Measuring and Modeling the Tree Canopy of Bristol

A new canopy growth model shows the challenge of increasing Bristol’s tree canopy to 24%, an increase of a third.

Launched in January 2019, Bristol’s One City Plan is a vision of the development of Bristol over the years until 2050.  This vision covers many aspects of city life.  Of particular interest to the Bristol Tree Forum are two goals:

by 2036  Tree canopy cover has increased by 25% since 2018

by 2046  Tree canopy cover has doubled since 2018

The obvious question to ask is :

What was the canopy in 2018, the baseline for these proportional increases?

But to answer that question, we need to ask another:

How can tree canopy be measured across the city?

We would expect certain properties of a method of measurement, such as accuracy, precision, repeatability, economy (since it will have to be applied repeatedly over the years to assess progress) and scalabilty (so the method can be applied to any boundary to analyse selected areas of the city). 

Neither question was addressed in One City Plan publications. A group led by BCC’s Richard Ennion which including Forest of Avon Trust (FOAT), Woodland Trust and Bristol Tree Forum (BTF) met in in 2018-2019 to address these and other tree strategy issues. An ecological survey using the i-Tree Eco method was undertaken by FOAT and volunteers. Here 201 randomly located 11m radius plots are surveyed. This resulted in useful data on the proportion of tree species (Ash was a worrying 16% of trees in Bristol) and estimated the tree canopy at 12%. BTF had also carried out a survey using i-Tree Canopy which is a desk-based method using Google Map imagery able to be carried out by citizen scientists. Our figure was around 18% which was more in line with previous estimates. This figure was later quoted in the Cabot Instutute Review of Progress

Our arguments in favour of the i-Tree Canopy method were several:  reputational (it is used by Forest Research in their nationwide survey); precision (error range is smaller than i-Tree Eco and sample size easily increased to improve precision); economy  (i-Tree Eco survey cost around £20k whereas i-Tree canopy is essential free ) and scalability (the method can be easily applied to any bounded area). 

In the event, the lower figure of 12% was adopted but no decision was made about a suitable method. The 12% figure leads to a goal of 16% by 2036 and 24% by 2046. However, since the i-Tree Eco method was limited to 201 plots across the city, it is unable to give estimates at ward level, so reports about variability by ward have, anomolously, used our i-tree Canopy figures of 9% to 22%. Ward-level estimates are visualized on our ward information page.

image

The i-Tree Canopy method can be undertaken using a tool provided by i-Tree. BTF have developed our own version of this tool to improve the precision, ease of use by citizen scientists and to integrate into our BristolTrees website. We have used this tool to estimate the canopy for 2020 and while there is a slight numerical increase, it is not statistically significant.

More recently we have had access to the estimates produced by the commercial Bluesky tree map which is based on lidar and aerial imagery. The figure for Bristol, (once corrected to exclude large areas of the Severn Estuary in the Bristol Unitary Authority boundary) is slightly less than the i-Tree Canopy estimate, a difference probably accounted for by BlueSky’s ability to exclude canopy below 3m. Recent BCC reports seem to accept that the baseline is 18% and Bluesky mapping recommended as the method of estimation. It is however unclear how the 18% baseline affects the One City Plan goals. If still based on the initial 12% but measured using Bluesky (or i-Tree Canopy), the 2036 goal of 16% has apparently already been achieved!

The use of the commercial Bluesky service raises questions of the cost of this data, its granularity and the extent to which this data will be publicly available as open data.  We look forward to answers on these issues.

Canopy prediction

We have created an online canopy prediction model which computes the canopy over a future period, based on defined planting schemes, which may be so many trees per annum over a period, or so much woodland area.

