The benefit of trees and vegetation to our health and wellbeing, particularly in urban landscapes is well recognised. Indeed, trees and vegetation offer more than just aesthetic beauty. Research from around the world has confirmed trees and vegetation have a value to our communities in many different ways.
More Trees Please’ The nursery industries innovative campaign to grow the Australian Urban Forest
By Dr Anthony Kachenko, National Environmental And Technical Policy Manager, Nursery & Garden Industry Australia.
In 2013 the Australian nursery industry continues to work to raise the profile of trees and vegetation in urban landscapes. The industry’s campaign titled “More Trees Please” has been developed to educate all Australians about the benefits trees and vegetation. The term urban forest will be used extensively as part of this campaign to communicate key messages arising from More Trees Please. This term is used worldwide as the descriptor for all trees and vegetation on public and private land in urban landscapes.
In November 2011, a Newspoll survey conducted for Nursery & Garden Industry Australia (NGIA) indicated 89% of Australians want local government to increase the amount of green space in their communities. This figure has remained at this level for the past three years.
Local government across Australia should take heed of this and consider how they can implement plans and policies to maintain and enhance their urban forests. One of the first accounts of urban forestry policy implementation in Australia was through the NSW Local Government Association, which adopted its Urban Forest Policy in 2003.
In 2007, Newcastle City Council was one of the first councils to develop their own Urban Forest Policy. The purpose of its policy was to emphasise the role of the Newcastle urban forest as an intergenerational resource that provides multiple benefits to the community. The Policy also highlighted the need for the Newcastle City Council itself to improve capacity to provide these benefits.
In late 2011 the City of Melbourne launched the Urban Forest Strategy 2012-2032. Its vision is for a healthy and resilient urban forest that contributes to the health and wellbeing of the community and to a liveable Melbourne city. At the same time, City of Sydney released The Street Tree Master Plan 2011, which is a blueprint for the provision of street trees across the City of Sydney. The objectives of this Master Plan are to improve and develop the number, health, longevity and form of street tree species owing to their ability to provide numerous environmental, aesthetic, cultural and economic benefits.These benefits are interrelated and together feed into the creation of resilient, sustainable and thriving urban landscapes.
Indeed, it is these benefits that have seen councils such as City of Sydney commit resources and engage with their local communities about the role of the urban forest. These councils and many others around Australia have begun to regard the urban forest as critical urban infrastructure.
The effects of urban forests on our health and wellbeing cannot be underestimated. For example, in 2008 an Australian study reported that people who perceived their neighbourhoods as very green have up to 1.6 times greater odds of better physical and mental health, when compared with those who perceive their neighbourhoods as lower in greenness.
A recent report commissioned by Beyond Blue, Australia in 2010, confirmed that the natural environment improves health and wellbeing, as well as preventing disease and helping people recover from illness. The authors indicated that efforts must be made in Australia to improve quality of life in all neighbourhoods and cities through increasing access to natural environments. In other words, enhancing the urban forests in our urban cities. Indeed, it was noted in the report that people living in towns and cities should have access to natural green space of at least two hectares in size, located no more than 300 metres (or five minutes walking distance) from home.
Urban forests can also provide thermal climate amelioration through evapotranspiration and shade, resulting in tremendous relief to counteract the Urban Heat Island Effect – a potential killer for city dwellers as heat stress resulting from higher temperatures is linked to higher rates of human mortality and illness, particularly amongst vulnerable demographics such as the elderly, lower socio-economic classes and residents in high density, older housing stock with limited surrounding vegetation.
Urban forests can also reduce the need for energy expenditure through air-conditioning use directly translating to considerable energy savings. In 2010, NGIA commissioned small scale empirical studies at The University of Melbourne that investigated the cooling load and heat transfer at a wall and building scale. The study found that shade from F. excelsior provided a reduction in summer cooling load and inward heat transfer with up to 36% temperature reductions observed.
Recently NGIA has funded research with CSIRO that looks at the influence of vegetation cover on temperature in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne cities. The study will also investigate how urban forests can minimise heat stress and improve indoor and outdoor thermal comfort under current and future climate scenarios in these capital cities.
These are some of the reasons why the Australian nursery industry is keen to see More Trees Please in urban forests across Australia. Of course we have a vested interest but the research confirms that urban forests are essential for supporting healthy, thriving, liveable communities.
To achieve this, local governments should work more closely with landscapers, nurseries and other green industry groups to ensure that the right varieties of trees and vegetation, to suit different environments and conditions, are available and selected. This also applies to private gardens and other parcels of land that is not managed by local governments yet contributes to the urban forest.
For more information visit www.plantlifebalance.com.au or contact Dr Kachenko on (02) 9876 5200.