Trees are vital. As the biggest plants on the planet, they give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilise the soil and give life to the world’s wildlife. They also provide us with the materials for tools and shelter.
There is a wealth of research now that demonstrates how trees improve our air, soil and water quality; they improve mental health and well-being; provide a sense of place and enhance property values. Increasing canopy cover in urban areas is also a cost-effective means of mitigating urban heat islands and controlling storm water run-off.
Given the multiple benefits we receive from trees, the Council has prioritised enhancements of its existing trees and increased tree planting in its Climate Change and Environment Strategy.
Benefits of Trees
Excess carbon dioxide (CO2) is building up in our atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Trees absorb CO2, removing and storing the carbon while releasing oxygen back into the air. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the same amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles.
Trees improve air quality. Their canopies act as a physical filter, trapping dust and absorbing pollutants from the air. Each individual tree removes up to 1.7 kilos every year. They also provide shade from solar radiation and reduce noise.
Over 20 species of British trees and shrubs are known to have medicinal properties. The oil from birch bark, for example, has antiseptic properties.
They are a key provider of oxygen which is fundamental for all life. In one year an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people.
Research shows that within minutes of being surrounded by trees and green space, your blood pressure drops, your heart rate slows and your stress levels come down. Other studies show that patients with views of trees out their hospital windows heal faster and with less complications. Children with ADHD show fewer symptoms when they have access to nature. Exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue.
Trees reduce wind speeds and cool the air as they lose moisture and reflect heat upwards from their leaves. It’s estimated that trees can reduce the temperature in a city by up to 7°C.
This also means they can help save energy. Three trees placed strategically around a family home can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50%. By reducing the energy demand for cooling our houses, we reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants. This will become more important as our climate changes.
Trees reduce runoff by breaking rainfall thus allowing the water to flow down the trunk and into the earth below the tree. This prevents storm water from carrying pollutants to streams and rivers.
Trees also help prevent soil erosion, absorbing thousands of litres of stormwater.
Trees host complex microhabitats. When young, they offer habitation and food to amazing communities of birds, insects, lichen and fungi. When ancient, their trunks also provide the hollow cover needed by species such as bats, woodboring beetles, tawny owls and woodpeckers.
One mature oak can be home to as many as 500 different species.
They strengthen the distinctive character of a place and encourage local pride. Urban woodland can be used as an educational resource and to bring groups together for activities like walking and bird-watching. Trees are also invaluable for children to play in and discover their sense of adventure.
Forest Schools provide a hands-on learning experience in a woodland environment, helping children develop their social and communication skills, increase their self-esteem and improve their academic achievements.
Trees can also mask concrete walls or parking lots, and unsightly views. They muffle sound from nearby streets and freeways, and create an eye-soothing canopy of green. Trees absorb dust and wind and reduce glare.
Studies show that the more trees and landscaping a business district has, the more business will flow in. A tree-lined street will also slow traffic – enough to allow the drivers to look at the store fronts instead of whizzing by.
Research shows that average house prices are 5-18% higher when properties are close to mature trees. Companies benefit from a healthier, happier workforce if there are parks and trees nearby.
Fruit harvested from community orchards can be sold and provide tourism interest. Vocational training for youth interested in green jobs is also a great way to develop economic opportunities from trees.
Tree and Woodland Strategy
Our Interim Corporate Tree and Woodland Strategy was approved in October 2022. Focussing on trees, woodlands and significant hedgerow on our own assets, our strategy will share how we are expanding, protecting and improving our trees, woodlands and hedgerows and how they can connect people to nature, support the economy, combat the climate crisis and recover biodiversity.
Our vision is to expand, protect and improve our trees, woodlands and hedgerows and how they can connect people to nature, support the economy, combat the climate crisis and recover biodiversity.
The principle of "right tree in the right place" is core to our Strategy. We will ensure that as far as possible, only tree species appropriate to the local ecology are planted, and that these will only be planted in appropriate locations.
An Interim Strategy
We are at an early stage in collating our understanding of our trees and hedgerows. Significant work is required to understand exactly what tree assets we have, where they are and how we can improve and expand them, so we are undertaking a Tree Canopy Mapping study during 2023.
This will give us information on the number, type and locations of our trees and enable us to calculate the benefits our trees are providing for carbon sequestration and air quality. Once we have this information we will be able to set ourselves an ambitious target for tree and hedgerow planting that will truly represent the scale and pace of work deliverable on our estate.
We must wait for the data - without it we will not know if we are being ambitious or not. We will then publish an updated Full Strategy, which will fully set out our targets and how we intend to deliver.
We are not standing still
The pace and scale of planting required means we cannot afford to wait for our full strategy before we start work. Tree and hedgerow planting will continue without our baseline being established and will follow the frameworks set out in our interim Strategy. We will continue to develop planting schemes and seek funding to deliver in the places we already know we can.