The BCC report on the planting season 2021-22 shows that 1,352 individual trees and 3 hectares (ha) of woodland were planted.  The model predicts that this would yield a total of about 8 ha canopy by 2046. (The BCC report predicts 22.7 ha but this is when all trees have reached their full maturity, well beyond 2046). If repeated every year till then, this planting programme would produce about 120 ha. This is the model used.

image

To get a fuller picture, we can account for the trees which are lost due to disease, damage or because they outgow the site. On average, about 400 BCC trees are lost each year,and this figure is expected to rise as Ash Dieback takes its toll. If this is added into the model, the result is much less promising. This powerfully demonstates the great benefit of saving the existing tree stock.

image

However it is unfair to account for tree losses in the BCC tree stock without  modeling the canopy growth. This model needs to take account of the age and species profile and to take into account tree management practices. Many large street trees are managed through regular pollarding so that their canopy is essentially constant. This is complex task which is still to be done.

Is the goal achievable?

Achieving the goal of even 24% cover from a base of 18% by 2046 is still a challenging task, even though this would increase tree cover by only a third rather than doubling. It would require adding 660 hectares of tree canopy in 28 years.

paper by Waters and Sinnett (2021) looked at this issue.  Their results are not directly compatible because, thanks to the baseline confusion, they explored the need to increase canopy from 12% to 37.5% using the i-Tree Forecast software. Multiple scenarios are explored but no distinction was made between woodland planting, where the eventual canopy area is limited to the planting area, and planting individual street or park trees able to grow to full canopy width. 

In order to create 660 ha, our model indicates that you would have to plant 26 ha of woodland per annum or 14,000 individual trees or some mixture of the two. This model assumes an annual mortality rate of 1%. With a mortality of 3% more typical of urban trees, the planting rate rises to 24,000 trees pa.  Urban trees have high early mortality which reduces over time and this is not yet modeled.

image

In the predictions above, canopy size prediction uses Root Protection Area as defined in BS5837. RPA is a generous proxy for canopy area. Other predictve models are supported, including one derived from data on the Bristol tree stock. The model takes no account of trees lost through the period due to felling existing trees because of age, disease or development, nor for the effect of climate change on tree health. As a result, these predictions, daunting though they are, are likely to be under-estimates of the planting required to achieve the goal.

However, the major constraint is the lack of suitable street space and land to achieve this level of planting and competition for land use from other One City Plan goals, such as increased housing, food security and greater ecological diversity. Trees alone provide some ecological benefits although this is species-dependant. In general, British native trees provide better ecological support than introduced trees. 37% of the existing council-owned tree stock are natives but only 18% of the trees ear-marked for planting are natives.  Woodland areas have a much higher proportion of natives. BCC is undertaking research into the availablity of both street and parkland planting to explore the opportunities for street and park planting.

So our assessment is that even the goal of 24% is unachievable.  This does not of course mean that we should not do our utmost to increase tree canopy. The benefits of trees in an urban environment are well-documented.

The private realm

This analysis has focused on the role of the council in expanding tree canopy on council land. However the majority of land and hence tree canopy in Bristol is in private and commercial hands. The need for private and commercial landowners to use their land to help move the city forward is clear. BTF is particularly concerned over the loss of mature trees due to housing and other development. Mature trees are an irreplaceable (in the short and medium term) loss of canopy and sequestered Carbon. Likewise for private homes, the trend seems to be in the wrong direction, with paving of front gardens, astroturfing of back gardens and existing trees often deemed more of a nuisance that a benefit. 

The need to bring the public on-side with this goal is urgent.

Our 2022 AGM is being held on…

Monday, 7 November 2022 starting at 6:00 pm – City Hall, College Green, Bristol

Our Agenda

  1. Introduction from Chair, Mark Ashdown
  2. Finding our remarkable UK & Irish urban trees – Paul Wood
  3. Panel Discussion between Paul Wood and Andy Bryce
  4. Our Tree Champions
  5. Bristol’s emerging local plan
  6. Election of officers and financial report
  7. AOB

We are looking forward to seeing you there.

Paul Wood

Paul is the author of three books: London’s Street Trees: A Field Guide to the Urban Forest; London is a Forest; London Tree Walks: Arboreal Ambles Around the Green Metropolis and is the editor of the Great Trees of London map. He has a lifelong passion for nature, especially trees, and was formerly a trustee of the London Wildlife Trust. He is currently working on a book about 1,000 remarkable urban trees throughout the UK and Ireland, to be published by Penguin in 2023.

