cause disruption to commuters, damage to property and serious injuries.

In April, thousands of homes were left without power after trees fell and damaged power lines.