CA-WN 20 June 2024 meeting report

CA-WN 20 June 2024 meeting report
On Thursday evening at the Northampton Guildhall our friends at the Umbrella Fair 1000 Voices campaign have organised a hustings to allow local residents to question election candidates, which CA-WN is co-sponsoring. More information here or on our What's On listing. This is a great opportunity to find out if our potential future MPs have the right priorities.

Our guest speaker for June was Russell Horsey, a Chartered Arboriculturist and Urban Forester. He has many years experience working with trees in the public sector, private sector and with community groups. Recently he has been working as a consultant to West Northants Council on developing their Tree Strategy. The meeting was recorded and is available on the CA-WN YouTube channel1.

Present: Alexina Cassidy, Ella Sage, Harry Mellor, Jane Wood, Leonie Beale, Maria Lee, Mark Thompson, Mick Lorkins, Mike Longman, Patsy Hollingum, Peter Conquest, Philip Ward, Richard Hollingum, Rupert Knowles, Sue Carverhill.

Apologies: Briony Askew, Clare Robertson-Marriott, Clare Slater, Emmie Williamson

Russell has been a Chartered Arboriculturist for around 25 years. He is also trained in urban forestry, which is the management of trees in urban areas, including parks, highways, hedgerows etc. He worked in local government in London and Bristol for 20 years, then set up a consultancy2 which works with councils to help them improve their services, and also does a lot of work with communities to get involved in tree planting.
He has been working in WN for some years; there has been no Tree Officer for a long time, but one has very recently been appointed (Paul Fountain).  
The role of Tree Officer has changed over the years - they used to just deal with complaints about trees, but there is now wider appreciation of the benefits trees bring, such as cleaning the air, shade, even slowing down traffic if planted in the right place. A Tree Strategy is a good way to bring all these things together across different council departments. However the wrong type of trees in the wrong place, such as big trees in small spaces, do still present problems so this needs to be managed too.

WNC Tree Strategy

Benefits to having a Tree Strategy include planning planting better, reducing trees lost to developments, and helping council teams deliver what they need to do, including improving health and well-being. Trees can cut pollution entering people’s homes from roads, and improve general well-being.
Lots of policies and strategies tie in with the Tree Strategy. Locally this includes the Corporate Plan, new Local Plan, and Local Nature Recovery Strategy.
At the national level trees come under DEFRA, which may not be the right place as trees tend to come quite low down the priority list compared to farming. The Dept of Health might be a better home, recognising the benefits of trees for health. In recent years significant budget cuts have affected parks and other open spaces.  
There is an England Trees Action Plan being rolled out3, and the Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG)4 regulations are relevant to trees, though trees don’t score very highly for BNG.

There wasn’t much knowledge about existing trees in WN, so the first step was a canopy cover map5. This shows canopy at ward or parish level and also by Lower layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs)  - each of these has a population of around 1500, so vary a lot in area. This is how other data available e.g. about pollution, health, and inequality, is arranged. As government grants tend to be targeted at certain things e.g. flooding or pollution, aligning to other data helps to identify suitable areas.
There was a significant amount of consultation which a lot of people engaged with. As well as an online consultation, there were workshops for town and parish councils, and training for council members.
Canopy cover survey provides baseline data on current tree cover before setting a planting area target. 30% is a figure often used as desirable level of canopy cover, as there is research showing that this level of tree cover provides significant health benefits. Some places have simply used that as a target. There is a tendency also to rush to set targets for the number of trees planted but this needs to take into account the amount of land available for planting.
Water, hard paved areas, SSSIs and sports pitches all have to be taken out as these won’t be planted. For WN they also chose to remove areas of farmland, as WNC would need to buy this up in order to plant and doesn’t have the funds – however there is an assumption that farmers will choose to plant some trees.
This process resulted in 81% of WN land area being identified as unsuitable for planting. The current canopy cover is 9%, there is potential for another 10% to be planted, so the target being recommended is 20% (yet to be approved). This includes an allowance for trees being planted by farmers in existing hedgerows, or as part of agro-forestry schemes.
The Tree Strategy team is intended also to tie in with Tree Equity6, which scores areas for social deprivation, heat island effect and health. This only exists in urban areas at present. 100 is a good score but some parts of Northampton only score 50 or 60. Again this provides the opportunity to identify which areas should be targeted.