Paul regularly leads walks and gives talks about trees in urban areas. As well as London, Paul has led walking tours around the streets of Bath, Sheffield, Dublin and even Philadelphia.

Andy Bryce

Andy is the Trees and Woodlands Manager at Bristol City Council. He manages Bristol’s team of tree officers and is responsible for managing our existing tree stock. Andy joined BCC in November 2021 having previously worked as an arborist at The National Arboretum, Westonbirt, latterly as its Collections Manager.  Andy has worked in arboriculture for over 20 years, six of which were as an arborist in Bristol.  Andy’s current research interest is tree pests and diseases.

Trees for Streets – will we see more trees being planted in more Bristol streets? Hopefully.

You will all have seen young trees planted in vacant tree pits in the streets of Bristol. These trees are replacement trees. There was once a tree growing there before – maybe some time ago.

These replacement trees are paid for by sponsorship, or by funds paid by Developers when they have felled trees on a building site and there is no room to replace the felled trees on the building site. In the latter case more than one tree has been “lost” – the one on the building site and the one that was previously in the tree pit.

In order to increase Bristol’s tree canopy – vital in this time of a climate emergency – we must see trees being planted in new places as well as getting all the “old” sites being filled more quickly.


Trees for Streets

To try to get this initiative going, Bristol has joined Trees for Streets.

Quotes from the Flyer for Trees for Streets

Bristol City Council has joined the Trees for Streets national street tree sponsorship scheme, which aims to plant thousands of additional trees in streets and parks across the city, by supplementing the council’s tree budgets through public and corporate sponsorship.

and

Trees for Streets is the National Street Tree Sponsorship Scheme from the urban tree charity Trees for Cities, funded by the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund and City Bridge Trust. The project uses technology to empower people and makes it easy for residents and organisations to get involved in greening their communities.

and

Our mission is to fund the planting of more than 250,000 additional street trees nationwide over the next ten years by hosting online tree sponsorship schemes on behalf of local councils and delivering local promotion and engagement activity to bring these schemes to life.

Comment

Bristol has long had a Tree Sponsorship scheme, run by TreeBristol (part of Bristol City Council).

In the 2021/2022 planting season £456,000 was spent by Bristol Council in planting of trees. A portion of this money is retained by BCC for maintaining the trees planted 55% of this money came from mitigation funds paid by Developers who had felled trees somewhere in the city in order to build on the land released. (So, the money was not being spent on NEW trees, just on replacements).

10% of that money came from sponsorship, with 6.5% coming from private sponsorship (individuals and groups) and 3.5% coming from business sponsorship. Even then a lot of that money was spent on replacing trees which had been lost i.e., not on providing trees in new sites. It is a difficult “sum” to achieve. Money from Developers is for the replacement of trees lost to development. The Bristol Tree Replacement Standard achieves an amount for replacement trees based on the size of the trees lost. Eventually the trees may grow to a size which more than compensates for the environmental value of trees lost. But it remains true that each replacement tree goes in to a tree site that has lost a tree formerly growing there – so the Council is spared the expense of replacing lost trees that it owned.

Representatives of the Bristol Tree Forum have attended two meetings now where this new scheme has been explained and described.

The Trees for Streets scheme is not going to fund the trees, nor plant the trees, so we would have worded the sentence “Our mission is to fund the planting of more than 250,000 additional street trees…….” slightly differently with instead “Our mission is to facilitate and organise the funding of the planting of more than 250,000 additional street trees…”

The Trees for Streets scheme is similar to Bristol’s former scheme in that it will provide a web based choosing and ordering and paying for system, whereby residents and organisations and businesses can find available tree sites for planting trees in Streets and Parks.

