30 August 2021

What will replace the National Library's poplars in its Forecourt facelift?

| Ian Bushnell
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Poplar trees at National Library of Australia.

Poplar trees – a declared pest in the ACT – at the National Library of Australia. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The landmark but ailing poplars in front of the National Library of Australia will soon be replaced by English oaks in a proposed facelift for the building’s Forecourt.

The National Capital Authority has lodged a Works Application to remove the 38 Lombardy Poplars (Populus nigra ‘Italica’) and replace them with 28 Fastigiate English Oak trees (Quecrus robur ‘Fastigiata’), judged to be a species that will closely resemble the poplars in shape, size and leaf colour, replicate their heritage character, and are proven to grow well in the Canberra climate.

The NCA had wanted to plant new poplars to replace the trees, most of which are in very poor condition and can’t be saved, but the species is a declared pest in the ACT.

The original design included four rows of 11 trees, but several have been removed in recent years because they have died or became unsafe.

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The NCA proposes to reduce the number of trees in each of the four rows to seven because the poplars have been competing with each other, and their close spacing has contributed to their decline and damage from maintenance equipment.

“A reduced number of trees in each of the four rows will ensure they grow to maturity quicker and will compete with each other less while retaining the strong symmetrical lines of trees on either side of the NLA Forecourt,” the NCA says.

But the change will impact the Forecourt’s heritage values and have consequences for the Parliament House Vista and the Parliamentary Zone, where other poplars are planted.

The Heritage Impact Assessment says there will be severe/high or moderate impacts on the existing forecourt because certain values are tied to the use of poplars as a species, and the replacement species do not fully achieve the desired qualities of poplars.

It acknowledges the selection of the oaks as a comparable species but says the forecourt plantings are a prominent element in the vista landscape, and the choice of poplars was linked to the wider use of poplars in the landscape.

“The proposed replacement plantings are a highly significant issue for the Parliamentary Zone and Parliament House Vista as they set a precedent for the future of important poplar plantings in these areas,” the HIA says.

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As recommended, the project was referred under the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment gave its approval for the project in June.

The NCA also wants to use the project to replace the topsoil and irrigation system and install a drainage system for the new trees.

A soil assessment in 2018 found the topsoil was very shallow and not suitable for the growing of high-quality trees and turf, which will also be replaced.

The NCA says this will mean the site will be better presented for many decades to come.

Public feedback on this application closes at 5:00 pm on Friday, 17 September.

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I agree with Andrea Charlton… I love native trees – even the so called “widow makers” which I feel is a silly thing to say about EU Mannifera. But a tree is a tree is a tree, and appropriate non native species like oak are attractive, demonstrated to grow well and will bring joy for generations to come. Plenty of natives for us to enjoy in the reserves and all around us. I disagree with the notion of planting less trees than are currently there. Plant MORE and cull a few as the trees start to mature and compete with one another… after all the right time to plant a tree is 10 years ago.

Andrea Charlton2:07 pm 31 Aug 21

I welcome the news that heritage poplar trees in the National Library grounds which have reached the end of their lives will be replaced with long-lived oak trees, like many others in the National Capital. It will be many years, of course, before they are mature, but the wood and roots of long lived trees such as oaks are a vital repository of C02 in our cities.

Stephen Saunders10:51 am 31 Aug 21

NCA is so gifted at being wrong, every single time, I’m surprised they’re not in charge of the vaccine roll-out.

Told they can’t plant one noxious species, they shift seamlessly to a noxious look-alike. Plenty of native species would do.

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