Consultation findings
Hundreds of people responded to the consultation and attended workshops.

Issues identified
-          Disjointed working; historically trees managed through a number of different contracts
-          Inadequate knowledge of existing assets (how many trees does WNC have?)
-          Planning and development eg no tree replacement standard to deal with trees lost to development
-          Highways don’t want to replace trees but there is public demand for this. The best place to put trees is in highways close to homes.
-          It’s believed there are a lot of mature trees on private land. Now we have a baseline this will be looked at again in a few years to see if the level is changing.
-          Lack of skills and expertise within the council. This will be addressed now they have appointed a Tree Strategy Officer. More staff may need to be recruited. There aren’t enough resources at present to manage existing trees or plant new ones, but there are opportunities to apply for grants.
-          Pests and diseases especially ash dieback are having a significant impact.

-          There is cross party support to do something about trees
-          Lots of local groups want to do something about trees these just need to be joined up. Parishes and towns are keen to do something but lack expertise. WNC can help to provide this and work in partnership with volunteers.
-          Most people responding to the survey like trees – there is increasing public awareness of the benefits of trees, as opposed to the inconvenience of dropping leaves and creating unwanted shade.
-          Responses were received from right across WN. A lot of people, both parish councils and local residents, were interested in planting trees and are aware of the benefits in terms of flood management, air quality and shade.

How many trees is enough?
Many people think there are already enough trees in their area – why is this when data shows canopy cover is not that high?
Looking into this further it might be because there has sometimes been the wrong approach to putting in trees, with poorly designed planting and not enough thought to aftercare. Underneath the Strategy there will be guidance documents – to be produced as part of an action plan in the next few years. Currently there are a number of processes within the council that don’t work very well, so attention needs to be given to fixing these too.

Parish Council views
Around 80 town and parish councils engaged in workshops on the strategy. Issues they identified included:
-          Lack of expertise within PCs to manage trees.
-          Planning. In some cases land was taken on by parishes when the former County Council got into financial trouble, but lack of expertise within parishes means they are at a disadvantage when dealing with developers, which can result in problems for example where parishes take on poorly designed open spaces within new developments. This has been fed back to Planning. Training will be offered to town and parish councils and to other groups where appropriate.
-          Current process for Highways to plant and replace trees is not working, and there were concerns about WNC not managing their own trees effectively. This needs to be addressed alongside any plans to plant more trees.

Next steps
The strategy is in draft, some changes to be made with the new tree officer, then it will go through internal council review before going out to consultation in September. There will be a week of workshops in the 2nd week of September, venues tbc. 

Q&A on the Tree Strategy
How do you measure canopy cover – with drones? Does this pick up the age of trees?
Using aerial photography analysed by AI, and LiDAR (light detection and ranging). This picks up anything over 3.5 m tall. Drones could be used in the future but not yet and there are rules about using these in urban areas.

Does it identify species?
Not yet but this is being worked on, initially with the aim of looking for trees that are stressed due to pests and disease. The technology has already improved immensely.

Will you carry on working with the new Tree Officer at WNC?
Yes, as a consultancy we have been working in WN with community groups for a long time so we are very invested in the area. 

Can you please clarify the treatment of farmland for canopy cover?
We have treated the top 3 classes of farmland as not suitable for tree planting.

I can see this approach is suitable for arable land but what about livestock grazing, animals need shade. Can more be done with local farmers to encourage them to look for opportunities to plant trees?
We have had to be careful as WNC only has one tree officer at present and they need to prioritise fixing issues within WNC and working with town and parish councils. Other organisations do cover agriculture– government stewardship teams, and the Forestry Commission has teams working with farmers. The strategy talks about the potential benefits but WNC cannot afford to go out and buy farms. This is something that needs to be handled very carefully. As an example the policy for 10% set-aside and 10% canopy cover in Wales has been very badly communicated and has the Welsh government and NFU at loggerheads. We should learn from that experience and tread carefully.
We do expect some farmland of all classes to be planted.