There are differences between the Trees for Streets Scheme and Bristol’s former scheme, and they are:

  • Bristol’s former sponsorship scheme was largely one of replacement for trees lost. A sponsor (an individual, a group or a business) would select, from the Council’s mapping, a site where formerly there had been a tree, and would pay for its planting. New site planting came from One Tree per Child (whips) or from national grants where Bristol would win a bid for a grant and spend the money.
  • The new scheme hopes to facilitate, through sponsorship, the planting of a new tree in a new site. These sites have to be found, and checked for Services (underground utility provision), and then put forward in the Council mapping for planting with a tree.
  • Residents, and other types of sponsor, will be able to suggest new sites for trees by answering the question “Where would you like to see a tree planted?” with their own suggestions.
    The sponsor would need to pay for the tree, but Trees for Streets might be able to assist with organising the funding, using their funding know how.
  • Initially this kind of new planting of Street Trees will only be possible in streets that currently have green verges, or in new sites in Parks.
  • (Trees in “hard ground” – pavements, plazas, city squares, etc. will need to be planted in engineered tree pits – and that is expensive. If a sponsor (which can be an individual, a group or a business) is prepared to meet that cost, then efforts will be made to agree suitable sites and then check them for Services and other criteria, such as the width of the pavement.)
  • Trees for Streets has national funding and this gives it an improved platform with web support and advertising which could see many more trees sponsored. Maybe businesses reached by the advertising will see a role in supporting tree planting in the more “tree poor” areas of Bristol?
  • Bristol is to offer residents the option to water their sponsored tree when it is outside their property – at a reduced cost (£160/tree v £295/tree).  It gives people an option at a lower cost – and it avoids trucks driving about with lots of water in a bowser.  It has worked elsewhere, and Bristol is going to try it.
  • DEFRA has provided funds for the setting up of Trees for Streets, and maybe future DEFRA grants will be channelled through this new national scheme. Bristol has, by making individual bids, obtained grants for tree planting from DEFRA in the past, and will still want to continue to make these bids for new funding for the actual purchase and planting of trees for new sites.

How it will work:

  1. Go to the Trees for Streets website at https://treesforstreets.org.bristol.
  2. Choose the location of your tree from the map or suggest a spot in a grass verge in your street or neighbourhood. The questions on the website take you through the choices.
  3. Answer a few questions about the location and you.
  4. If all works out your tree will be planted during the next available planting season.

Bristol Tree Forum’s Tree Champions are to be offered training from Bristol’s Tree Officers so that they can help residents, organisations and businesses with determining the suitability of sites that are suggested.

Valuing our urban trees – part III

When is tree not a tree?

Figure 1  Leyland cypress trees on the boundary of the former Police Dog & Horse Training Centre, Bristol.

The Biodiversity Metric 3.0 (BNG 3.0) User Guide defines Urban Tree habitats as follows:

Individual TreesYoung trees over 75mm in diameter measured at 1.5m from ground level and individual semi-mature and mature trees of significant stature and size that dominant their surroundings whose canopies are not touching but that are in close proximity to other trees.
Perimeter BlocksGroups or stands of trees within and around boundaries of land, former field boundary trees incorporated into developments, individual trees whose canopies overlap continuously.
Linear BlocksLines of trees along streets, highways, railways and canals whose canopies overlap continuously.

These habitats are measured by area (hectares). Using this measurement and other parameters (Distinctiveness, Condition and Strategic Significance), their baseline biodiversity value is calculated in area biodiversity habitat units (ABHUs).

BNG 3.0 also includes separate calculations for two types of linear habitat, one of which is ‘Hedgerows and Lines of Trees’. These linear habitats are measured in kilometres. Using this measurement and the same parameters used for ABHUs, their baseline biodiversity value is calculated in hedgerow biodiversity units (HBUs).

Hedgerow habitats are a feature almost unique to the British Isles, but ‘Lines of Trees’ have been included as a linear habitat as they ‘display some of the same functional qualities as hedgerows’.

Box 8-2 of the BNG 3.0 User Guide (Figure 2) uses this key to help identify Hedgerow or Line of Trees habitat types:

Figure 2 Box 8.2 – BNG 3.0 User Guide

The BNG 3.0 User Guide states that ‘Urban trees are considered separately to lines of trees in the wider environment, since they generally occur in an urban environment surrounded by developed land’. However, it is possible for disagreements to arise where the site is not clearly part of ‘an urban environment’, even though the trees fall within the Urban Tree habitat definition as either Perimeter or Linear Blocks.

