Gan Meir in Tel Aviv
Gan Meir in Tel Aviv Photo by Danny Nissim
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"Hi there - here's a picture of trees uprooted on Tumarkin Street." That is one of numerous posts Web surfers taking virtual tours of Tel Aviv on Google Earth will find. Alongside Bauhaus buildings, landmark streets and historical sites, users have posted photos of decades-old trees that have been cleared or are designated for uprooting.

The man behind the idea of documenting felled or at-risk trees is Dani Nissim, a Tel Aviv lawyer and amateur photographer. Three years ago, as construction crews laid the foundation for a building outside his apartment, Nissim noticed several mature trees of the Washingtonia genus - palms native to the southwestern United States and Mexico - were being dug up.

It was then that Nissim decided he would fight to preserve trees he believes are vital to the Tel Aviv cityscape. He filed a request with the local planning committee, and then its district counterpart, to designate certain trees for preservation - and the authorities agreed.

Since then, a campaign has sprung up on Google Earth; for now, it is compromised of more than 35 photos. A wide variety of species is represented, from the sycamores of King George Street to the ficuses of King Albert Square, and of course the Washingtonia on Nissim's own Nahmani Street.

Nissim has become a frequent contributor to "Tree Trustees," an online forum recently set up by the Tel Aviv branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. At their second meeting on Wednesday, forum members decided that to achieve the widest possible exposure, they would transfer all of the photos from their site to Google Earth.

"We're creating information to bolster what already exists on trees," said Guy Nardi, of SPNI's Tel Aviv branch. "When documentation is complete, a database of at-risk trees will exist for the first time. This is unprecedented."

Around 25 forum members took part in Wednesday's meeting in Tel Aviv, where they discussed "warning signs" of trees at risk, including numbers marked on those designated for clearing.

Forum members fear mature trees across the city could fall victim to uncontrolled urban development. A few weeks ago several aged cypresses on Tumarkin Street were cleared when an old building nearby was destroyed.

As one forum member put it, "No one can later say the trees didn't exist."