Westminster City Council celebrated the planting of new trees in Bolsover Street, then a few days later cut off all of the spring growth from an entire row of mature trees in Foley Street. A new report encourages councils to better manage and put a real value on trees.

By Linus Rees

London Plane trees in Foley Street were pollarded during early April cutting off all the leaf growth
London plane trees in Foley Street were pollarded during early April cutting off all the leaf growth and could remain bare all summer.

Westminster City Council pollarded seven trees in Foley Street, Fitzrovia, cutting off all the spring growth during the week of Monday 4 April. As a result the trees will likely remain bare for the entire summer months and valuable shade and other benefits will be lost.

Street trees are regularly pruned or pollarded to maintain shape and for safety and is normally carried out during the winter months so as not to remove the spring growth and to disturb wildlife. But there are other considerations as well.

Only days before, representatives of Westminster City Council attended a ceremony to watch broadcaster Alan Titchmarsh plant the first of new Elm trees along Bolsover Street, only a few hundred metres away.

One resident who spoke to Fitzrovia News was disappointed with Westminster: “The council are quick to cosy up to celebrities with tree planting ceremonies but the day-to-day grind of maintaining our mature street trees properly is not something they find so attractive.”

Answering the criticisms about the Foley Street tree maintenance, Rosemarie MacQueen, Westminster Council’s Strategic Director for the Built Environment, said: “We carry out an extensive pruning programme over the winter, covering the whole city, to prevent trees from overgrowing. The trees in Foley Street are among the final ones to be trimmed as part of this work.

“Ideally we would have liked to complete this work a little earlier, however we would not have undertaken it unless the leaves would grow back over the summer months, and we fully expect this to be the case in Foley Street.

“The council is committed to maintaining and improving the city’s trees. This means managing those that are already in place and planting new trees in areas where they are needed. In the last couple of years we have planted over 280 trees in Marylebone for example to help reduce pollution in the area,” she said.

While the planting of new trees is to be welcomed small, young trees are not as valuable as big trees which provide far more environmental benefits.

Kenton Rogers of forestry consultants Hi-Line and one of the authors of a new report on the value of trees said: “Big trees like ones the Victorians planted for us are an asset we need to maintain. We need to not only manage these mature trees but also have a programme of planting trees.”

Spring growth. London Plane trees along Howland Street will provide shade and a pleasant walking environment. Large broad leaf trees like these provide natural air conditioning.
Spring growth. London plane trees along Howland Street will provide shade and a pleasant walking environment. Large broad leaf trees like these provide natural air conditioning. Photo taken on the same day as one above.

On the streets of London during the summer, the large broad leaf trees provide much more shade than small trees. The effect of this is that buildings are shaded from the sun and there is less need for air conditioning. Large trees and the vast of amount of shade they give just at the right time of year provide these much-needed environmental benefits.

Mr Rogers said that ideally trees should not be pruned at all. But in city streets that is not possible for a number of reasons.

“It is actually ok to prune plane trees in early spring; but pruning and pollarding should be rotated. If you have a row of seven trees then it would be better to pollard some of the trees one year and some the following year, and so on. That way you do not lose all the benefits of the canopy of leaves,” said Mr Rogers.

Research in Barcelona found that “by planting three mature trees per block of flats, the cost of the total energy needed to heat and cool a two-storey building can be reduced by €60 per year per home”.

The report also said that because leafy canopies can reduce the heat island effect in cities they in turn further reduce pollution. “The heat island effect is related to another environmental problem, the production of smog, as high temperatures speed up the formation of both smog and tropospheric ozone, which form a pollution cloud above cities that retains heat .”

In the UK, a report to be presented today will explain how a new system of measurement can reveal the true value of trees. “The system uses information gathered in the field to calculate the contribution of trees towards air quality improvement, and climate change adaptation, assigning a monetary value to these contributions.”

The report was based on a pilot study carried out in Torbay, Devon, and will be discussed at the Institute of Chartered Foresters’ ‘Trees, People and the Built Environment’ conference in Birmingham. A workshop on field techniques associated with i-Tree will take place at the Royal Geographical Society, London, in June.

Previously neighbouring Camden Council were criticised for pruning plane trees in Whitfield Gardens during April, resulting in bare trees in the summer.

Alan Titchmarsh has described the London plane tree as the City Lungs.

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