Torbay trials US system to assess financial benefits of urban trees

Tree managers could benefit from the results of a pilot project based on US methodology probing the financial benefits of urban trees' contributions to the environment.

Local authorities assess value of trees to environment. Image: HW
Local authorities assess value of trees to environment. Image: HW

Arboriculturists from Hi-Line Contractors are collaborating with Torbay Council in Devon to analyse the economic value that the town's trees provide to the area in terms of environmental gains.

These include intercepting air-borne pollutants, carbon sequestration and energy saving effects on nearby buildings such as heating in winter and cooling in summer.

A team will visit the USA next month to receive training in the US Forest Service assessment tool i-Tree, which was used by New York City to reveal a five-fold return on investment in street trees (HW, 2 October 2009).

The arboriculturists will specifically use the i-Tree Eco model, which was designed to use field data from trees along with local hourly air pollution and meteorological information to quantify urban forest structure, environmental effects and value to communities. Baseline data is expected to help influence resource decisions, develop policy and set priorities.

Hi-Line Contractors senior consultant Kenton Rogers explained: "A lack of quantifiable data means the benefits of trees have been largely ignored, which is why we are in a situation where trees are assessed on hazard and risk."

Following the visit to the USA, the firm will work with Torbay Council on a £120,000 pilot assessing tree values. Rogers said he expected final results from the project in early 2011 and anticipated sharing data and training information with other local authorities.

The Forestry Commission's research arm Forest Research is getting involved in the project, through Centre for Forestry and Climate Change staff Tony Hutchings and Andrew Brunt.

"It is about adapting the i-Tree system for UK usage," explained Brunt. "We will be looking at the data-handling of the project."

Rogers added: "There is lots of number crunching to do. But at the end of it we will have evidence on the benefits resulting from trees that will give increased advocacy for extra tree planting and levering funds from the Government."

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