The below article is reproduced with the kind permission of its author Heather Williams. It was first published in the March 2015 edition of Ruthin Town and Around.
Trees are powerful and versatile natural assets which have many different benefits. They help to create attractive towns, improve health and well-being, connect people with nature, remove pollutants and dust from the air, provide shade and cooling, provide a habitat for birds and insects – and even increase property values.
The importance of trees in the urban environment is, therefore, significant – and it is for this reason that an interesting survey has recently been conducted by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), in an attempt to help to understand more about the tree cover in towns and cities in Wales. Using nationwide aerial photography, NWR identified and mapped the leafy crown spread of the trees in our towns and cities. Wales is, in fact, the first country in the world to complete a survey of canopy cover in its urban area. NRW has now produced a fascinating report which, it hopes, will help a range of key groups and organisations plan and manage trees in urban areas in a better way.
Some interesting facts emerge from the study
- Town size has little effect on canopy area.
- Landscape character strongly influences existing tree cover – often low in coastal towns.
- 55 out of our 220 towns show an overall decline in canopy cover between 2006 and 2009.
- Some 11,000 large amenity trees were lost over 3 years, possibly due to increasing development pressure, or trees planted by the Victorians coming to the end of their lives.
- Just 1% of all tree cover is found in areas of high-density housing – often our most deprived areas. Private residential gardens make up 34% of Wales’ towns and cities – gardens provide 21% of all urban tree cover.
- Public open space hosts 46% of all tree cover in our communities despite making up only 20% of urban land. 27% of graveyards and cemeteries are covered by tree canopy.
- Transport routes (including verges and pavements) make up 23% of urban land but they have tree cover of only 8%. Motorised traffic causes much of the urban air and surface water pollution –which trees have the ability to remove.
- 44% of total canopy cover is provided by woodland, with ‘amenity’ trees accounting for the rest. Where high tree cover does occur at ward level, it’s often attributed to areas of woodland. Such woodlands can sometimes be unmanaged and inaccessible.
Urban canopy cover in Wales was estimated at 16.9% in 2009 – mid-range in world rankings – with the total cover varying dramatically across the country. Denbighshire County recorded cover of 12.3% – which was similar to 13 other counties (22 counties in Wales). There was an interesting variation of tree cover within the county –high canopy cover recorded in Llangollen with 27.9% and St Asaph with 18.4%, whereas Denbigh had 8.6%, Rhuddlan had 7.4% and Rhyl had just 6%.
Ruthin had 12% tree cover, and was not considered to be well-endowed. I found this a surprising fact as my impression is that the town has quite a lot of trees. We have the park at Cae Ddol, Ruthin Castle grounds and a significant number of trees at the schools in the town. In the 1990s the Civic Association was involved with tree planting schemes at local primary schools. But maybe it is the lack of trees in the streets, as well as gardens, which gives Ruthin a poor tree cover as compared to some other towns.
Denbighshire is one of the counties with the greatest canopy cover and tree loss over the three year survey period (2006-2009). Further work needs to be carried out in the county to examine why over 50% of the towns in Denbighshire show a decrease in canopy (and reflected tree count loss) – in particular in Ruthin, Rhuddlan, St Asaph and Denbigh.
Natural Resources Wales plans to build on the work which it has carried out and to promote a strategic approach to managing urban trees, and to planting more trees where they will deliver the greatest benefits. To this end NRW is committed to working with colleagues in the Welsh Government and in the public, third and private sector organisations throughout Wales. Urban trees are a shared responsibility and NRW hopes that by carrying out this study and disseminating the results local communities will take an active part in making sure that trees are valued as a useful resource.
So what can we do in Ruthin? In terms of the Civic Association, the Committee monitors planning applications. Some planning applications may be for the removal or works to trees included in a Tree Preservation Order or in a Conservation Area. Sometimes development is proposed which involves the removal of trees. Others may involve development which is too close to trees – which might ultimately lead to requests to fell trees. We obviously need to make appropriate comments on any of these applications affecting trees. Individual members can ensure that if trees do have to be felled (eg dangerous as dropping branches/reached their maturity), more suitable species are planted in their place. And of course, additional suitable trees can be planted in gardens – but not too close to the house!