Guest post: Jane Hull, Forestry Commission

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.”

About Jane

Jane Hull, Forestry Commission’s Principal Advisor: Social Forestry (Place)

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.

You can read, share and comment on all blogs we post in this Forests Report series by following Woodland Matters, and through this link:

About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
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4 Responses to Guest post: Jane Hull, Forestry Commission

  1. Pip Pountney says:

    People generally love trees and particularly relate to those that are near to their home or are seen on a daily basis when dog walking etc. A leafy environment is proven to add positively to mental and physical health. In my area ( a Midland city) we found many trees were being removed unnecessarily because of little explained health and safety concerns or (possibly) because greedy contractors had their eye on the financial potential of some of our older oaks!! It was quite remarkable how many reasons were given for removing mature trees with little information given and even less consultation. We formed a group to try and protect our city trees and have been involved in discussions with tree officers, councillors and neighbourhood groups. In some areas we have been successful and mostly we are now informed of intended tree work which we try and share with people in local areas through our blog.

    Certainly our experience has raised concerns that perhaps the training of our city arbos is largely focused on health and safety and perhaps the need that people have for trees, the beauty and health giving properties of trees needs to be emphasised. Not to mention proper information and consultation – don’t tree officers work for the citizens?

    Interestingly, a few miles from our city a wood was purchased by a village community. Wonderful! An opportunity to preserve a well loved green space for a hard-working community to enjoy after a hard week in our city. Alas, advice from various well meaning expert groups has seen the removal of hundreds of scots pines for timber. The wood is a mess and many locals are disenchanted. This was not what they signed up for and some are refusing to pay their subs. Once again, consultation and information are vital. People need to be able to discuss and fully understand decisions on the management of trees wherever they are growing and should have the opportunity to be fully involved in decision making. Woodlands have always regenerated themselves and actually do not require management – especially if selling off timber is the reason behind it!

    Pip Pountney

  2. Eleanor Steiner says:

    She comes over as having the experience and enthusiasm for the job. I think urban trees are very important–I remember when trees in Edinburgh were abused when the ground cables for telephone were installed. There is so much land being used for urban purposes that we have to ‘humanise’ the results and give people some green space to enjoy.

  3. Pingback: Valuing trees in towns : Jane Hull, Forestry Commission | 100 Acre Wood |

  4. Lovely blog post. Years ago, I lived and worked in Phildelphia. One of the NGO’s, Philadelphia Green, liaised with the parks dept to provide urban tree care courses for volunteers.There was general agreement that there was not enough employed personnel to look after the trees in the city. I attended 3 twilight training sessions where participants were shown how to care for neighborhood trees. This included how to prune a tree. At the end of the course we were allowed to keep the tools we had been allocated and encouraged to go and look after our neighbourhood trees. Sadly I don’t see this approach being advocated these days. It’s a shame.

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