A timely call to save urban street trees

Leading figures from across UK arboriculture, with help from colleagues from across the globe, are meeting today to flesh out the Urban Canopy Initiative - a bid to reverse decades of street tree loss from urban environments.

Led by consultants Jeremy Barrell, Neville Fay and environmentalist Professor Chris Baines, the gathering of arboriculture professionals at London's Royal Geographical Society will explore the critical role of trees in climate-proofing our cities - and the mechanisms required to ensure that as urban temperatures rise, our urban canopies are resilient enough to actually make a difference.

As Barrell notes, it is now widely accepted that trees are important in urban environments and that "the will to increase canopy cover seems widespread". What is missing, he says, is a co-ordinated approach to reversing the widespread losses that have taken place; a gap the new initiative will seek to fill by lobbying Government to back a co-ordinated strategy for increasing urban canopy cover.

The good news is that despite the damage that has been done to street trees from years of under-funding, poor planning enforcement, litigation and so on, Barrell is optimistic: the changes required are relatively small, he says, but have the potential to make a significant difference. Examples include councils' improvement of the enforcement of planning conditions relating to new tree planting, and minimum levels of site investigation agreed for implicating trees in subsidence damage.

And the timing couldn't be better. As HW has highlighted many times, a shift in thinking at government level earlier this year has seen the question of adaptation to climate change shoot up the agenda, where once only mitigation measures were being discussed. The Climate Change Bill will this autumn usher in a statutory duty for the Government to set up a programme to uncover and address the most effective steps that can be taken to help us adapt to the consequences of climate change - including a detailed cost-benefit analysis of proposed climate change adaptation measures.

All of which means now really is the very best time to be lobbying for the kinds of measures required to achieve the aim of the Urban Canopy Initiative - the reversal of urban deforestation.

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