Details 13:23 27 Mar 2023

Naked and sick: what's wrong with tree crowning in Ukraine

With the arrival of spring, indignant posts by Ukrainians about tree pruning have returned to social networks. Utility workers call this rejuvenating pruning and assure that the trees will grow back and be better than they were in a year or two. But according to eco-activists, it only destroys trees in cities.

What is the problem?
Tree topping only the strongest survive

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Crowning or topping is cutting and pruning branches almost to the trunk. This method of "rejuvenating" trees came to Ukraine from russia and belarus. There, it began to be widely used in the early 2000s to correct pyramidal poplars and get rid of fluff during their flowering, and then it spread to "care" for other types of trees.

In Belarus, the topping did not last long — local biologists found out that poplars that had not been pruned before had healthy wood, while the trees crowned five years ago were all, without exception, affected by trunk rot. Therefore, this practice was quickly abandoned there. Ukraine, on the contrary, picked it up.

Topping has a number of negative consequences:

  • Trees lose the necessary ratio of crown and root system. The production and exchange of nutrients are disturbed. If the tree is weak, it does not grow the crown again and, eventually, dies.
  • If the plant manages to survive, it produces many more new sprouts than before the topping. They grow faster and reach six meters in a year. In a short time, the crown becomes thicker than it was, and in the future, it has to be cut more often.
  • Deprived of leaves, a tree becomes weak, its protective mechanisms work worse, and wounds take longer to heal. During this long period, the plant is more susceptible to diseases compared to the situation of simple tree pruning. Fresh cuts attract pests that easily breed in wounds.
  • Large cuts do not always have time to heal. The tree begins to rot from the inside. It is also dangerous due to new sprouts growing from buds sleeping on the trunk or old plant parts. Such branches have a weak attachment to the trunk, so after a few years, they break off under gusts of wind or the weight of snow.

Last year, a tragedy happened in Kremenchuk. In the kindergarten, a chestnut tree broke and fell on the children and the teacher. One child died.

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How could a relatively young tree reach an emergency state? According to experts, the reason for this was improper pruning, that is, large cuts near the trunk. Crowning, carried out at least a decade ago, brought the tree to this state. All the lower and middle branches were cut off from the tree, leaving a "tail" with a high secondary crown resting on the trunk that had rotted from near-trunk cuts.

The investigation lays the blame for the tragedy on the kindergarten director, who did not forbid children to walk outside after the storm warning, and the deputy mayor of Kremenchuk, who signed the act of readiness of the kindergarten for the operation that year. However, this year in all the city gardens, the trees are again being severely pruned.

What is the solution?
Standards to aspire to

Radical crowning of trees in Ukraine can be seen not only in Kremenchuk. There are many reasons for this attitude to green spaces. And according to Volodymyr Vetrogradskyi, a practicing arborist and a specialist in the care of green spaces, one of the main reasons is the lack of minimal professional knowledge on the care of green spaces and the lack of a suitable tool for performing work among the staff and management of communal enterprises.

In many cases, the reason is the lack of necessary funding for maintenance work. Therefore, trees are cut quickly to fit the allocated budget. Sometimes such pruning is carried out to earn on selling firewood.


Ignorance of plant physiology gives rise to the myth that any tree cut to a trunk will recover and become neater shortly. Instead, a third of the trees die the same year after severe pruning, and others begin to get sick, and their crowns branch out chaotically. Without additional manipulations with the newly formed crown, such trees often become dangerous after 4-5 years due to massive damage that leads to their emergency state. Although from the outside, it may seem that the tree is relatively healthy.

In Ukraine, some regulations prohibit such crowning, but unfortunately, no one controls their implementation. This gives rise to some violations for which the contractors do not take responsibility.

"In my opinion, tree crown care work should be performed by specialists with relevant experience, confirmed by the positive results of such work, or those who have completed the training and have the appropriate mark on its completion. There should be the personal responsibility of those who perform the work, managers of communal enterprises, and those who prepare acts for the performance of works with trees. Equivalent fines should be imposed for those who violate the general rules of tree care," says Volodymyr Vetrogradskyi.