A recent example demonstrates the issue. It involved 34 Leyland cypress trees growing along the boundary of the former Police Dog & Horse Training Centre on Clanage Road, Bristol, on the edge of the city. These trees were planted to form a screen between Clanage Road and the training centre (Figures 1 & 3).

This issue was argued before the Planning Inspector when the Secretary of State called the matter in (APP/Z0116/V/21/3270776) following a grant of planning permission for a change of use to a touring caravan site.

It was agreed at the inquiry that these trees had been planted between 1.5 to 2 metres apart, had developed average stem diameters of 33 cm and had grown to about 10 metres high and eight metres wide. The whole row is about 72 metres (0.072 km) long.

Figure 3 The site on the edge of the city (red boundary line)

Using the flow chart at Box 8-2 above, the developer’s ecologist argued that these trees were a Hedge Ornamental Non-native habitat. So, using the BNG 3.0 calculator, they would be assessed as a linear habitat 0.072 kilometres long. This habitat is given a Very Low Distinctiveness (score 1) and has a Poor Condition (score 1) [1]. Because of its location, it was given a Strategic Significance of Within area formally identified in local strategy (score 1.15). As such, the baseline habitat value is calculated as 0.072 x 1 x 1 x 1.15 = 0.08 HBUs.

We argued that these trees formed an Urban Tree habitat and that, using the BNG 3.0 calculator, it should be treated as 34 Medium-sized trees with a combined area of 0.1384 hectares with a Medium Distinctiveness (score 4) and is in Poor Condition (score 1) – even though it was agreed that the trees were in good condition and could be categorised as B2 using BS 5837:2012. Because of its location, it was given a Strategic Significance of Within area formally identified in local strategy (score 1.15). On this basis, the baseline habitat value is calculated as 0.1384 x 4 x 1 x 1.15 = 0.64 ABHUs (nearly 8 times the HBU value).

Whilst Rule 4 of the BNG 3.0 User Guide (page 37) states that ‘… the three types of biodiversity units generated by this metric (for area, hedgerow and river habitats) are unique and cannot be summed’, it is clear that adopting either of these two approaches will result in very different outcomes when assessing biodiversity net gain.

In our view it is vital not to undervalue baseline habitats by the selective use of the habitat definitions given in BNG 3.0.

The planning inquiry decision (refusal) has now been published – APP/Z0116/V/21/3270776.

A copy of this blog is available here.


Valuing our urban trees – part I

Valuing our urban trees – part II


[1] The Very Low Distinctiveness and Poor Condition parameters are the only options available for this habitat type under BNG 3.0.

Valuing our urban trees – part II

Assessing the condition of urban tree habitats using Biodiversity Metric 3.0

Our recent blog – Valuing our urban trees I, pointed out the failings of the methodology for calculating the size of urban tree habitats as set out in Biodiversity Metric 3.0 (BNG 3.0). We would now like to show how this is compounded by the inappropriate assessment criteria used to determine the condition of Urban Tree habitats, as also set out in BNG 3.0 (see Annex 1).

We use the following example – taken from a recently approved planning application [1] which will result in the removal of 13 urban trees – to demonstrate why this is approach is inappropriate.

Figure 1 The example tree – Google Street View 2020

This street tree is a London Plane (Platanus × acerifolia) with a stem diameter (called DBH) of 118 cm. It is a non-native species planted in hard standing on Bridge St, Bristol BS1 2AN in about 1967. Using BS 5837:2012Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction – Recommendations (a BSI Standards Publication), it has been categorised as A,1,2 (see Annex 2). The developer’s Arboriculturalist described it as having a ‘Large, broad crown with excellent form and vigour.’

The tree’s BS 5837:2012-calculated Root Protection Area (RPA) radius[3] is 14.6 metres, so it has an RPA of 630 square metres. The tree has an average crown radius of 9.88 metres and a calculated canopy area of 306 square metres.

