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Pick & Fix.

First children were forced to wear goggles while playing with them, then branches were cut to stop the picking of them.

Now a council has launched its own squad to stop children collecting them.

Britain's obsession with conkers has taken a new twist as a special environmental services team at Newcastle City Council are gearing up to start picking horsechestnuts from trees all around the city.

On requests from members of the public, and to try and reduce the risk of injuries from children climbing the trees, the service management team take it upon themselves to pick the conkers before they fall.

Steve Charlton is an environmental services delivery manager who is responsible for maintaining all the trees in public spaces in the city.

He said: "We look after all the trees and picking conkers and things like cherries and pears is part of the service.

"Around September time we tend to start getting a few phone calls about problem conker trees.

"Someone might ring us because there's a horsechestnut tree near their house or property and there's a risk of damage.

"When kids are trying to get the conkers down they can fall and damage cars, or sometimes children throw them at windows and cause damage. This is the sort of thing we try to avoid.

"And also, by taking the conkers off the problem trees it reduces the chances of kids getting hurt if they try to climb them."

The team, which are based at the Jesmond Dene depot, use a cherry picking vehicle to reach to the top of the horsechestnut trees to strip them.

Then instead of just discarding them, the team hand them over to schools near the tree so the children can get cracking with the very-British game.

"We like to give them out to kids in the schools," Steve said. "It's not that we don't want children to play with the conkers, it's just that the trees sometimes cause problems that can easily be avoided by taking them off ourselves.

"We don't do it unless someone contacts us about a tree, then we'll go out and have a look at it and decide from there what to do.

"At the moment we are getting a lot of complaints from residents in the city because of the cherries on the trees. They cause a lot of mess and they're very slippy.

"This means we go out and pick the cherries before they fall."

Last year the team were called to deal with more than 10 horsechestnut trees in the city, providing hundreds of youngsters with the sought-after seeds.

Steve said: "We haven't had any calls about conkers yet but I'm sure they'll start coming soon."

Anyone wanting to contact the team should call Envirocall on (0191) 274 4000.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 9, 2006
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