Is there a way of demonstrating the potential financial benefit of trees?
We are recommending that the council adopt CAVAT, a replacement valuation system widely used across the UK, which assigns a value to trees based on size in order for developers to compensate appropriately for mature trees lost. Also recommending a better replacement system where trees are lost due to planning. Data on location, type, age of trees can be used for a system called i-Tree, which looks at carbon capture, rainwater interception etc.
Assessing the value of carbon capture is difficult as trees don’t really take up lots of carbon. Natural capital is starting to be talked about in the water industry but it is early days. An international certification process (Verra) for offsetting carbon using trees has been found to be seriously flawed.
It was thought that BNG might provide finance for tree-planting but in most cases the 10% BNG requirement is being squeezed into developments (e.g. as ponds) rather than going to landowners to plant trees.

Community planting

There is a tendency for government and NGOs to want to plant millions of trees but this is a waste of money if they are not properly maintained. In some cases planting less can be better. We can use canopy targets to assess how many trees survive – canopy doesn’t increase if trees die. There have been well publicised examples of tree planting schemes failing as the trees were not cared for. 

Case study - Victoria Park, Bristol, 2012.
This park contained a football pitch and some large trees around the edge. The proposal was new avenues of trees designed to be inexpensive to maintain and to avoid creating any hazards. The trees are set 6-7 metres back from the path so they don’t create hiding places when they are bigger, and are planted 15-16 metres apart so they won’t touch and there is no need to remove some of them later. Historically the practice has been to plant trees closer together and 10-15 years later remove some. If this isn’t done due to budget constraints the trees become unhealthy.
Another corner of the park has been planted with three field maples to provide shade.
All the trees planted were heavily watered for three years and 10 years on we are starting to see the canopy develop. The football pitch has not been affected at all but the new avenue of trees creates much needed shade as the weather gets hotter.

Case study - Far Cotton in Northampton.
A lot of street trees were planted in this area in the 1960s and 70s but these were mainly fairly short lived species such as plums, cherries and rowans. As they died and were cut down, there were just stumps left. This is better than removing the tree altogether as it stops utilities running pipes and cables through tree pits which means they can never be replanted. Russell worked with Alice Whitehead who set up a campaign group called Save Our Street Trees. It took 2.5 years to put in the first trees due to bureaucracy. They selected trees that wouldn’t get too big for the spaces – cultivars have been developed now that are narrow, or wineglass-shaped. Alice did a communication to local residents about which tree pits were identified for planting, and residents with a site outside their house were given a choice of three suitable trees to pick what they wanted. Due to the presence of utilities, contractors have to be brought in to plant the trees – 30 have now been planted. Residents were given watering cans and shown how to water the trees, as a result of the good level of care all the trees have become established within two years (usually takes three).
One tree has been vandalised by a new resident, all the others are doing very well.
There are other groups in WN wanting to do the same thing, but Russell is advising them to wait until the new Tree Officer improves the processes as currently it takes too long and is too expensive.

Case study - Wootton Parish Council, 2023
This is a semi-rural area where one of the parish councillors, Helen Hodgkinson7, was keen to plant some trees. Helen did a lot of consultation with residents. They selected three varieties of tree that would be suitable and ended up going with a disease resistant elm cultivar ‘New Horizon’. They now know that this provides habitat for the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly which is endangered in the UK. On the planting day 70-80 people including the local primary school came out all day to help.
This year they completed the project with another line of trees. None of the trees have been lost. The project funding (from Urban Tree Challenge Fund) covers watering for 3 years and some residents have also been watering. Again the trees are set back from the path, not near lampposts, and widely spaced. The trees were planted in an open space between housing estates, and as a result the space has come to life, being more well-used by dog-walkers and others.

