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Eric Collar: A Man of the Trees

NEWTON Abbot Town Council has bid a fond farewell to its Voluntary Tree Advisor Eric Collar who stepped down in October aged 94.

In more than 20 years with the authority, Eric advised members on planning applications which threatened to remove trees, probably saving hundreds from the axe.

Despite understanding little about the subject at first, he accumulated a vast body of knowledge and learned to appreciate the importance of trees to both society and the environment.

‘Trees are life and we need more of them,’ he said.

Before volunteering with the Town Council, Eric spent 40 years as a bus controller in his native Home Counties.

Later, with wife Janet, he opened a guesthouse in Aller and their successful ten years on the busy road between Newton Abbot and Torquay was followed by Eric returning to the transport industry for another short stint.

By 2001 Eric was in his 70s and assumed retirement was on the horizon.

But the then Town Clerk, Rod Tuck, had other ideas.

He knew Eric through the Chamber of Trade and appreciated his methodical approach and attention to detail.

‘Rod said to me, now you’ve retired I’ve got just the job for you and it’s to do with trees,’ recalled Eric.

‘I knew nothing about them at the time.’

According to wife Janet, Eric rose to the challenge by immersing himself in all things arboreal, reading books and asking questions of professionals.

‘He really, really put himself into it,’ she said.

So extensive did Eric’s knowledge become that he was dubbed ‘Wood Man’ by the late Henry Cole, a town councillor for many years and later made an Honorary Freeman for his services.

Eric championed the cause of the town’s trees with vigour, challenging the need to fell anything other than diseased or damaged specimens.

‘Quite a few people move into this area and then the autumn comes,’ he said.

‘Leaves fall down on the ground and they say “oh dear” and all the rest of it, so they say “fell them, fell them” but I was dead against it.

‘We need trees, sorry but we do, and I was very forceful on it.

‘If it’s diseased that’s it, it’s finished.

‘If it’s struck by a vehicle there’s not a lot you can do about it, you’ve got to lose it.

‘However, if the ground isn’t affected by fungus or other problems I’d always recommend that it was replaced, that was a condition of saying yes to felling.’

Asked why protecting trees had become a passion he said: ‘Because it’s nature. We need it, the air we breathe. The mere existence of a tree, it’s a cycle, we need them as human beings.

‘One of the things I always remember as a boy, we used to cycle down to Chichester through the South Downs and there, in the autumn, the broad leaved trees, colour, really cracking!’

Janet added: ‘You’ve also got to think of the birds, think of the insects, they’ve got to live somewhere.’

Asked if it felt good to have done his bit for the town’s trees Eric said, without hesitating, ‘Oh yes, good lord yes.’

Mayor Cllr David Corney-Walker expressed his gratitude, saying:

‘Most people in their 70s decide to sit back and take it easy, not Eric however.

‘He took it upon himself to delve deeply into the subject and provided the council with sound advice for more than two decades, all on a voluntary basis.

‘We are extremely grateful for all he has done and his sense of civic duty is an example to us all.

‘May Eric and Janet continue to enjoy many happy years together without the demands of serving the public, month in month out.’

Eric, who endured a spell of poor health earlier this year, still intends to attend his regular Probus meetings and keep his mind active with interests such as rail and the campaign to re-open the line from Buckfastleigh to Ashburton.

Asked how he felt about his 22 years as Tree Advisor he said: ‘It’s been interesting, always, oh yes. It was worth the effort, definitely.’

The attached photo shows Mayor Cllr David Corney-Walker with Mr and Mrs Collar during a farewell presentation at the November 15 meeting of the Full Council

For more information please email [email protected] or call 01626 201120.