There are no specialized trainings for caring for urban green spaces in Ukraine today. The solution may be recruiting new young staff who will be solely engaged in the care of green areas, and all conditions will be created for this or engaging entrepreneurs with relevant experience on a contractual basis who will act within the terms of reference.

Qualified pruning is almost invisible, says Volodymyr Vetrogradskyi. And it, unlike the radical one, does not worsen the condition of the trees.

"With professional pruning, you will not see stumps or rotting sections on a tree," says the arborist.

Volodymyr Vetrogradskyi notes that often ordinary citizens, having seen similar-looking pruning abroad, equate it with deep rejuvenation practiced in Ukraine. They reassure themselves that it is right, but in fact, they are wrong.

In other European countries, there is a practice called "pollarding." This is an annual pruning of trees, in which only one-year growths are carefully removed. This is done from the beginning of growing a tree and continues throughout its life. And topping (deep rejuvenation, crowning) removes the entire crown on trees at once. The tree receives an irreparable shock with such pruning.

Only those who care can change the situation

Crowning a tree means dooming it to slow rotting and dying, so believes ecoactivist Nadiya Palyvoda, head of the NGO "Ozelennya Kropyvnytskyi."

Nadiya Palyvoda has been fighting against the barbaric pruning of trees since 2016. The white poplars under her windows were also cut to the trunk then. At first, the activist, like many other townspeople, was sure: the utility workers knew what they were doing, and, apparently, that's how it is supposed to be. However, after some time, Palyvoda saw that all 12 trees had dried up. She began to take an interest in the issue, correspond with colleagues from other cities, and consult with ecologists and lawyers.

Rejuvenating pruning should be applied only to old trees where the top is drying out. The ecoactivist notes that it should be carried out gradually over 2-3 years. In the rules for maintaining green spaces, it is allowed to cut no more than 30% of the crown of a tree at one time. In the first year, a third of the branches are cut (starting from the top), encouraging the old tree to grow young shoots. In the second year, another 1/3 of the old branches are cut. And in the third year, if necessary, the remaining old branches are cut. Thus, the tree does not suffer significant damage and stress.

Nadiya Palyvoda also cites the example of Germany and the Netherlands. No more than 20% of the tree crown can be cut once in these countries, and only diseased and dry branches are removed. In Ukraine, especially in small towns, the situation is often close to catastrophic. As the ecoactivist's experience proves, Ukrainian woodcutters often have no idea such rules exist.

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"I encountered this in my native town of Talne, in the Cherkasy region," Nadiya Palyvoda tells Rubyka. "I often visit my parents there and see that the two-meter poles that remain after the rejuvenation pruning do not bother anyone."

The activist started writing statements to the city council and called the police. Everyone was very surprised that it was wrong. Palyvoda told the authorities about the rules, and it turned out that they were hearing about them for the first time. As a result, trees look like after terrible bombings. The appearance of mutilated trees commonly causes anxiety and pain because this is what trees look like after a war, fire, or some other disaster.

In 2020, new rules for pruning trees were prepared in Kropyvnytskyi. They were developed by the working group of the city council with the participation of NGOs. Among the rules is a ban on the rejuvenating pruning of trees. According to Nadiya Palyvoda, the working group created the new rules six months.

The activities of nature defenders are bearing fruit in other cities as well. Before the full-scale war, several petitions were registered from concerned citizens to stop the abuse of trees. As a result, a moratorium on extreme pruning of healthy trees was introduced in Kropyvnytskyi and Lutsk, Lviv, Dnipro, and Kyiv. The government finally started listening to those who care about the fate of the city's green spaces.

Moving toward civilization

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This is the result off pollarding.

Oleksii Korol, general director of the "Kyivzelenbud" cooperative, says that the rules for maintaining green spaces, approved by the Ministry's order, are already outdated. They do not consider modern technologies in plant care, new approaches to creating green areas, the assortment of plants that has changed over the past almost 20 years, and many more nuances that affect the state of green spaces.

