Sir William Worsley: We must protect our urban trees for a greener future

When you think of urban trees you likely think of local parks or green spaces '“ designated areas of trees dotted across the towns and cities that make up urban England.
Tree-felling work in Sheffield has come under the spotlight.Tree-felling work in Sheffield has come under the spotlight.
Tree-felling work in Sheffield has come under the spotlight.

However in reality urban trees are so much more. Yes they’re shading our parks and playgrounds, but they’re also growing in our gardens, framing the streets we walk down and greening the places we work. They are vital and much loved, but the pivotal role they play in providing for our wellbeing is often not fully recognised.

New advice for councils after Sheffield tree-felling controversyMy role as the country’s Tree Champion is to advocate for trees everywhere, from the rural upland forests to those in and around our towns and cities. Trees will stand the test of time, for this generation and those still to come, so we need to act now to protect our urban forests, by planting the right trees in the right places.

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That is why today we’ve released a new ‘Urban Tree Manual’ – a toolkit to guide decision-making and prevent the unnecessary felling of trees in our towns and cities.

It’s aimed at anyone involved in planting and managing trees in urban spaces, from local authorities to charities and community groups. It brings together current thinking and expertise – with signposting to more detailed guidance as needed.

It’s clear to me just how passionately people feel about trees. And perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Sheffield, where the strength of feeling from local residents about their cherished green spaces has been unprecedented in scale. These residents have not only raised concerns about the sheer number of trees being felled locally, but importantly in the way this has been carried out – without proper consultation and without taking into account their concerns.

This has led to an investigation by the Forestry Commission, which is still ongoing. I will be letting that run its course and considering the findings carefully.

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Of course there will always be times when trees need to be felled, whether they are dangerous, dead or impeding on necessary development. However as Tree Champion my role is to work alongside Local Authorities to make sure best practice is followed when felling street trees, and to minimise the need to fell at all by making informed and educated planting decisions.

We also want to make sure the views of local residents are placed at the heart of decision-making, and they feel properly consulted on about the way trees are managed in their communities.

That is the goal of this manual – and what we hope it will help local authorities and all others invested in planting and maintaining urban trees accomplish. I hope this manual will result in improved practice in tree planting and establishment across the country, and ensure that our invaluable trees are preserved now – and for future generations.

Sir William Worsley is the Government's Tree Champion