Ask The Expert: Tree Constraints Or Tree Opportunities?

Ask The Expert: Tree Constraints Or Tree Opportunities?

Verena Meyer, Principal Arboriculturist and Landscape Architect at Enzygo Ltd, says we should try to change the way we are thinking about trees on development sites.

Since its first publication in 1980, British Standard 5837 has done a lot for trees on prospective development sites in terms of their appreciation, retention and protection. But since its last version, dated 2012, the work of us Arboriculturists has evolved beyond technical surveying and drawing up design solutions. We, together with Landscape Architects, now actively ask developers with appropriate sites to consider increasing the local tree population, not just for the “greater good” but with their own commercial interests in mind.

Tree Surveys for developments is what is often referred to the “bread and butter” for an Arboricultural Consultant. A validation requirement for most Planning Applications which cover sites with trees (even if it’s just one) is to present the site’s arboricultural restrictions, the location of moderate and high value trees (and legally protected ones), their canopy spread and their so-called Root Protection Areas. All referred to as “Tree Constraints”.

But why “constraints”? Because it limits where and what you can build on a site, potentially dictating where you may have to spend more money due to specialist construction methodologies having to be used in close proximity to any retained trees. The pressure on development land is huge, and trees are only one consideration, alongside flood risks, the presence of protected species and visual impact, to name but a few.

Development sites are almost always selected with its “opportunities” in mind. The presence of trees is now being seen as less of a constraint and increasingly more of an opportunity, switching sides so to speak. The benefits of trees are well-known and well-documented, and there is a reason why, generally, people prefer to live and work where the tree population is not just present but mature, healthy and of significant quantity. Furthermore, there’s a reason why cities promote themselves as “green cities”, strive for a “high quality green infrastructure” or an “above-average canopy cover”. Therefore, Tree Officers are being more vigilant than ever when it comes to tree removal and replacement planting, with national planning policies backing up their mission to enhance overall canopy cover and tree populations within urban areas.

This is why a proactive, tree-sensitive design and construction approach will, for the foreseeable future, be looked at favourably by any Planning Officer who not only have housing targets, but targets for woodland cover in their district, often closely tied to objectives linked to climate change, biodiversity, wellbeing, flooding, air pollution and social economic strategies. Several councils and regions have even gone as far as creating a tree planting “manifesto”, setting up schemes like “City of Trees” in Manchester and the “White Rose Forest” in North and West Yorkshire.

It is indisputable that, to meet the increased demands for land use such as housing, some trees have to be removed, something that any sensible Tree Officer and Arboricultural Consultant will acknowledge. But those professionals also know where they have to or should stay, and where they limit the impact on parameters such as ecological networks, views, local character or flood risk.

Experienced developers will be very familiar with the concept of retention and protection of existing mature trees. Relatively new though is the ambition of councils to not only protect their canopy cover, but also to increase it. This goes beyond replacement ratios for lost Tree Preservation Order (TPO) trees, but intends to actively promote more tree planting on a site and stretches as far as “woodland creation” for some sites.

Clearly, this isn’t about inner-city infill sites, but brownfield regeneration and sensitive greenfield development. Increasing the canopy cover on these should not only be seen as an obligation (or in fact a “constraint”), but as a significant opportunity. Making more space for trees and woodland raises the profile of a development in so many ways, not only allowing the developer to “do their bit” for the area but also to gain from it directly, for example where trees are used to reduce the flood risk of a site. It is also worth exploring opportunities for grant funding for new tree and woodland planting, as this is available both for small and large-scale schemes.

With their wide range of qualifications, experience and skills, the multi-disciplinary teams at Enzygo are very well placed to help identify constraints and opportunities linked to trees, ecology, flood risk, landscape, noise and air pollution, and to develop technical designs and solutions which enable our clients to maximise a site’s potential for tree retention, tree protection and tree planting.

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