"For example, the current rules specify that acacias and poplars along roads must be removed after reaching 45 years of age, although it is clear that the main criterion should be the condition, not the age of the trees," Korol explains. "The current Rules prescribe three types of pruning: formative, sanitary, and rejuvenating. I think that everything is clear with the first two types. The trees must be shaped, the canopy must be removed and lightened; dry, diseased branches must be cut."

Rejuvenating pruning is a radical cutting of branches by 1/2-3/4 of the total length. It should be carried out only for trees that can withstand pruning well, the top of which has begun to dry, and the growth of shoots has stopped. In 2018, the Kyiv City Council imposed a moratorium on rejuvenating tree pruning. Now the "Kyivzelenbud" employees use it extremely rarely. 

"I cannot speak for the other enterprises taking care of residential areas, green zones near educational and medical institutions," says Korol.

In 2021, the "Kyivzelenbud" association announced the project "Rules for the care of tree crowns in the city of Kyiv." According to the head of the organization, recommendations were developed together with scientists, arborists, ecologists, public figures, and authorities of the Kyiv City Council. They took into account all the nuances encountered during work. In the draft of the new Rules, a breakdown by types of trees and their condition was added to make it clear what is permissible in different cases.

"Our goal is to make them mandatory for everyone responsible for trees. For our employees who deal with parks, squares, pedestrian boulevard zones, as well as for employees of the housing management offices and condominiums, other enterprises and organizations on whose territories trees grow," Korol emphasizes.

The project has already been considered by the Standing Committee on Environmental Policy, and the document is currently being adopted by the Kyiv City Council. "Kyivzelenbud" hopes that it will become a full-fledged normative document.

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Even more useful solutions!

Non-governmental organizations "EcoDnipro" and "Ozelenennya Kropyvnytskyi" have developed instructions for when you notice that trees are being cut on the city territory and suspect that these actions are illegal.

Follow these instructions:

Ask the workers for a permit to carry out the work. The removal of trees in the city territory is done at the expense of citizens' taxes, so everyone has the right to see the necessary documentation. The presence of a permit is mandatory. Be prepared that they will try to deceive you, shout and accuse you of incompetence — do not take it to heart and obey the law.

Make sure you are given the correct copy of the permit. Check the following:

  • The wording and name of the document (survey report, order, or construction decision);
  • The date specified in the document;
  • The name of the street on which the works are carried out;
  • The type and number of trees that are being worked on;
  • Availability of seals and signatures.

Suppose the grounds for felling indicated in the permit document do not seem credible to you (for example, it is stated that the felling of dead trees is allowed, but green and flowering ones are cut). In that case, the question of an illegal permit should be raised with the city council. If the workers begin to say that they are not cutting but rejuvenating trees — call the police immediately because, at any time of the year except spring, these actions are illegal.

Take photos and videos. This will help to analyze the situation later and understand who to turn to with questions. What to shoot:

  • documents;
  • numbers of working machines;
  • the trees themselves.

Call the police if workers refuse to give permission.

  • Wait for the police to arrive.
  • Distract the workers and block the felling process until the police arrive. Gather as many residents of the nearest houses as possible and demand to show the permit.
  • Find out the name, position, and place of work of the persons who caused damage to the greenery (ask to provide identification documents, not to be deceived).

Control the actions of the police.

  • Wait until the police record the fact of the crime (writes a report). Ensure they record which company is the offender.
  • Involve as many people as possible as witnesses — the more, the better.
  • If the police team that arrived does not work ─ call another one! This is the usual practice.

If there is no demolition permit, immediately call the city's environmental inspection to the crime scene. Ecoinspection will draw up a report on compensation for damages caused to the city immediately on the spot.

Go to the city council after what happened.

If you are refused permits or are told that there are none, then make a formal request for public information, to which you will be provided a written response.

Find out the status of the police report. Ensure that offenders are punished if an offense has actually occurred.

If pruning has already taken place, the trees are damaged. Write a statement to:

  • inspection on the city improvement (sample).
  • environmental inspection of your city (sample).

If you do not know who cut the trees, write a request to the city council (file in the department of citizens' requests), and you should receive an answer in 5 working days (sample).

Ukrainians pay taxes and have the right to demand that the actions of communal services comply with Ukrainian legislation.


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