November 19, 2017

A National Tree Charter for the UK

tree

In its written evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment – Building Better Places (published 19th February 2016), the Trees and Design Action Group proposed the need for a National Tree Charter or Framework incorporating trees in integrated urban solutions.

This proposal was inspired by the work of Frédéric Ségur and his team at the Greater (Grand) Lyon Authority and the second ‘Tree Charter’.  The Charter updates and develops the first Charter published in 2000 to reflect the environmental, social and economic conditions which have changed over the last decade or so. Notably, the strapline for the second charter is ‘Building a New Shared Urban Culture Together’ and this resonates with the challenges that we all face when trying to get urban trees as part of the DNA of proposals and solutions across all professions and decision makers in the urban environment.

The Charter recognises the relevance of urban forestry to all urban policy areas so that trees are an integral component of urban development for the many benefits that we now know urban trees can deliver as part of a service providing infrastructure.

A wide range of stakeholders are invited to sign the charter – land owners of both public and private land; built environment professionals and residents and users of the urban environment both as community groups and as individuals.

Lyon is looking to a sustainable future and shares an ambition to be amongst the world’s leading cities in urban greening.

The Charter sets out 8 key principles to create, manage and share today’s and tomorrow’s treescapes.

  1. Diversity: brining aesthetic, ecological and cultural value – for example, choosing the right tree for the right place.
  2. Permanence: providing year round landscape interest – for example, recognising the value of evergreens while also maximising the length of time deciduous trees are in leaf.
  3. Longevity: turning time into an ally – for example, extending the tree life expectancy by planting fewer trees better.
  4. Landscape dynamics: integrating ongoing change – for example, taking a long term approach to deliver ambitious landscape visions and enhance the ecological value and connectivity.
  5. Economy: controlling costs and expenditure – for example, the GLA aims to achieve a substantial reduction in routine maintenance costs
  6. Engagement: creating a shared urban culture – for example raising awareness and facilitating support for trees.
  7. Solidarity: using trees to strengthen communities – for example using trees to develop spatial justice and ensure a fair distribution of trees in all urban areas.
  8. Research and innovation: building a better future for trees and cities – for example, taking an approach to achieve continuous improvement through innovation.

Another important point that the Charter emphasises is the anticipated impacts of climate change and adapting species selection. For example, the climate of Lyon is likely to be more like that of present day Algiers. The Trees and Design Action Group is currently part of a research project looking at this for the UK.

Having set out the 8 Principles, the Charter then develops 5 Priority Areas for Action. These came out of discussions and consultations held during the Charter’s preparation. The aim in outlining areas for action is to provide signatories to the Charter with an easy-to-use starting point for developing their local action plans.

The Priority areas are:

  1. Building an evidence base – for example knowing what you have; understanding the implications of climate change on species selection; integrating trees and water management; reducing the safety risks associated with urban trees; limiting the use of soil from local farmland for growing trees.
  2. Putting evidence into practice – for example, diversifying the tree species; creating and promoting income generation through the management of urban woodlands and green space.
  3. Awareness raising – for example, publicising the benefits of urban trees.
  4. Facilitating cross-disciplinary collaboration – for example, developing cross disciplinary good practice guides (as TDAG has been doing) and reaching beyond the green sector for joint work on urban trees.
  5. Embedding Action into Policy and Statutory documents – for example, specifically including trees in Local Plans; standardising the adoption of a holistic approach to project costing; setting green space and canopy ratios for new public and private projects.

So what lessons does the Greater Lyon Tree Charter have for urban trees in the United Kingdom?

The approach to urban forestry set out in the Charter and the ongoing actions undertaken by the Greater Lyon Authority in developing and managing its urban forests is proof that urban forestry can be an integral part of and positive, cost-effective benefit to our urban environments. The approach to innovation is refreshing because important gains are made through a willingness to experiment, mostly very successfully, without recriminations for any adverse outcomes. Overall Lyon is demonstrating that it is amongst the leading cities in the world for urban greening. Should we not have the same ambition for our towns and cities?

The Greater Lyon Authority has 59 local boroughs with the Municipality of Lyon at its centre. It covers 200 square miles and has 1.3 million inhabitants.

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