What is a tree planting strategy?

The title ‘Tree Planting Strategy’ is perhaps self-explanatory, but fails to fully articulate the complexities that can underpin such a document.  Strategic tree planting implies a plan which goes beyond a single planting season, but rather encompasses several.  Such a plan will have clearly stated aims and objectives, working towards a shared vision, which can be communicated to all stakeholders involved in the management of the urban forest.

Invariably, the aims, objectives and vision underpinning a tree planting strategy will vary from locality to locality.  The main purpose of a tree planting strategy is to ensure that the urban treescape is enhanced, sustainable, and resilient.  It therefore needs to take account of local conditions to ensure that tree planting is focused on local priorities, aims and objectives, with a route map to success outlined.

In its simplest form, the strategy can take the form of an Opportunity Map.  This is a desktop exercise, using GIS, where potential and actual plantable space is identified, highlighting the amount of plantable space in a given area.  Having identified this space remotely, the land owner or tree manager is able to begin to assess the numbers of trees it might be possible to plant.

This opportunity mapping also allows for comparisons to be made between different areas within the same locality, and for planting to be prioritised in those areas which have the greatest need (those with low tree canopy cover, for example).  This prioritisation can also extend to other factors, such as areas of multiple deprivation, flooding, air quality and low educational attainment, to name a few.  By prioritising in this way, the mitigation impact of new tree planting can be targeted to the areas of most need, thereby maximising return on planting budgets.

Opportunity mapping also provides a useful starting point from which to direct resources to potential planting sites, which will always need to be assessed on the ground to confirm whether the space identified is suitable for tree planting.

Aside from the ‘where to plant’, a full tree planting strategy should also cover ‘what to plant’, ‘how to plant’ and ‘when to plant’.  Other questions to consider are:  How can population diversity be increased?  How can ecosystem service delivery be maximised?  How can resilience to the impacts of pests and diseases be minimised?  How can the effects of climate change be mitigated?  A tree planting strategy can also allow for a maximum stocking level to be calculated, based on the maximum number of trees a particular locality can hold.  Planting can also be balanced to counter the natural and dynamic losses which inevitably occur in any tree population.

The above planning also enables the production of long-term procurement policies with best practice built into specifications.

Finally, tree planting strategies allow for long-term forecasting to take place.  This might include a consideration of what might happen to canopy cover over the next 30, 60 or 100 years, if no tree planting takes place, with the associated future benefits of tree planting calculated and scaled over time.  It is also possible to produce breakeven points to assess when tree planting will begin to deliver significant ecosystem and other benefits, and when the investment made in tree planting will begin to pay back both economically and socially.