Context and community support important for more trees on private land

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Local regulation and the level of community support play an integral role when it comes to the establishment and retention of trees on private land. 

That’s according to the University of Melbourne, which is leading a nine-month project funded by Hort Innovation using nursery industry levies and funds from the Australian Government.

Commencing in May 2019, the aim is to clarify which mechanisms may be suitable, and effective, for Australian local councils to consider in terms of establishing and retaining more trees on private land.

Phase one: understanding the lay of the land

Phase one of the project examined academic literature and current laws on tree establishment in urban areas, including an analysis of concepts and regulations from around the world. It found that the hierarchy of planning on private land could pose a concern to tree plantings, with inconsistencies between national, state, and local planning laws.

In Australia, it found that tree protection and establishment mechanisms varied from city to city. In all cases, planning regulations and policies were defined by the state. In other contexts, such as the UK, planning policies applied nationwide, with specific clauses related to the protection and retention of trees on private land.

In terms of protecting trees, it was positive to see this had become a greater focus for cities in recent years, incorporating a more holistic view on the importance of trees to their surrounds.  Many cities now take into account a tree’s impact on local wildlife and environment where previously it had been limited to a tree’s size, defined by its height, trunk size or canopy cover. Additionally, native trees, or trees with low representation in a city, were receiving more attention to be protected.

Still, the project showed that the removal of trees from private land posed a risk for strategies aimed at increasing the number of trees and canopy cover in urban areas where it is difficult to retain large amounts of trees on private land, so as not to hold back new developments or urban growth.

While the team identified a literature gap in this area, it will continue to assess a database of local and regional plans, policies and laws over the remaining months, to create a detailed report for Australian councils.

Phase two: insights from international roundtables

Most recently, the project hosted two roundtable discussions at leading conferences in Europe, including ‘Nature of Cities Summit’ in Paris, France and the ‘European Forum on Urban Forests’ in Cologne, Germany.

Representatives hailed from Australia, China, India, Latin America, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, with more than 20 ministerial staff, natural resource managers, town planners, academics, landscape consultants and representatives from community tree planting groups, attending the seminars, enabling a comprehensive and diverse discussion on the issue.

Attendees shared their experience and evaluation on retaining and protecting trees in private lands in cities and highlighted strong case studies.

While good examples emerged from UK, Brazil, South Africa and the United States, the group agreed there was no one size fits all solution. It found that context, such as legal systems, planning styles and community profiles, often defined a city’s approach to protect and retain trees on private land.

It was also evident that the best examples included cities that worked directly with the community to protect trees. As one participant described it “If communities do not stand up for their trees, there is very little we can do”. While a city may have developed good mechanisms to protect trees, the implementation and eventual success of these mechanisms were dependent on the community backing the local government.

Having community support and empowering local residents, businesses and schools to be proactive when it comes to protecting existing trees, will be instrumental for the Australian greenlife industry if it is to be a major catalyst for increasing green space in urban areas.

Next steps

The report of ‘Global review of incentive schemes for the retention and successful establishment of trees on private urban land’ (NY18002) will be available in December this year. It will include findings from the literature review, as well as a synthesis of the results from the two workshops held at the international conferences.

For more information, please contact Stephen Livesley, University of Melbourne at sjlive@unimelb.edu.au or 0439 615 772 OR Camilo Ordonez, 0437 639 749, camilo.ordonez@unimelb.edu.au