How will promised new urban trees be looked after?

The need to plant more trees in both urban and rural areas is now widely accepted across the political spectrum.

Image: Oatsy40
Image: Oatsy40

But a recent meeting with parliamentarians organised by the Arboricultural Association allowed the industry to forcefully put a point that is less acknowledged in policy circles: that planting trees in towns and cities counts for little without funding for their ongoing care and maintenance, which is under increasing threat.

Addressing a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group, London Tree Officers Association (LTOA) chair John Parker said: "Targets to increase the tree canopy cover of London and other towns and cities are unlikely to be achieved through planting alone. Good standards of management and maintenance and the retention of our existing tree stock are just as important."

Parker tells HW: "The problem is that money is made available for capital rather than revenue. But it’s tree officers that ensure the benefits of trees. We can go after politicians but they respond to voters. If everyone wanted more tree officers, provision would be made. But it’s not a profession that most people fully understand."

Working party

To address this, the LTOA along with the Municipal Tree Officers Association and other regional groups are setting up a working party to raise the profession’s profile and boost recruitment nationally. "We aim to engage schools and the young to make it more attractive," says Parker. "Tree officers have to support their own industry."

He adds: "There have been some recent positives. The mayor of London’s draft transport strategy contains a commitment to protect existing trees. We hope to galvanise support for that, and so get it enshrined in GLA [Greater London Authority] policy. The problem is if the cuts keep happening there won’t be anyone left to maintain them."

Already this year London mayor Sadiq Khan has embarked on his promised tree-planting programme in the city with a £750,000 funding injection to plant nearly 42,000 trees, though this figure is a far cry from the two-million trees he pledged to plant when campaigning for the post last year.

Meanwhile, newly appointed Defra secretary of state Michael Gove last month restated his party’s commitment to tree planting, describing trees as "living evidence of our investment for future generations".

But despite commitments in the Conservative manifesto to plant 11 million trees, with a further one-million in towns and cities, only 525ha of new woodland were created in England in the year to the end of March, with just 100ha planted in Wales.

Tree loss

A survey by the i newspaper found that 58 street trees are felled each day. The Arboricultural Association’s own tree officer survey, the results of which it published in June, found 83% of tree officers said ongoing austerity measures negatively impacted their ability to do their job, with 72% citing reduced staff capacity and support as the leading cause of this.

With its People’s Lottery-funded Street Trees project, launched in April, the Woodland Trust is taking a two-pronged approach to the problem — both encouraging residents to take responsibility for their trees and putting the case to decision makers that they are valuable and worth investing in and preserving — according to project leader Joseph Coles.

"We believe that in order to keep people connected with nature we need to preserve and celebrate what is on their doorsteps," he says. "First and foremost, that means protecting the trees already on our city streets.

"Planting the right trees in the right places will help increase the benefits they bring. We want to develop case studies for how this can be done, by working directly with councils to reach pragmatic solutions that work for both them and the people who live amongst street trees."

The trust says the scheme may lead to it crowning the UK’s first ever "tree-friendly city". It also plans to plant 65 million trees, one for every person in the UK, by 2025.

Comment: Arboricultural Association

The Arboricultural Association says it "echoes exactly" John Parker’s views on the need to match planting targets with a commitment to their aftercare. In a statement, it says:

"The Arboricultural Association considers the announcement from Mr Gove with some scepticism, given the consistent failure to meet and take seriously many tree-planting targets set in the recent past. The planting of new trees is just a small step and a stronger management policy for trees needs to be put in place, planning for their lifespan, not just ours.

"There is a distinct lack of attention paid to issues other than simply planting a tree, including species selection, environmental and other factors like surface materials. Mortality rates of 30-50% are still commonplace during the first year after planting urban trees. This is clear evidence of the need for more consideration of a post-planting tree-management strategy and consultation of tree-care professionals."


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