The latest guest post in our ‘Forests Report: conversations’ series follows on from this week’s ‘communities stirring’ blog – welcome to Jane Hull, the Forestry Commission’s Principal Advisor: Social Forestry (Place) …
“Valuing trees in towns
Working on urban forestry allows good opportunities to both enjoy the best of city life and the natural environment. When I pass through urban areas with more trees, it lifts my spirit and improves my view of a particular part of town. People love trees – most marketing professionals will have used trees at some point in their career to advertise all manner of goods and services.
Our urban trees are those closest to us. We watch and value them on a daily basis. They are the building blocks for us to develop a stronger woodland culture in our country. Indeed perhaps a long term goal for my work would be to ensure that the phrase ‘leafy suburbs’ becomes obsolete as more trees are planted in all parts of towns.
Our towns and cities, where 81% of us live, are better places for their trees. 15% of England’s woodlands are in urban areas (as defined by the Office of National Statistics, this includes areas of urban greenspace), though urban areas have an average woodland cover of just 8.79%, compared to around 10% across England as a whole. So if the Independent Panel on Forestry is encouraging us to create new woodlands, our urban areas must be part of that movement – building on the success of initiatives including recently the Big Tree Plant. This has encouraged community groups to plant trees across the country, with 70% of the trees planted in the 30% most deprived communities in England.
What are your most positive experiences of urban trees? Do they involve street trees? Trees in parks or gardens? Urban woodlands? Perhaps you are involved in a really positive community group working to plant and manage urban trees. What factors have made it work?
Alongside our own generally positive reactions to trees, there are now tools that help us measure how much the urban forest – that’s all of the trees and woodlands in urban areas across all land uses, whether street trees, trees in parks, gardens or urban woodlands – is worth. In the Borough of Torbay, the removal of air pollutants by the urban forest is worth £1.2 million per year and carbon sequestration is worth £5 million per year. This valuation work is happening across whole cities. In London, the Forestry Commission, Forest Research and Trees for Cities volunteers will be working to survey the capital’s urban forest over the next few months. And it is occurring more locally, in the places that people care most about, such as their local parks. The 1,221 trees in Wardown Park, Luton remove air pollution worth £18,912, store carbon worth £47,807 and sequester £960 of carbon each year.
This kind of evidence is helping decision makers make positive choices for trees – whether they sit in local authorities or in the private sector. The survey in Torbay encouraged the local council to spend £25,000 a year more on their urban forestry work.
Our urban forests can also be productive assets, helping boost the economy. It’s great to see Greater Manchester Tree Station offering local communities the chance to invest in this opportunity through a community share offer – a tool highlighted in Sian Atkinson’s ‘Communities Stirring’ blog.
And it is not only the hard financial facts – the cost effective way our urban forest provides services – that will help ensure a good future for our urban trees. Good practice stories can allow a community group or urban forester’s innovative ideas from one place to influence practice in another. This is demonstrated in the Trees and Design Action Group’s Trees in the Townscape” report, endorsed by over 15 different organisations responsible for trees from local authorities to social housing and business.
The planning system impacts on trees and woodlands. Whilst it can seem huge and complex, there are provisions for communities to engage with it. Neighbourhood Planning, one of the Community Rights introduced under the Localism Bill, allows communities to produce plans to guide new development for their areas which are recognised by the planning system. Defra’s agencies, including Forestry Commission, have produced guidance on how to include natural and cultural heritage in this and the Woodland Trust is working hard to support communities to include provisions for trees and local woods in their Neighbourhood Plans.
The urban forest is also a key component of green infrastructure – the network of green spaces, as recognised in the National Planning Policy Framework. The inclusion and funding of green infrastructure needs to become part of the every day work of the planning system – as is possible through the Community Infrastructure Levy. This may be jargon to many but it allows us to ensure that trees get a look in alongside roads and other services.”
Jane Hull has worked with the Forestry Commission for the past 7 years, mainly in South East England as Woodland Officer and a regional policy officer. She is now part of the National Expertise Team, as Principal Advisor Social Forestry (Place). She is a Chartered Forester and has previously worked in North Devon, Nepal and South Africa.