Protect our trees – and plant many more
Most of us feel a deep sense of loss when trees we're used to seeing every day are felled. Unfortunately, that's an experience all too familiar in Southwark, where many trees have come down over the past decade. The council's own figures show a net loss of around 1,400 street trees between 2013 and 2017 alone.
Southwark Transport Plan Annual Monitoring Report, 2016/17, p.45
Southwark Green Party has long campaigned to protect trees and green spaces. We welcomed the chance to reply to Southwark Council's recent consultation on its vision and objectives for tree management. The consultation has now closed, but you can read the draft Tree Management Policy on the council's consultation hub.
In March 2019 a motion to declare a climate emergency was passed unanimously by Southwark’s Council Assembly and committed Southwark to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
Southwark Green Party believes the council's policies on tree planting and management should be driven by this target. To achieve this, it is essential that mature trees are protected and many more trees are planted along our streets, on estates and in parks.
We were disappointed to find that Southwark's draft Tree Management Policy contains no mention of either the 2030 target or the declaration of a climate emergency. The document suggests that trees are something to be managed, while bringing "environmental benefits" and contributing to "local character". But trees can do so much more! Large-scale planting schemes could transform our streets, estates and green spaces, and play a crucial role in absorbing greenhouse gases and tackling the climate crisis.
So how can Southwark make this happen? Below are some of our proposals.
The greening of Southwark will require much improved cross-departmental cooperation within the council. For example, tree officers should be working more closely with the council's Planning department ahead of proposed new development. New trees and planting schemes are currently regarded as an afterthought by developers and planners, when they should be an integral part of all new building and planned at the same stage as other essential utilities. In particular, pavement width should be sufficient to allow for new street trees, and tall species favoured over smaller ones.
We would also like to encourage closer working between Highways and Tree departments, to protect existing trees (for example by creating build-outs when pavements are too narrow) and to plan for an increase in trees by incorporating tree planting into kerbside design, e.g. planting trees when installing cycle parking hangars, as is done in our neighbouring borough of Lambeth.
Bike hangar flanked by two new saplings in Lambeth
Protect what we have
Healthy mature trees must be protected from inappropriate redevelopment. Trees lost for reasons of disease or public safety should be replaced with species giving maximum canopy cover to offset carbon emissions, reduce air pollution and the urban heat island effect, and promote biodiversity. Too many large trees in Southwark are currently replaced with significantly smaller species. The choice of trees for replacement and new planting should include consideration of trees that provide food for insects and birds, as well as fruit trees where suitable.
We would like to see monitoring of trees where disease has been identified in its early stages as standard practice, in preference to immediate removal.
An avenue of carefully pollarded planes shades people walkng in summer heat in Pamplona, Spain.
Manage with care
Large street trees in Southwark are pollarded every three years, and sometimes more often. In many cases, every tree in a street is brutally cut back. We would like to see tree work reduced to once every five years where practical, and opposite sides of a street put on different pollarding cycles, so that streets are not left bare of canopy.
At present, pollarding regularly takes place during spring and summer, and Southwark Greens are strongly opposed to this. Except in rare cases on grounds of safety, pollarding should be restricted to winter months (November to February) to preserve tree canopy and protect nesting birds and other species.
Better deals for trees
The council is not getting value for money from contractors responsible for aftercare, with many new trees dying through lack of watering in early years. Maintenance should be carried out by the council and not by sub-contractors, and external contracts should not be renewed on termination.
Developers should be required to fund planting and maintenance of trees for 10 years after construction. There should be better protection of existing street trees during construction work, and a presumption by the council to reject further applications by developers that are responsible for unauthorised destruction of existing trees and/or non-compliant with planting and maintenance agreed as part of any previous planning permission.
Space left for a tree alongside pavement on Kimpton Street, SE5
Keep local people in the loop
Improved communication is needed in advance of tree work. Felling of mature trees should be given the same importance as the demolition of a building, with residents notified in advance in writing and invited to comment. Applications and comments should be published on Southwark Council's website, along with details of final decisions taken by tree officers, also stating when and with what species the felled tree will be replaced. In addition, we would like to see better signage on trees ahead of tree work, with more information about the reasons for the work, plus an online register of forthcoming work. We suggest that providing clear, accessible and timely information to residents would reduce the burden on officers of dealing with ad hoc queries.
With improved communication should come greater involvement by local residents in the planting and protection of street trees. Southwark has not yet established a borough-wide street champions scheme, despite previous support for this. We are lagging behind other boroughs in encouraging community involvement, which elsewhere has resulted in a significantly increased treescape. For example, in Lewisham, nearly 200 new street trees are being planted this winter under the Street Trees for Living scheme, set up in 2011 with the help of the Brockley Society. We would like to see similar projects in Southwark – with funding from the council's Cleaner, Greener, Safer grants – run by Tenants & Residents Associations and other community groups. Events such as guided walks and work with children to plant and care for saplings should be used to promote awareness of such projects.