A Strategy for Urban Trees by Dr John Flannigan


in Expert Articles, Love Trees, Opinion

Our deep connection to trees has been irrefutably acknowledged during the campaign to protect our Public Forest Estate.

An opportunity by way of a 2011 ‘Independent Panel’ now exists, to discuss the identified need to address the disparity of funding and attitude towards our Urban Trees.

Dr John Flannigan has kindly agreed for SOW to publish his following comments, which are highly relevant at the present moment.

The various strands that make up Arboriculture are complex but the outcome of effective amenity tree care is enhanced quality of life. Sadly, the drawing together of these strands into an effective strategic framework for Arboriculture is something that has never been undertaken resulting in less effective tree care. This lack of strategic direction is the single most important issue facing Arboriculture in the UK at the moment and is something that needs to be addressed.

It is useful to take the Forestry Commission as a benchmark for strategic tree management. They have a vision about why woodlands should be managed, how they should be managed and recognise challenges that face them in their quest. The FC also provides grants, has its own research facilities and administers tree protection legislation. Regional conservancies operate to manage local issues. The FC is a good model with a proven history.

Having strategic perspective has enabled the FC to adapt to the changing economic market and their focus is now moving towards ‘amenity’ issues. These are all for trees that are probably visited by only a few of the UK population.

In contrast UK Arboriculturists manages trees in the urban environment where about 90% of residents live. Bearing in mind the positive impact that these trees have on peoples’ lives and the environment it is inexplicable that no strategic direction is available for Arborists.

Rather than focus on the reasons why this position exists it is more productive to consider the benefits that central, strategic guidance would bring.
  1. WE would know why we manage amenity trees.
  2. We would understand better the benefits they bring and therefore their value.
  3. We would be able to manage trees more effectively so these benefits are spread more fairly and are sustainable.
  4. We could effectively address challenges that face Arboriculture.

The recent collapse of the National Urban Forestry Unit, (NUFU) is evidence that ‘ad hoc’ groups supported through membership subscriptions or charity donations are simply not viable for overseeing the strategic management of urban trees. A strategic approach to tree management in urban areas is so important that the current situation is inadequate and needs to be addressed.

In order to achieve this position it would seem appropriate for arboriculture to be represented within the Forestry Commission.

In addition to the much needed strategic direction there would be practical benefits. Tree planting grants could be extended to Local Authorities for street tree planting for example, where many residents would experience benefits on a daily basis. Research scientists could use some of their resources to consider some of the unique issues that face Arborists and the trees they manage.

The process itself of developing a strategic framework for arboriculture would have many benefits. Issues that affect the sustainable management of trees would be considered, tree populations could be accurately measured, and residents’ attitudes to these trees could be evaluated. Crucially, the effectiveness of standard Arboricultural practices could also be re- examined. For example, do Tree Preservation orders work? Is subsidence a threat to trees? Could risk management be better addressed?

The urban tree population has such a positive effect on quality of life in the UK that the failure to address its long term needs through strategic planning causes injustice to residents and harm to the environment. This must be countered by adapting existing resources to make a dedicated Tree Commission for the benefit of all.



Dr John Flannigan

Further work by Dr John Flannigan includes the co-authored ‘Residents’ Attitudes Toward Street Trees in the UK and U.S. Communities’ http://ddr.nal.usda.gov/bitstream/10113/27758/1/IND44184608.pdf



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