Using BNG 3.0 TABLE 7-2: Urban tree size by girth and their area equivalent (see Annex 1), the calculated RPA of the tree is set at Large, so its habitat size is limited to just 113 square metres – a discount of 82% of its calculated RPA and 37% of its canopy area.

Notwithstanding categorisation of the tree as A,1,2, the BNG 3.0 Condition Assessment Criteria categorises the condition of this tree as Poor because it meets only two of the six criteria, as shown below:

Using BNG 3.0, the calculation of the baseline habitat (called Habitat Units) of this tree is as follows:

Had the BS 5837:2012 condition of the tree been allowed for and its condition set to ‘Good’, then the habitat units of this tree would be three times the habitat unit value of 0.0452, i.e., 0.1356 as shown below.

Not only has the true size of the urban tree habitat been significantly undervalued (because its actual RPA has not been used), but its assessed condition using the BNG 3.0 criteria is also clearly inappropriate given that this tree has been assessed at the highest category under BS 5837:2012:

Category A – Trees of high quality with an estimated remaining life expectancy of at least 40 years …that are particularly good examples of their species, especially if rare or unusual; or those that are essential components of groups or formal or semi-formal arboricultural features (e.g., the dominant and/or principal trees within an avenue).

The proposed solution

BNG 3.0 is seriously flawed when it comes to evaluating Urban Tree habitats. We have already commented on this when it comes to calculating habitat size.

In our view, the solution to the issue of assessing the correct condition of urban tree habitats is already available in BS 5837:2012. The standard may require some amendment to align it with BNG 3.0, but it is a well-established and practical approach used by the arboricultural community. This British Standard gives recommendations and guidance on the relationship between trees and design, demolition and construction processes and is used whether or not planning permission is required.

A copy of this blog can be downloaded here.


Our third blog dealing with habitat selection is available here – Valuing our urban trees – part III.


Annex 1

The Biodiversity Metric 3.0 – auditing and accounting for biodiversity

USER GUIDE (page 68)

TECHNICAL SUPPLEMENT (pages 193-194)


Annex 2

BS5837:2012 – 4.5 Tree categorization method – tree category definitions


[1] The Developer used BNG 2.0 in its submissions and applied a different Condition assessment to the one used here.

Bristol Tree Forum Annual General Meeting

Bristol Tree Forum
Annual General Meeting
Bristol City Hall
6 December 2021
18:30 – 20:00

Draft Agenda (may be modified nearer the date)
Bristol Tree Forum – bristoltreeforum.org – 6 December 2021

  1. Update from Mark Ashdown (Chair)
  2. Treasurer’s Report (John Tarlton)
  3. Election of Officers
  4. Message from Marvin Rees, Bristol Mayor
  5. BCC Communities Scrutiny Working Group – Trees (Councillor Martin
    Fodor)
  6. Tree planting & maintenance update (Richard Ennion)
  7. Tree Champions (Jim Smith)
  8. Any other business

Baltic Wharf Caravan Park: a controversial planning proposal

We have never been able to understand why Bristol City Council decided to terminate the lease of the longstanding and very successful central Bristol caravan site. It is not a brownfield site crying out for redevelopment, as some would have us believe. Its success and the 91 mature, well-established trees that grace it (74 of which are to be removed) testify to that.

Bristol Chamber of Commerce has described this caravan park as ‘… an important, high performing asset for Bristol’s visitor economy, enabling visitors to stay in walking distance of the city centre and thus providing significant levels of custom for local businesses‘.

And John Hirst, as Chief Executive of Destination Bristol, observed that ‘There are significant financial benefits for Bristol due to the year round supply of visitors to their current caravan site. We know that the current Bristol site at Baltic Wharf has been one of the most popular and successful central sites in the UK’.

So why on earth close the caravan park for a plan that almost nobody really wants – at least 273 at the last count? It seems that it’s worth closing this successful tourist attraction to replace it with new housing, even though the caravan park is estimated to bring some £1 to £1.5 million annually to Bristol’s tourist economy. The scramble for new housing at any cost – while ignoring the wishes of local communities and the economic benefits that the caravan park brings us – seems to take priority over all else.

