A manifesto for protecting Bristol’s urban forest

Bristol has declared a climate and ecological emergency. An emergency means we all need to make radical changes now – and that means every council department, every developer and everyone who owns or cares for trees.

The city also plans to become carbon neutral by 2030 and to double tree canopy cover by the end of 2045. We support these goals, but they stand little chance of being achieved if existing trees, which form Bristol’s urban forest, are not protected or, if this is not possible, appropriately replaced. Our recent article, In defence of Bristol’s trees, suggests the probable yearly tree attrition rate.

Building affordable housing and meeting other important, urgent social goals does not necessarily mean removing existing trees. The choice is not binary – we don’t need to choose between housing and trees. Surely providing high-quality housing means also providing high-quality green spaces for Bristolians, with trees as an essential component of these spaces.

All our proposals fit within the city’s existing Bristol Development Framework Core Strategy – BCS9 Green Infrastructure Policy, which should now be properly implemented.  We must stop the needless destruction of so many trees in our city and learn instead to work with and build around them.

Everyone from all sides of the political spectrum is talking about the importance of finding space for planting new trees.  We support these aims, but it will take time for these new trees to mature. It is therefore also vital that we retain our existing trees because this will have the biggest immediate impact on achieving our goals for greening Bristol.

Our proposals

  1. There needs to be genuine community engagement in Bristol’s tree management decisions.  The council needs to listen to communities that want to save trees, not just to those who want to remove them.
  2. Urban trees (planted or self-sown) have a tough life. Many bear the wounds and scars of previous damage or interventions.  These trees, though they may not be perfect, should be valued for the ecosystem services they provide and retained with appropriate and careful management wherever possible.
  3. Alternatives to felling must be given priority, whether for street trees, or for those threatened by planning applications, or for other trees in the public or the private space.  
  4. We need to strengthen planning policies to help retain trees on development sites by building around them, especially when the trees are on the edge of the site. 
  5. Veteran and ancient trees require specialist management to ensure their retention whenever possible.
  6. When surveys identify trees that present a risk, there should be consultation about the range of options available to mitigate the risk. This should always balance risk with the benefits the tree provides. Felling is only ever a last resort.
  7. If trees must be felled, then more trees need to be planted to replace them. This should be based on well-established metrics used to calculate how to increase (not just replace) the natural capital of the lost tree.

Click here to download or print a copy of our manifesto.

Read our proposals to a tree strategy – Developing a Tree Strategy for Bristol.

Our Blogs contain many examples of the sorts of issues that have caused us to write this manifesto.

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