Young trees are a joy

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Young trees are a joy to everyone.

However, a report commissioned by the Government (Trees in Towns 2) revealed that: “25 per cent of all planting undertaken in the public sector actually fails”.

That happens for a multitude of reasons, including: poor ground preparation, inadequate protection, soil compaction and inadequate maintenance.

It is likely that each tree Amey plants costs over £100. Some trees are associated with minor damage to infrastructure or boundary walls. Repair or reconstruction represent reasonably practicable alternatives to felling, in many circumstances. Damage is usually due to “soil” displacement as roots thicken each year.

75 per cent of Sheffield’s highway trees (27,000 trees) were mature when Amey came along. By definition, they are at a stage of life where their parts do not thicken as much as those of younger trees and will gradually thicken less each year. The good news is that not all trees associated with damage need to be felled. As the Department for Transport has stated (in a letter to SORT):

“…the Highways Act 1980… does not set out specific standards of maintenance, as it is for each individual local highway authority to assess… what standards should be applied, based upon their local knowledge and circumstances.”

In addition, the Roads Liaison Group guidance that the council claim to comply with states:

“In England, since 2008, there are no statutory indicators for the condition of footways.”

After seven months, the Information Commissioner has revealed that neither the council nor Amey have commissioned or drafted alternative highway engineering specifications for consideration as a means to retain healthy, structurally sound, mature highway trees, rather than fell them. It has taken the council less than eight months to reveal that the £2.2 billionn Streets Ahead highway maintenance project has not budgeted for using such specifications to retain trees.

The council claims felling is “always a last resort”. Evidently, it is not.

Citizens campaigning for a strategic approach to enable sustainable management of the urban forest (which includes highway trees) have correctly recognised that highway trees are valuable community assets (a mature lime likely to be worth £19,500) that provide a range of valuable, ecosystem service benefits to the environment and communities.

Correctly, citizens note that these benefits are provided each year, and, generally, increase with each year of remaining safe useful life expectancy. Benefits include improvement of environmental quality, air quality, health and wellbeing, and savings for the NHS. The monetary value of benefits afforded by a mature tree is likely to be well in excess of £1,000 per year (excluding amenity value: likely to be worth £5,000).

I have downloaded and read the SORT letters to Coun Fox (cabinet member for environment & transport) that are available online at saveSheffieldtrees.org.uk.

I am pleased to confirm that the reasoning therein is sound, and that the works cited do represent current good practice guidance and recommendations.

In particular, I was pleased to see that citizens have noticed that sustainable management is not about maintaining numbers, but most importantly, it is about maintaining canopy cover and, ideally, increasing numbers in all parts of the city.

Sheffield Tree Action Groups seek an approach to policy and management that recognises the monetary value of benefits; ensures that assessments are balanced, undertaken by competent people and that acts and omissions are proportionate, defendable, “soundly based on available evidence, and not unduly influenced by transitory or exaggerated opinions”.

Compliance with current good practice would help ensure this, and help temper a destructive, risk-averse approach to tree management.

D Long (arboriculturist & urban forester)

by email