And the result? We have proposals that will flatten every inconvenient tree rather than incorporating them into the proposed development. This only adds to the steady loss of green spaces and reduces Bristol, especially the centre of Bristol, to a grim, unliveable environment.  As Bristol grows hotter with each passing year, with the expectation that by 2050 life-threatening heatwaves will occur once every two years (not to mention the increasing flood risk to this area), we will need the cooling benefit of large, mature trees yet, tree by tree, they are inexorably removed in order to maximise profit and achieve what many say is an unrealisable aspiration. With the majority of new housing being sold at full market price, these will be as much for the benefit of the estimated 1,900 annual migrants from London as they are for the more affluent citizens of Bristol.

It is especially sad that Goram Homes, the much-lauded development arm of Bristol City Council, continues to ignore our very own key green planning policy, BCS9, and the revised National Planning Policy Framework (the Framework) upon which it is based. BCS9 states that ‘Individual green assets should be retained wherever possible and integrated into new development’.

The Framework is the foundation upon which BCS9 is based:

We had hoped that Goram Homes would have set a good example – especially since the Council has recently published its Ecological Emergency Action Plan and announced that it will “embed nature into all decisions” – and abide by these important principles. What has happened to the Framework’s third, overarching environmental objective? Taking Baltic Wharf Caravan Park as an example, it would have been quite straightforward to design any new housing around existing trees, particularly if the focus was on just building affordable and social housing. Instead, nearly all are going. This, it seems, is ‘Placeshaping’, Bristol-style.

And this intransigence has resulted in damaging national press coverage – though note the lovely photo of the trees growing on the site.

Our objections to the proposals are set out here, but we are not the only ones…

Councillor Mark Wright’s experience

Councillor Mark Wright was the councillor for Hotwells and Harbourside until May 2021 when he stepped down.  Here he presents his experience of the many attempts he made to engage with the planners and Goram Homes at an early stage to try to secure as good an outcome as possible given that the caravan park was doomed to be closed. They came to nothing.

Mark writes:

Sept 2018

Mayor Rees announces that flats will be built on the site.

Dec 2018

I wrote to Cllr Paul Smith (Housing) “There are a number of very nice trees on the caravan park site that residents are already calling for saving (see attached Google 3D image). If done skilfully and at an early enough stage, many of the best trees could be embraced into the development in a way that greatly increases the value of the retail flats. If done too late or not at all, it’s likely that getting planning permission will become a battle over trees, which isn’t what anyone really wants. I think it would be a good demonstration of why Goram is a good thing if it sets the bar high on pre-app planning on things like this – it could really set an example to other developers. I understand that planning policy BCS9 requires the developer (i.e., BCC in this case) to do a tree constraints plan as early as possible – there is no need to wait until the actual plans start to form to do this. Can we get BCC to start this ASAP?” Cllr Smith replied, “I will have a word with officers”, but I got no further response.

I also wrote to the Council’s Arboricultural Officer, Matthew Bennett, asking for a tree assessment report to be done ASAP so that the best trees on the site could be saved and incorporated into the plans. I was interested in getting TPOs put on the best trees, but at that early stage Bennet replied to me: “Our aim through the planning process is to secure the best trees on site and mitigate the loss of those removed through the planning obligations SPD (BTRS). We cannot try and save every tree {…} a tree preservation order would not help the situation because full planning consent overrides a TPO”. That seemed reasonable so I concentrated on trying to get a tree report.

Jan 2019

I contacted officers again for an update but got no info.

Early Feb 2019

Planning Officer Paul Chick told me that no arboricultural tree report would be done until a pre-app was submitted, but no one knew when that would be.

Late Feb 2019

I raised the issue of trees on the site with Cllr Paul Smith and Steve Blake at Goram (Development manager); Cllr Smith said he had raised the issue of trees after my earlier contact, but I heard nothing more.

Jun 2019

I again raised the issue of trees on the site with Steve Blake at Goram and Matthew Bennett but got no response.

