The Green Party are calling on Newcastle City Council to show more ambition to protect and enhance trees in the city. Newcastle made unwanted headlines this summer when it was reported that more trees had been felled here than in any other UK city. In light of that, the Council's current Tree Strategy has been revised with the aim of increasing tree canopy cover from 18.1% to 20% by 2050. The Greens welcome this, but are asking to see real ambition to put trees at the heart of improving quality of life and wellbeing for residents, and fighting climate change.
The massive amount of volume housing and other developments in the last ten years is having an adverse impact on Newcastle's trees, green spaces, and wildlife habitat, according to the Green Party. Last summer Newcastle was dubbed the 'UK's Tree Felling Capital' in national media when The Sunday Times revealed 8,414 trees had been felled since 2015 - more than any other city.
A Freedom of Information request submitted by Newcastle Green Party campaigner Taymar Pitman found that the areas of Newcastle with the most trees felled in the past 3 years were Dene (1253 trees), Walker (1197) and Fenham (1151). "Newcastle Council felled 1% of the city's trees between 2015 and 2018, which makes its goal of increasing tree cover by less than 2% in the next 30 years look embarrassingly unambitious", she said.
Newcastle Greens highlight the benefits of trees in the city - helping to combat air pollution from traffic that threatens our health, and absorbing damaging greenhouse gasses. "Trees contribute towards the urgent need for the UK to meet its climate targets to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown", said Pitman. "There is mounting evidence that trees reduce stress and contribute to better mental health, as well as improving diseases like asthma. Sir Richard Thompson, when President of the Royal College of Physicians, publicly recognised that urban green spaces could help ease the strain on NHS budgets, reducing diseases such as diabetes and heart disease."
Newcastle Green Party spokeswoman Frances Hinton added:
"To put it simply, trees in Newcastle are being chopped down, built on and tarmacked over. We have lost trees - and consequently wildlife habitat - at such sites as Pendower Hall and Woolsington Hall, and nature reserves such as Havannah adjacent to Hazlerigg are under severe pressure from encroaching development. The Council should now prioritise as a matter of urgency, policies and ideas which will protect and increase the City's tree population and biodiversity and will also make Newcastle a more enjoyable, attractive, healthier and climate resilient City to live in, now and in the future."
The Greens recently submitted a detailed response to the council's consultation on its Tree Strategy, asking for more protection for the cities trees to avoid any additional loss. The Greens are deeply concerned that the new strategy makes it too easy to remove trees to allow development, as has happened in areas like Newcastle Great Park. Trees should only be lost in truly exceptional circumstances, argue the Greens, as the benefits of mature trees cannot be easily be replaced by new saplings.
The Newcastle Parks Trust must be involved in the delivery of the strategy, and there are also opportunities for local businesses to be involved, Newcastle Greens suggest. Hinton emphasised that public scrutiny is important under the new strategy, ensuring that local people are involved in delivering a healthy, balanced tree population.
"We would like to see much more ambition from the council to engage with Newcastle's residents and help build a healthier tree population. This could include a campaign to help people plant trees and hedges in their gardens, an education campaign about the importance of trees, a tree sponsorship scheme for local businesses and schools or local 'Friends of Tree' groups, and easy-to-access information on trees and the benefits they provide."
"We also call on the city to ensure locally-sourced trees are planted in the city, avoiding disease or imported pests, whilst supporting local nurseries and providing native species. We particularly want to see an increase in street trees and trees on the Town Moor to improve biodiversity. Fruit trees are also important, to help people access locally-sourced food."
Projects such as the Community Orchards in Jesmond & Nuns Moor, hosting popular 'Apple Day' events, and the new Summerhill orchard, demonstrate the social benefits of community trees.
A report on the outcome of the consultation will go to the Council's Cabinet in February 2019 with a view to adopting the revised strategy from 1 April 2019. The Green Party say they will be reading the report with interest, and continuing to monitor and alert the public to future threats to Newcastle's trees.