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Protecting Local Tree Populations

UK ministers will today urge all councils to match the standards of the best to protect their local tree populations.

The largest ever survey of urban trees in England, published today, will reveal that although national tree health has improved markedly since the last survey in 1992, with trees being maintained much more regularly by councils, there has been a decline in the number of older trees in towns and cities and overall planting rates of new trees has fallen.

Trees play a key role in reducing the impacts of climate change in urban areas and are important to residents of towns and cities. The report found that most trees make a considerable or outstanding contribution to the quality of neighbourhoods.

The survey, of nearly 150 towns across England, will show just 11 per cent of trees in towns are between 50 and 100 years old and just two per cent are over 100 years old.

England's 'top tree' is the Leyland cypress, which is mainly used for hedges - accounting for more than 1 in 10 of all trees. These are followed by hawthorn and sycamore, more commonly seen as individual trees.

The best councils have tree strategies in place and they have seen remarkable results. For example:

  • Brighton Council successfully fought off Dutch Elm Disease
  • Stoke-on-Trent Council successfully attracted external sponsorship worth over £100,000 for its tree programme
  • Tower Hamlets council is planting 1000 trees in a deprived inner city area and involving the local community in planting and environmental education.

The report, written by ADAS and Myerscough College, suggests 10 ways in which all councils can match the standards of the best:

  • every local authority should have a specialist tree officer and puts in place a comprehensive tree strategy
  • make greater use of sponsorship programmes in partnership with businesses, schools and local communities, with the target of raising £15,000 per town to protect local trees
  • all work on protected trees is regularly monitored and enforcement action is taken where necessary
  • at least 90 per cent of all newly planted local authority trees receive regular maintenance
  • installing a computerised tree management system or 'log' to help the local authority to manage their tree resource and promote electronic communication.

Key findings of the report include:

  • comparison with the 1992 survey shows less planting was carried out between 1992-2004 than in the previous 10 years
  • overall more trees were being regularly maintained. In 2004 36 per cent were noted as receiving regular maintenance compared with 3 per cent in 1992
  • but poor maintenance of recently planted trees, means as many as one in four (24 per cent) newly planted trees being lost
  • fewer trees were classed as being dead or dying, or in poor or good condition than in 1992.

The Trees in Towns II report will also reveal disparities between councils.

  • two thirds of councils have, or are developing, a tree strategy - but a third have not even begun to do so
  • one in five local authorities are carrying out no scheduled tree maintenance work at all.

The survey is the most detailed picture ever of the quantity and quality of England's urban trees. It includes 590 plots, including streets, public parks, schools, churchyards, allotments and private gardens across 147 towns and cities.

Although some councils are already managing their tree stock well, findings show that many local authorities lack basic information about the nature and extent of the trees and woodlands in their district. Communities Minister Iain Wright said: "Towns need trees. This report shows many councils are doing great work - but I'd like to see all councils aspiring to the standards of the best.

"Trees are a key feature of the British landscape across our town and cities and I am concerned about such a wide disparity in how they are looked after.

"The recommendations set out in the report we are publishing today give Local Authorities an approach which will help them ensure we safeguard our trees and ensure the character of local communities is preserved for future generations."

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