Wirral Council is a single tier authority covering a population of approximately 320,000, a mostly urban area of 157 km2 listed by the ONS as 38th most income-deprived out of 316 local authorities. Politically it is a coalition authority with 66 local councillors (26 Labour, 24 Conservative, 9 Green, 6 Lib Dem and 1 Independent).
Wirral Council declared a Climate Emergency and developed an Environment and Climate Emergency Policy and Climate Emergency Action Plan in 2019 in order to meet an ambitious net zero target of 2030 internally and 2041 for Wirral as a whole.
The Wirral Tree, Hedgerow and Woodland Strategy was developed by Wirral Council and a team of experts made up of tree wardens, local and national tree organisations, community groups and local landowners. It has a catchy mission; participate, protect and plant.
Participate relates to the importance of community support in ensuring the success of the project. Planting trees is labour-intensive and volunteers are vital. Protect recognizes that a 2 ft high sapling does not deliver the same carbon sequestration as a 300-year-old oak tree (estimated at 48 lbs of CO2/year), so existing trees need to be cared for and maintained with felling only used as a last resort. Plant - guided by the principal of ‘the right tree for the right place’ commits to planting over 20,000 new trees every year throughout the decade 2020-2030. This will increase Wirral’s canopy cover from 13% to 25%.
Wirral council has established a cross-disciplinary working group and the Tree Strategy is reviewed annually by the council and its stakeholders. The council's website includes a handy ‘Tree-o-Meter’ for residents to track progress and hopes to extend the project beyond the 10-year plan.
Measuring the impact so far using the latest data from July 2022, shows there were over 26 community planting events and 15 school planting events accounting for 98% of the trees planted. The project has been extremely popular and local support has been overwhelming. The council has led, along with key partners, many original initiatives and projects. To pick out a few; a tree planting session for Wirral’s foster families was organized by the council where parents and their foster children planted a woodland dedicated to them, along with a COVID-19 memorial woodland, funded by Trees for Climate. There is also an adopt-a-tree scheme in place for local residents to take care of trees on or near their properties and an intention to involve community groups where they can ‘adopt’ planting sites and take responsibility for ongoing maintenance. The council also hopes to extend the sponsor-a-tree scheme to involve the business community.
With regard to the environmental benefits, the Wirral Tree Strategy forecasts the sequestration of 222 tonnes of carbon over the decade, with a baseline measurement of what the current treescape across the whole authority currently delivers being performed by the forestry organisation Forest Research. From this baseline measurement (due to be completed March 2023) it will be possible to accurately measure the real impact of the Tree strategy and help the council work out where there are gaps – for example, if there is a need to plant more in specific areas prone to flooding.
Funding for the tree strategy came from the UK government’s Urban Tree Challenge Fund (currently open for new applications with a 30 June 2023 deadline), DEFRA, Mersey Forest’s Trees for Climate budget, and the council’s own dedicated climate emergency revenue budget and capital finance programme. The council also created several new posts – a Landscape Manager for the Tree Strategy, a tree risk manager and 4 tree inspectors.
Searching for available land is an issue that the council is preparing for. The first 4 planting seasons 2021-2024 will be on council-owned land, but for the final 6 years, they will have to find partners to provide land and are hoping to work with housing associations who often have land suitable for planting.
Another problem is the lack of tree saplings as tree planting schemes expand across the UK. Wirral Council has reacted to this by setting up its own tree nurseries to enable them to keep on target.
With thanks to Friends of the Earth and the climate charity Ashden who put together a series of case studies on local authority action on climate in 2022, the CA-WN Exchange look forward to checking the Wirral’s Tree-o-Meter to monitor the Tree Strategy’s progress.If readers would like to read more about the Wirral’s achievements since declaring a climate emergency in 2019, click here. CA-WN would also like to draw readers' attention to Save our Street Trees Northampton, a not for profit community group working hard to achieve a similar goal to Wirral council, but without any regular funding.