Taking the case for trees forward

Will the latest drive to promote the inclusion of trees in urban landscape design make a difference? Jez Abbott reports.

If anyone can do it, they can do it. The new Trees & Design Action Group is to launch two guidelines in November. These latest documents, from a flurry of initiatives launched by numerous groups recently to promote urban trees, will be different, insists the group.

They will differ in their ability to turn good words into even better actions, reckons Sue James, an architect consultant for Capita Lovejoy. Trees in New Developments and The Value of Trees will be the first of several guidelines, to be "unveiled as green papers" at the House of Commons.

"This is the last word on the saga of joined-up thinking," says James, looking at forerunner reports that died a death. "We want to challenge then help change policy and tie it into local development decisions."

If her group succeeds where others failed it will be because of its broad-church membership. Everyone's involved, not just tree-huggers: researchers; insurance firms; developers; and utility companies as well as the usual suspects such as CABE Space, the Forestry Commission and the Landscape Institute.

"If we act collectively we have more chance of changing policy because everyone is on a level playing field. This has not been the case before. In the past, developers, for example, felt they were being held responsible and penalised financially for a lack of trees and greenery."

So they came on board, along with the Royal Parks, planners, local authorities, transport groups and two nurseries, Barcham and Willerby Landscapes. The guidance targets developers, planners and designers, but such a powerblock of opinion will feed into the political arena, they hope.

"The key concept is inclusivity and coming to an agreement to avoid a sieve-like effect where one or two influential people or groups fall through. For this we need verified research, which can only be as good as the people involved doing it."

The group has plenty of background material to choose from. It has the Chainsaw Massacre report on London's street trees, launched last year. It has the London mayor's 10,000 trees policy, the HTA's Greening the UK initiative aimed at local authorities, and it has Trees in Towns II.

Dr Mark Johnston, a lecturer at Myerscough College who co-edited the latter report, insists its 650 pages are not an academic exercise but a "call to action". If his report is to segue from idealism to realism, it must woo "big strategic decision-makers" such as chief planners.

"The last thing I want is the nightmare situation of people coming up to me in a few years' time and saying, 'Whatever happened to Trees in Towns II?'. I will say, 'What did you do about it?'. This is a wonderful opportunity, not only for green management, but for green infrastructure."

Trees, he insists, are the most significant element of infrastructure, and this is "what I'm trying to hammer home very hard". Dr Johnston is disappointed Communities & Local Government, which paid good money for the report, has failed to "drive it harder".

So far, there have no conferences, seminars or lobbying, he says. But even though the report's 10 targets, such as using computerised tree records and best-value reviews, have been "tied up with get-out clauses", it is a crucial document. And the sector is unlikely to see another of its size for years.

"I would like to see the Government be more proactive. I'm pleased it didn't hack the report to pieces before publication, but ministers should be pushing it. They should ask local authorities how they can help them achieve the goals and ensure everyone rallies around the 10 targets."

David Lloyd-Jones could be the nightmare waiting to happen to Dr Johnston: "I'm the chairman of the Consulting Arborist Society and immediate past president of the International Society of Arboriculture, and am blissfully unaware of Trees in Towns II. That says something.

"Communication is the key to achieving goals set out in all these reports. They tend to preach to the converted and act as reminders - that's all they are - to people with a moral or ecological conscience. We need something more tangible to swing hard economic-based decision-makers.

"I think everything is being done by planners to enforce good tree-planting policy on property developers, and beyond them are woodland grant scheme for landowners. These need to target smaller landowners because that's a gap in the existing tree-policy regimen."

Lloyd-Jones says a key to making policy work on the ground is to change its emphasis: "Don't bang on about trees' amenity or ecological value, which we all know. Trees must form part of a working countryside or urban environment. The products of trees must be more appreciated."

Wood from Mersey Forest, for example, is used for crafts and furniture making. Other uses could be biomass fuel or composite building materials. Recognising the utility of timber would raise its value to the community and give it the public backing to ensure more policy clout, he says.

Not all would-be policy initiatives end up dead and buried in dusty filing cabinets. Greening the UK - an HTA campaign launched last year to raise awareness at all levels of government of the need for adequate planting on new developments - is making waves.

Canterbury City Council recently became the sixth local authority to pledge its support following take up by councils in Liverpool, Carlisle and Crawley. HTA director general David Gwyther realises, however, that success depends on finding a wider audience for his message. "The next stage for Greening the UK is to continue working with local government but also to show planners and developers that green landscaping should not be seen as a cost but an investment in their profits, their future and the well-being of the whole community."

Tree consultant Jeremy Barrell says the failure of tree initiatives to leave a lasting influence is not a wholly British trait. Too much focus goes on the numbers' game, from the London Mayor's 10,000 trees pledge to a promise by New York's counterpart to plant one million trees.

"There's a lot of hot air and too much emphasis on numbers. It's easy to come up with rhetoric, but more important are survival rates and the impact of trees. Identify these areas and the benefits of trees are less woolly and it becomes easier to make the case for them policy-wise."

But Barrell has high hopes another recently launched strategy will form a policy as enforceable as it is tangible. The Trees, Woods and Forests Strategy Document is due for launch by the Forestry Commission and English Nature in November and it will be no talking shop, he feels.

Barrell, who launched an urban-tree canopy initiative two years ago with consultant Neville Fay to look at decreasing sizes of tree foliage, feels climate change is forcing trees up the policy agenda. The time has come for initiatives such as the Trees, Woods and Forests Strategy Document.

"It has to make a difference because climate change is so important, and this document differs from others in one major way - it is being published not as a wish list but as a proper policy initiative. It will be harder for middle managers to resist tree policy when it starts hitting them from all directions."


Not everyone is waiting for a strong policy lead from above. Urban Trees for South Sefton, a three-year project to increase the urban-tree canopy along streets and in parks, was conceived and initiated by a local authority in the Liverpool area.

The £150,000 project ensured 400 new trees were planted every year across the urban landscape. Sefton Council consulted with 3,000 residents on what they wanted or needed, says principal parks officer for trees and woodland Jude Burgess.

"The active involvement of locals has been key to the success of establishing these young trees," she says. "Through their involvement, many residents have developed a sense of guardianship and therefore levels of vandalism have been low.

"In many ways the end of the project was the start, for care and maintenance is vital to the success of any tree-planting scheme. We have a good young-tree maintenance regime that will ensure the longevity of the new trees."

The project was part funded from various sources including the New Opportunities Fund and Single Regeneration Budget. Sefton Council followed up this project recently with a Green Street scheme for Bootle, which cost £50,000 and included more street-tree planting.

"The South Sefton project is just the start of the new life for these trees. From here we will concentrate on ensuring their successful establishment and continued survival and health, making a positive contribution to the environment and aesthetics of the borough."

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