City of Freo votes to remove protected status of 140-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree

Moreton Bay fig tree High Street Fremantle
Home >News >City of Freo votes to remove protected status of 140-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree

A huge Moreton Bay fig tree in Fremantle is under threat after the council voted to remove it from the Significant Tree Register.

According to the register, the tree was believed to have been planted in the late 1880s by Philip Webster, former owner of the Esplanade Hotel, remembered as “a great lover of flowers”.

Located at 195 High Street, the tree has been listed on various significant tree registers since 1987, when it was added to the Tree Society of Western Australia’s Register of Significant Trees. It was added to the National Trust of Australia (WA) the following year.

The removal has been requested by the current owners of the site, who have owned the property since 1966. They have argued that the presence of the tree was preventing them from selling the land – and that they had been forced to clean up large amounts of dropped figs, leaves and other debris almost every morning.

Fremantle locals have taken to social media to air their frustrations about the decision.

“Mature trees look good, provide shade and are important habitat for birds and animals. Not so visible is that big trees capture and store carbon and reduce atmospheric pollution,” local not-for-profit DesignFreo posted over the weekend.

“We’re still trying to find out why the council has voted in this way but ask what this says about what we value as a community. Is property development more important than our flora, fauna and ecosystems?”

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Currently, the City of Fremantle is undertaking an Urban Forest Plan, which aims to increase the City’s canopy cover from 13% to 20%. Perth has the least tree canopy of any Australian capital city, with less than 20% coverage.

“Tree canopy is declining largely through land clearing for development,” Western Australia Local Government Association president Karen Chappel said last year at the 2023 WALGA Urban Forest Conference.

“Sadly, 85 per cent of canopy lost has occurred on private land.”

The discussion over Fremantle’s iconic Moreton Bay fig tree follows the announcement at the end of last month that up to 20% of Hyde Park’s trees would need to be removed due to stop spread of the highly invasive polyphagous shot-hole borer.

More recently, three gumtrees located at Claremont Showgrounds were nearly cut down to make way for a Cirque du Soleil circus tent, until public outcry forced the Royal Agricultural Society WA and the international circus to reconfigure the event layout to preserve the trees.