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Melbourne study shows how cities struggle to enhance urban tree cover

Melbourne study shows how cities struggle to enhance urban tree cover
April 12, 2020

Many cities around the world are struggling to reconcile ambitious environmental targets with development pressures, according to a new study based on trees in the city of Melbourne.

The study, conducted by the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University and published in the Sustainable Cities and Society journal show that over a 10-year period Melbourne recorded a net gain in street tree cover but a net loss in parks and private land.

The RMIT team says measures to protect mature trees are "critical" if the urban forest cover is to be enhanced in the future.

Globally, the role of trees in towns and cities are well recognised, such as providing shade during hot summer months, and helping to absorb noise pollution and floodwater.

Based on a study of Melbourne’s trees in the decade between 2008 and 2017, the researchers found that “analyses showed a net gain in tree canopy cover in public streets and a net loss of canopy cover in public parks and private properties.”

The team said the most frequently removed trees from public parks and streets were small ones, with trunk diameters less than 15cm.

They identified that trees near to developments were among the most at-risk trees.

The report explained “almost 2,000 street trees were removed within 10m of major development sites, equivalent to almost 20% of all street trees removed … but this only constituted only 8% of streetscape tree canopy cover losses.”

Co-author Thami Croeser, a PhD student at the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University in Melbourne, advised that the trees removed were “(mostly) quite young (with) only about one-in-20 was a mature tree thicker than 60cm (diameter)."

Croeser told BBC News "overall, the tree canopy cover in the inner city stayed just ahead of losses to development.

"Our parks lost canopy, as did private properties, but canopy from street trees grew slightly on balance."

Croeser suggested this was a result of officials in Melbourne operating a strong tree protection policy with the removal of a large, mature tree costing tens of thousands of Australian dollars to remove a large, mature tree.

Melbourne city officials also operate a considerable planting program, with about 3,000 new trees being put into the ground each year.

Croeser added “this offsets the losses somewhat, although replacing a 20-year-old tree with a sapling definitely is not the same, the sheer volume of planting helps."

As the issue of climate change forms a central pillar of government policies, many cities are setting targets to boost their urban tree canopy cover.

At the World Forum on Urban Trees, held in Italy during 2018, delegates issued a call for action to highlight the benefits of trees in cities.

More than half of the world's population now live in urban areas, and this is forecast to grow to 68% by the middle of the 21st Century.

While is it widely accepted that tree cover can improve people's daily wellbeing, Croeser said the Melbourne study highlighted a few factors for tree officers around the globe.

He went on tell BBC News “many cities measure the number of trees they plant as their main target for urban forests.

"That's not actually the real challenge; it a matter of planting them and keeping them alive and healthy."

He said that tree canopy targets were a good idea because they focused "on the cover that trees give us, rather than planting numbers."

Related Articles

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11th March 2020 - Darwin commences suburban streetscape beautification progam

8th March 2020 - Sunshine Coast to celebrate Parks Week with tree planting events

4th March 2020 - Totara Park tree planting contributes to greening Auckland

29th January 2020 - Shepparton residents urged to help trees during warmer weather

11th December 2019 - Latest IUCN reports that a quarter of eucalypt trees are threatened with extinction

24th October 2019 - City of Melbourne to progressively replace popular Plane Trees

13th October 2019 - Darwin set to plant 4000 trees to create green liveable spaces

17th September 2019 - Logan City Council takes action to protect endangered tree species

5th July 2019 - Massive tree planting has potential to tackle climate crisis

27th April 2019 - Sydney’s Bayside Council to plant 800 trees

7th March 2019 - Moree Plains Shire Council concerns over drought impact on established trees

31st December 2018 - World Forum on Urban Forests launches a global call to action

7th September 2018 - Melbourne to host Australia’s first urban forestry school

31st May 2018 - Brisbane City Council plants 2.5 million trees since 2007

31st May 2017 - $1.2 million City of Melbourne backing for Urban Forest Fund

14th April 2015 - Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy ‘the most compelling urban landscape project in Australia’

19th October 2009 - Urban trees deliver green benefits


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