14 July 2020

Urban trees are now widely recognised as essential urban infrastructure.  The benefits that trees provide to people who live and work in towns and cities have been extensively reported.  Many of these benefits can be valued and quantified, and many have yet to be fully identified and articulated.  Politicians at both national and local levels have responded with promises of large tree-planting programmes, based on numbers or canopy cover goals.

While such planting initiatives are to be welcomed, they are invariably spontaneous responses to a perceived need, with headlines in mind, rather than coherent, planned, and sustainable strategies focused on long-term urban forest development.  The question must be asked, ‘What other features of the urban realm, identified as essential infrastructure, would be replenished in such a haphazard and knee-jerk fashion?’

The urban forest master plan outlines a vision for the development of the urban forest.  It is place-specific, and outlines the aspirations of all stakeholders who enjoy its benefits.  It provides a long-term (20 years+) framework in which strategic plans, such as tree-planting programmes, can be developed.  Tree-planting programmes are just one element of urban forest management but, as part of a long-term urban forest management plan, these can be focused, strategised and, most importantly of all, help with the achievement of a long-term vision: ‘Where do we want to be in 5, 10, 20 years?’

The urban forest master plan must be devised in consultation with all stakeholder groups, ranging from the business community through to private householders; it will encompass all kinds of land, public or private.  It must be recognised that a significant percentage of the urban forest is invariably on private land, which is why wider consultation is fundamental to the creation of a vision for the urban forest.

Once a vision is agreed, the master plan can be divided into management periods, with goals and targets for those periods clearly outlined.  A series of indicators can then be put into place to monitor performance, and help progress towards the achievement of goals set for the management period and, ultimately, the bigger vision.  It is important that progress is monitored and reviewed on a regular basis, and actions modified as necessary.

Detailed analysis of urban forest master planning is beyond the scope of this blog.  It seems that the place of trees as an essential element of urban infrastructure is established and accepted by many in our society, including significant numbers of politicians and other decision makers.  What is not so widely accepted, however, is the need for a vision for the urban forest, and the long-term strategic planning required to achieve this.  The creation of an Urban Forest Master Plan fills this void and allows the full benefit of well-meaning initiatives such as mass tree-planting programmes to be realised, and directed towards the achievement of a sustainable and healthy urban forest, not only now but into the future.