LARGE STREET TREES are London’s frontline defence against pollution. They provide shade and reduce temperatures – combating the urban heat island effect.
Following Ken Livingstone’s example, Mayor Boris Johnson seemed to understand some of this and the way trees improve the look and feel of our communities, when he pledged 10,000 of them by 2012.
So it’s worrying that tree maintenance is insufficient and often inappropriate.
To save money, boroughs are pruning less often and allowing contractors to use chainsaws and leave amputated stumps. The result being that trees are no longer either attractive nor environmentally effective.
I first raised this issue four years ago when I branded what I was seeing as a “chainsaw massacre”. Problems are about to get worse as the Government slashes council budgets further.
Jim Smith of the Forestry Commission told the London Assembly’s environment committee last week that the issues raised in the Chainsaw Massacre report four years ago “are still there”.
A concerned resident, Jessica Laurence, was spot on when she told the committee:
“the butchery of the tracery is really unacceptable and without neighbourhood consultation.”
The real fear now is that with financial constraints, more maintenance budgets will be cut and more trees massacred.
There is an alternative approach for boroughs. Islington, which has the lowest level of green space in the capital, is a shining example of what can be done.
The borough has placed a monetary value on its stock of street trees, currently around £110m. This valuation is used to assess the damage caused by developers and others and for calculating the necessary financial compensation – protecting the trees’ environmental and aesthetic qualities.
The culture in Islington is summed up by the council tree officers‘ mission statement:
“We will protect, promote, care for and improve Islington’s Urban Forest by managing the trees for the long term benefit of the community.”
We need every borough to adopt this example of good practice and for trees to be seen as an asset and managed as such.
Since the Assembly discussed this I have already been urged to campaign on what is obviously an issue people care greatly about.
What do you think? Have you noticed a deterioration in the trees in your area? Please get in touch and let me know by leaving a comment.
Nicky Gavron AM
Londonwide London Assembly Member
Labour Spokesperson for Housing and Planning
For examples of bad practice, take a look at these photos.