Why are Swiss cities having to cut down ancient trees?

Why are Swiss cities having to cut down ancient trees?

A number of cities in Switzerland have announced that they are going to cut down hundreds of trees in the coming weeks and months. Basel and Lucerne have both confirmed that they will be cutting down trees in their city centres, despite many of them being up to 100 years old. Here’s why.

Lucerne to cut down 128 trees in city centre

In a statement given to 20 minuten, authorities in Lucerne confirmed that they would be chopping down 128 trees. The city had recently analysed the trees to see whether they could be preserved, but for many, this was simply not possible. Out of the 128 trees set to be felled, 70 are considered old or ancient.

Fritz Bächle, from the local council (Gemeinde), told 20 minuten that 24 ash and eight giant elm trees have to be chopped down because they have been infected with wilt disease - a condition that affects the tree's vascular systems. "It can be assumed that the hot summer has now led to death," he noted, explaining that the heatwaves during the summer and continually mild temperatures through the year - 2022 is set to be the hottest year on record in Switzerland. - pushed many of the trees over the edge.

Climate change is also having a significant impact, Bächle explained. "In the city centre, for example, it's too dry and too hot," he said, noting that the city will have to plant Mediterranean and heat-resistant trees if they are to survive in the future. 

Historic trees in Basel are also to be chopped down

Elsewhere, Basel has announced that it would be chopping down 200 trees. Head of green space maintenance Simon Leuenberger told 20 minuten that while the number of trees felled this year is not unusual, climate change is now the main reason for the tree's deteriorating health.

He explained that while trees more than half a metre tall are protected in both cantons, many have to be felled as they could pose a risk to drivers and pedestrians if the tree were to collapse during a storm. Like in Lucerne, the weather and presence of wilting disease spelt the end for most of the trees felled.

Trees to be replaced in Swiss cities

However, in some good news, both councils confirmed that trees will be replanted on each site, although it will take some time before they look like the hundred-year-old trees they will replace. Concluding his statement, Leuenberger said it “hurts” when they have to cut down a historic tree. “Each one has a story to tell," he stated.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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