Single vision for the urban forest

Call made for all urban trees to be one collective forest

Urban areas: many towns and cities such as Birmingham are already working to their own visions on tree canopy
Urban areas: many towns and cities such as Birmingham are already working to their own visions on tree canopy

All of England's urban trees in parks, streets, private gardens, public land, highways and urban woodlands should be treated as a single collective forest meeting strategic goals, according to a new Government-endorsed document.

Produced by members of the Forestry Commission's forestry and woodland advisory committees (FWAC), Our Vision for a Resilient Urban Forest is a "call to action" for a larger and more resilient urban forest, said the commission. It was launched at the Community Forestry Conference in Birmingham last month.

The Urban FWAC Network was established by the commission in 2014 to take forward the case for urban forestry in England and to spread good practice. Its chair Jane Carlsen said: "We have created a visionary document that sets out the many benefits trees offer to people in our towns and cities and seeks to unite the whole urban forestry sector with a single vision."

At the Community Forestry Conference she called on the urban forestry sector to work closely with planners, highway engineers and landscape and health professionals to ensure that trees are included in their thinking and planning.

In her introduction, she wrote: "Everybody who is affected by trees and woodland in our towns and cities will need to sign up to this vision and develop a local action plan. This includes the owners of land with trees - local authorities, utility companies, community groups and individual residents - professionals who work with trees and all of us who live, work in and will benefit from the resilient urban forest."

In a preface to the vision, forestry minister Rory Stewart wrote: "Many towns and cities are already working to their own visions, from Manchester's 'City of Trees' movement to Birmingham's biophilic city. Our challenge is to empower more people and businesses to play their part."

Forestry Commission chairman Sir Harry Studholme called on urban tree managers to "harness the power of new tools, big data and volunteer commitment to measure the true value of your trees", set a target for canopy cover in their area and engage with communities and businesses.

Key themes - topics set out in Our Vision for a Resilient Urban Forest

England’s urban forest should "be considered as critical infrastructure for urban areas, on a par with utility, transport and the built environment", the vision states. It covers eight main themes:
• Strategic planning and infrastructure "The urban forest vision will be shared by developers, planning authorities and communities as a critical element of plans for new investment, infrastructure and retrofit."
• Climate change The urban forest being "recognised as much simpler and cheaper than heavy engineering in adapting urban areas for the future".
• Natural environment The urban forest "helping people maintain their connection with nature", bringing "benefits for public health and well-being".
• Human health and quality of life Physical and mental health improved through cleaner air, reduced summer heating, harmful effects of ultraviolet light and noise levels, access to green spaces for physical exercise and related mental health benefits.
• Planning and development Developers and planning authorities "working together from the outset to ensure that the urban forest forms an essential part of the site’s proposed infrastructure".
• Economy and growth The urban forest creating areas that attract investment but also "generating products and services that are used locally and developing a culture of woodland skills and employment".
• Value and resources Trees’ "value in terms of market and non-market products and services to society being recognised and stimulating future investment".
• Risks and resilience "The diversity of species, provenance and age will widen; urban forest canopy area will increase with more large trees" and the canopy "will be more connected", while "more people will be engaged in monitoring, managing and making the urban forest".

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