3 February 2021

Local authorities and other land owners such as housing associations are now using evidence-based assessments to produce tree planting strategies. However, they are only just in the majority; at a recent webinar we hosted, only 53% of respondents said their community had one. So why are such strategies necessary and indeed critical for the benefits associated with tree planting to be realised?

At this moment in time, tree planting is very fashionable with politicians, at both national and local level, rather belatedly but commendably recognising that trees provide many benefits and are an essential part of urban infrastructure. However, planting targets are often reduced to promises based on numbers, such as ‘Across the country we will plant 22,000 large trees and 28,000 small trees from Thanet to Middlesborough and Merseyside to Bristol’ (first round of the government’s tree planting challenge 2020), or the aim to increase the Capital’s tree canopy cover by 10% by 2050 (Sadiq Khan, London Assembly).

The DEFRA England Tree Strategy Consultation document is now in the public domain and causing consternation among the many practitioners who would aspire to comment constructively. Heavily weighted towards woodland creation and forestry, the consultation document does mention a government commitment that ‘all new streets should be lined with trees’ and the fact that the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission recommended ‘the planting of more street trees, the creation of urban orchards, and the planting of fruit trees for homes’.

Such aspirations are to be welcomed, but often they are not based on any factual information as to what is there now, nor any real knowledge as to whether such aspirations are actually achievable. Or indeed, whether the desired benefits (if any have been identified) can, or ever will, be achieved. In short, there is rarely a coherent planting strategy in place.

With ‘desired benefits’ in mind, we asked our webinar group what would be their highest priority, when thinking about a tree planting strategy. 38% reported ‘environmental benefits’, for 35% it was ‘species diversity’, and for 17% ‘climate change’. A comprehensive strategy would be able to deliver on all of these benefits.

So, what does a tree planting strategy offer?

The process can be divided into several elements:

A vision: what is wanted, based on a thorough understanding of what is there now

Goals: these need to be achievable and deliverable

An action plan: where to plant, what to plant, how to plant, management and maintenance

A monitoring and review process

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Such strategising offers several advantages:

A clear vision
Realistic and achievable goals
The opportunity for informed species selection
Informed planting techniques
Planning for management and maintenance
Progress monitoring

Above all, such a strategy can be communicated to stakeholders, imparting an understanding of why certain decisions have been made and why certain areas have been prioritised for planting.

The first stage is desk based, with opportunity mapping being carried out. This asks questions such as what space is available and where it is. Planting priorities can then be established with programmes prepared according to local needs, aims and objectives.

Treeconomics’ work with the London Borough of Islington provides a useful case study. During this project, opportunity mapping was undertaken, and potential planting space identified on a ward-by-ward basis, with priority planting areas identified according to a range of indicators. To see a copy of the strategy, click here.

For more information about Tree Planting Strategies, please see our webinar recording ‘Webinar 2: Tree Planting Strategies: helping you achieve your canopy goals, and more…