Man killed by falling branch sparks concerns over tree safety in Madrid park

City Hall creates committee to examine Retiro’s 25,000 specimens after three incidents in a month

A 38-year-old man was killed by a falling branch in the Retiro Park in June.
A 38-year-old man was killed by a falling branch in the Retiro Park in June.JJ GUILLÉN (EFE)

“Is it or is it not safe to visit the Retiro Park?” United Left councilor Raquel López asked Madrid City Hall on Tuesday. In his response, the head of the environment department played down the risk posed by falling trees in the park, one of the largest in the capital and a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, after three incidents in the past month. “Madrid is among the world’s cities with the highest number of trees in the world, with two million specimens under municipal care,” explained Diego Sanjuanbenito of the Popular Party. “So far this year, emergency procedures have been carried out on 0.006 percent of those trees, which is to say six operations in every 10,000.”

But while City Hall considers the upkeep of the trees “adequate,” it has created a committee of experts to review the park’s 25,000 trees to see whether they could end up suffering similar falls to those seen in recent weeks, whose exact causes remain unknown.

On June 21, a 38-year-old man died after a 400-kilo branch fell on him while he was playing with his children

On June 21, a 38-year-old man died after a 400-kilo branch fell on him while he was playing with his children. Park wardens pointed out that the tree was healthy, but was suffering from water loss. That, combined with a heat wave, had weakened the branch. Last Saturday a pine tree fell down on the park’s Paseo de Coches path without causing injury, and then on Sunday a 20-meter-tall cedar collapsed in an area close to Menéndez Pelayo street, causing minor injuries to a six-year-old girl.

“There is no one reason why the branches are weakening or falling, or why an apparently healthy and well-looked-after tree collapses at its root,” said Sanjuanbenito. Adverse weather, water deficiencies or internal rotting could all be to blame, he said. The joint management of Madrid’s trees “is not experiencing problems,” he added.

With its “very ancient” trees, preventive measures ought to have been taken to avoid incidents in the Retiro

The first historical accounts of the Retiro date back to the time of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, who founded the park next to the San Jerónimos Monastery in the 15th century. With 400 years of history and “very ancient” trees, López pointed out that preventive measures ought to have been taken to avoid incidents.

Sanjuanbenito said “the park’s unique collection of trees was well looked after.” “But maintenance derives from observation, and the trees that fell down showed no external symptoms that would allow [the risk] to be detected independently of the measures dedicated to it,” he added.

The new committee of experts will review all the trees in the park over the coming weeks and draw up “an action plan that will allow the risks to people to be reduced as much as possible while also maintaining the natural and scenic values of the Retiro.” The findings of the committee will be binding for City Hall, Sanjuanbenito said.

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