Work to chop down a 100-year-old tembusu tree to prevent it from becoming a safety risk began yesterday and is expected to be completed by tomorrow.

The 30m-tall tree, on the grounds of St George’s Church in Minden Road, was found to be in ill health and at risk of falling.

The church decided to hire an arborist to inspect the tree in July after a tembusu heritage tree fell in the Singapore Botanic Gardens in February, killing a woman.

“The decision to cut down the tree was made to safeguard the safety of parishioners and the building itself,” said a church representative. An arborist found hollow areas in the tree trunk. Its bark was also charred in certain spots.

The tree had apparently been struck by lightning several times over the years, the church representative told The Straits Times.

In response to ST queries, Mr Ng Cheow Kheng, group director for horticulture and community gardening at the National Parks Board (NParks), said about 20 heritage trees have been removed in the past five years due to poor health or storm damage.

To qualify as heritage trees under NParks’ scheme, the tree has to be growing healthily, have a girth of more than 5m and hold botanical, social, historical, cultural and/or aesthetic value, he added.

The 30m-tall tree on the grounds of St George’s Church in Minden Road was found to be at risk of falling. The church plans to use the wood from the felled tree (above) for a memorial bench. Built in 1910, the church was gazetted as a national monument in 1978. ST PHOTOS: GAVIN FOO, ARIFFIN JAMAR

When ST visited the church yesterday morning, there were “Tree Felling” signs warning people to keep clear, and diagrams showing drop zones where branches could fall. The roof of the church building nearest to the tree was also covered with tarpaulin.

Project manager James Zhang of Aedge Holdings, which was engaged by the church to remove the tree, said work had to be done in stages to protect the building, a designated national monument.

“Usually, when branches are sawn off, they are simply allowed to fall to the ground. But in this case, because the branches extend over the church building, we have to hoist up another crane lorry with a rope to secure the branch as it is being sawn off. This will prevent the branch from falling atop the church building,” he said.

The church plans to use the wood from the tree for a memorial bench.

Built in 1910 to cater to British soldiers living in the Tanglin barracks, the church was gazetted as a national monument in 1978 for its historical and architectural significance.

A regular at the church, who gave her name only as Alice S., said it was a good idea to reuse the tree’s wood for a bench.

The 60-year-old humanitarian worker said: “As much as we would like to behold the tree’s grandeur and beauty, proactive action has to be taken if it is found to be unhealthy. One cannot wait for disaster to strike.”

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