Bristol Street Trees

If Bristol is to be a green capital we must halt the felling and plant large trees

Across Britain, street trees are being removed at an alarming rate.

In Bristol, many are never replaced and when replanting does occur, it is often with smaller trees that will not achieve the stature of those that were removed. In an effort to avoid compensation and reduce maintenance costs the majestic London Planes and Limes that define our city are being replaced with gardenesque flowering Cherries, Rowans and Birches. Large trees bring huge benefits for the community: beyond the aesthetic, they absorb particulates and noise, they provide protection against extremes of hot and cold, they are an ecological resource and they absorb water run off and reduce flooding. Their health benefits are significant, and their presence has been shown to reduce anti-social behaviour and crime.

Most large city trees on private land are protected by law: street trees are not. The character of our city is changing through death by a thousand cuts. Often the trees that are most needed, such as on busy thoroughfares, have few champions. Only those who want to see trees removed have a stake in the debate. Unproven compensation claims for subsidence result in the removal of trees, when the real problem is that Victorian houses were built without adequate foundations. Bristol City Council needs to force a change in the compensation culture that is responsible for the loss of so many street trees. This needs to be done, not only through the legal process but also by making it socially unacceptable to press for the removal of trees. Those who live in an area with trees should recognise the benefits and likewise accept the risks or move out. Bristol City Council needs to be robust in the defence of trees.

The last time that large numbers of street trees were planted was in the early 1970s, when more than 2,000 were planted. Before that the Victorians, with a vision for the future, planted many of the avenues and landmark trees that grace our city. A third period of planting is now needed. This should be bold and dynamic and provide the city with landmark trees and avenues for the future.

Street trees are urban assets not financial liabilities. We need a process of public consultation before the removal of any street tree and in street tree planting; in the choice of species, the location of new trees, and finding funding for new or replacement trees. Bristol City Council needs to develop a street tree strategy through a proper process for public consultation. We need a simple procedure for planting street trees and the various departments to work together. Once this mechanism is in place, funds can be raised as they were in the 1970s. We can then replace missing trees and take advantage of new opportunities. Every new highways project should have a street tree component. For every showcase bus route we need a showcase tree route.

A grand gesture such as a dramatic avenue should kick start a new golden age of planting.