Case study – East Marsh, Grimsby, 2023
This project took place in an area of east Grimsby with high levels of deprivation and extremely low canopy cover, around 3%. The project partner was a new start up interested in housing not trees. They were set up to buy run down houses, do them up and rent them at socially affordable rents. However they recognised they needed to do more for the area as a whole. The local council thought the project wouldn’t work as trees planted in the area before had all been vandalised.
East Marsh spoke to lots of local people and there was so much interest that for the first tree-planting day 200 people turned up to plant 30 trees. Residents are now watering the trees. One tree has been lost as it didn’t take but the rest have survived into a second year and are doing well. They have all been very heavily caged due to the risk of vandalism.
In winter 2024 they planted in 8 schools in the area. There was a design plan for each school, with in some cases children helping with the design. East Marsh staff are now getting skilled up to plant trees themselves. Bear in mind that with a large project like this logistics are an issue as there needs to be room to store a lot of trees (96) and kit. It’s great to plant in schools and encourage the next generation – young people can do a lot more than you think. Children with a stake pounder and helmets are not dangerous if supervised. In that area many kids don’t have gardens or easy access to green space. Children can do most of the work - carry the trees, dig the holes, do the watering, and they really enjoy it. As part of the project, the children were told about why trees are important and what the benefits are. East Marsh are now doing more education work in schools.

Overall message is that community planting is very rewarding, and shouldn’t be something to be scared of. Russell recommended a report he worked on called ‘Greening Up’ from an organisation called Create Streets8. This has been sent to the government, it talks about what the issues are and where changes need to be made, plus it includes some very useful information and case studies.

Earlier this year a ‘tree harvesting’ event using an approach pioneered by Dutch group More Trees Now was held in Martin More Woods in Northampton. That was planted up 16 years ago with oak trees about 2m apart, so badly needs thinning out. Bruce Durham of Harborough Woodland Volunteers has a view that farmers are nervous of councils and see them as getting in the way. How to engage with farmers?
Suggest starting with young farmers as they are being taught slightly differently. Older farmers who are interested in planting trees are probably already doing it. Example in Wales of farmers planting shelter belts which not only has benefits to wildlife but also resulted in sheep fattening up more quickly – they enjoyed the shelter and although some area of pasture was lost the remaining grass was better quality as it was watered better.
Trees that are harvested using this method are too small to use in urban settings, so perhaps look at whether they can be grown on in bags or Air-Pots. They need to be 2 m tall to be put into urban areas and caged.  

Does this type of harvesting and finding homes for them feature in the Tree Strategy?
This isn’t really part of the Tree Officer’s role. Suggest talking to the Forestry Commission Woodland Creation Officers as they are paid to go out and talk to farmers and could promote the availability of volunteer help.
We are currently seeing community nurseries being set up without necessarily having a market, and the Scottish government’s budget for trees has been cut so that is likely to result in a lot of surplus trees.

As a resident of rural South Northants I see that farmers love to look after hedgerows with close clipping and the few trees that were growing out of hedges have died and are not being replaced. What are your thoughts on this, it would be a way of increasing cover?
The Tree Council ran a scheme a few years ago where local groups were going out and finding farmers who were interested in planting in hedgerows.  They attached markers to the trees for a few years so the flail could avoid them – this had some success.

Can you recommend strategies to encourage parish councils and residents that seem quite complacent, perhaps complicated by concerns on behalf of the PC about liability insurance?
There is a need for more parish-based tree strategies, looking at local landscape character assessment and perhaps identifying important trees in the area. Some FAQs will be offered to PCs to adopt which will cover things like insurance.
Epping Forest District Council did a number of Community Tree Strategies8. The Tree Strategy recommends looking at more local documents like this but they can take a couple of years. Can have benefits in terms of planning if residents have identified trees of special interest to the community, for example.

How do you raise a TPO?
There needs to be threat to the tree in order for a TPO to be put in place and it needs to score a certain number of points as a ‘public amenity’. You could start by talking to your local parish council.

Is it the same process for trees in conservation areas?
Slightly different – for all trees over a certain height in a Conservation Area permission is required to do any work. In response the local authority can only either raise no objection or raise a TPO if it wants to refuse permission. This doesn’t work very well if the tree doesn’t meet TPO criteria as then the council’s only option is to raise no objection. The owner of the tree is able to object to a TPO so councils do have to make sure their processes are robust.

Date of next meeting – Thursday 18 June at 7:45pm.
Speaker is Dr Declan Ryan from Northampton University, who will talk to us about Northampton’s Active Quarter.

Our next face to face social gathering will be on 20 July at the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.  Check out the What’s On page on CA-WN Exchange for details of this and other local climate and environmental events.






5 Canopy cover map link to be added