Plan to look after borough trees and woodlands and tackle ash dieback

A refreshed policy to protect and manage Telford and Wrekin’s trees and woodlands and tackle ash die back is the focus of a report that is going to Telford & Wrekin Council cabinet on 10 June.

Plan to look after borough trees and woodlands and tackle ash dieback

With an estimated 15 million trees, Telford and Wrekin is well placed to exceed the UK Government aspiration to increase tree cover in England from 17% to 19% of land area by 2050. Currently, the borough’s ward average tree cover is 22%, with a borough-wide average of 15%. 

The aim of the refreshed policy is to increase tree cover, ensure an attractive safe and healthy tree population that follows a ‘right tree in the right place for the right reason’ approach, provide sustainable and functional climate change benefits for future generations, and mitigate for the loss of ash trees due to ash dieback.

Cllr Carolyn Healy, Telford and Wrekin Council cabinet member for climate change, green spaces, natural & historic environment, said: Our environment matters greatly to people. As well as helping to capture CO2, regulating summer temperatures, improving air quality and reducing noise, trees are an attractive asset that are vital for wildlife and people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

“This policy supports our focus on the wellbeing of people, wildlife and our planet, sets out our approach to planting more trees and outlines how we manage ash dieback which is a national challenge.”

Ash dieback arrived in the UK in 2012 when an imported nursery tree from Asia brought the disease to these shores. It is expected that most ash trees will succumb to the disease with many dying and needing to be felled. Telford and Wrekin recorded its first case in 2013. 

As the disease poses a significant risk to tree safety, trees affected will need to be felled as they decline. 

It is estimated that ash trees make up around 35% of the borough’s tree stock and so the potential loss of canopy cover would be considerable, with knock on effects to carbon sequestration abilities and ground water absorption levels. 

Natural regeneration and replacement planting with disease resistant native and non-native trees will mitigate for the loss of ash trees.

The refreshed Tree and Woodland Management Policy going to cabinet sets out how the council aims to work with partners to increase canopy cover and includes the following amendments:

  • Changes to support the council’s focus on responding to climate change 
  • Approach to managing ash dieback under ‘dangerous trees’ criteria
  • ‘Liveability’ policies which cover the management and the maintenance of trees in residential areas

Key considerations outlined in the approach to ash dieback include:

  • Managing ash dieback will incur significant costs over an estimated 15 years. Prior to the pandemic, there was an opportunity for councils to apply for Defra funding to manage the issue, but this was withdrawn after the first lockdown and it is currently unclear what funding will be available
  • With ongoing pressures on local authority resources and uncertain funding from Government to tackle the disease, a partnership approach is key 
  • The council is proposing to allocate £150k to fund a tree team dedicated to monitor the health of the ash trees and undertake priority safety works, which is in addition to its £486k a year budget for looking after trees and woodlands
  • The council will continue to lobby Government for funding and explore alternative funding streams
  • Wood from the removed trees will be sold for biomass and other sustainable uses

Cllr Healy added: “Trees help us to tackle the climate crisis and are a vital part of our commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030. In 2020, we launched the Trees4TW scheme which gave 8,600 trees to local residents, schools and landowners, and this year we announced our plans for a memorial tree garden for Covid-19 victims and key workers.

“We will continue to work with our partners to plant more trees for the benefit our planet and to mitigate against the loss of trees through ash dieback, other diseases and storm damage.”

Telford & Wrekin Council’s cabinet is recommended to approve the policy when it meets on 10 June.

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