July 2019

A tree report was secretly written for the Council, but I wouldn’t see it until December 2020.

Dec 2019

The first concept images of the plans were released to the public. I wrote to Steve, Matthew, and Paul Smith again: “I note with interest the Council’s press release today indicating that a development partner has been selected for this housing site. There is even a picture of the proposed build. I presume this *must* mean that there has been enough preliminary work done to allow a tree constraints report for the site to be drawn up. Please can you assure me that the prime trees currently on the site are being designed into this new plan? A development such as this will be greatly enhanced in value by the intelligent and thoughtful retention of mature trees, and the Council’s reputation as a builder will be greatly enhanced as well, setting a higher bar in the city for other developers to follow…”

I got no responses…

Jan 2020

I wrote to Tim Bluff, a new contact at Goran Homes (taking over from Steve Blake, presumably) I had been given after badgering people. Bluff informed me that a tree report had in fact been done 6 months previously. I had never been told about it, despite asking multiple people for it for 13 months. I was told at this point the document wasn’t public and I couldn’t see it.

Feb 2020

There was a public *showing* of the plans. At this point it was clear that the plans were essentially almost “final” despite there having not been a single public engagement session of any kind, about anything. I declared publicly that I was concerned about both height and loss of trees.

Mar 2020

I discussed with the Bristol Tree Forum doing an informal assessment of the trees, but the Covid lock-down squashed that.

Apr 2020

The pre-app was published privately on the planning portal, but I couldn’t have access.

Early May 2020

The pre-app was made available to me, but not the public. It was clear that all trees on the site would be felled; all that would be saved was some of the boundary hedges. Again, by this point there had still been zero public engagement on any issue, only a showing of the images. The 10-month old Arboricultural report (i.e., July 2019) was still not available to anyone, including the Council’s own Arboricultural officer Matt Bennett, who wanted it too.

Late May 2020

I had a video meeting with Stephen Baker, Development manager at Goram (and Geoff Fox and Glynn Mutton) to discuss the plans. I made it clear I was unhappy with the height, the loss of all trees was a major problem, and the lack of any public input before publishing the plans was a big mistake and contrary to planning requirements on major plans. Steve said the trees were all being lost because the site had to be raised 2m to allow “active frontages” that comply with planning regs. I said that saving trees might be preferable to active frontages inside the site; I asked him who made this critical decision and when, as this was exactly the kind of thing the public should have fed into – at least if the decision had been informed by the public there would be some buy-in. He said he didn’t know and it had all happened before he joined the project. I made clear I was disappointed, but I really didn’t want to end up opposing the plans, and I hoped there would be a reduction in the height.

Oct 2020

Website for the plans went up.

Dec 2020

I finally received a copy of the July 2019 tree report – from the Bristol Tree Forum, not from the Council! It was clear that the decision to fell all trees on site had already been made earlier than July 2019.

Apr 2021

Full Planning app submitted, with no real changes since the pre-application stage. I lodged an objection “with heavy heart”.’

Bristol Tree Forum tree planting campaign – free Oak saplings available for planting

STOP PRESS

We delighted to report that nearly 1,600 tree orders have been received. We have bought another 600 trees to cover the extra orders and expect delivery soon.

Many thanks to all of you who have placed an order. We shall soon let you know when and where you can collect your trees.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions and delays in government funding, there has been postponements and cancellations of many major tree planting projects. As a result, large numbers of tree saplings are due for destruction in tree nurseries. This includes 750,000 two year old English oak tree saplings at the Maelor Forest Nursery in Wrexham.

Rather than see these trees destroyed, Bristol Tree Forum has purchased 1,000 of the oak saplings for free distribution to anyone able to plant them, whether this is one tree or a hundred.

We will get delivery early in November. The trees can be collected from a site in Redland, Bristol and a few collection dates will be organised hopefully to suit all. They should be planted as soon as possible afterwards.

The saplings are between 10cm and 90cm high. They come bare-rooted (i.e. out of the soil) and need to be planted as soon as possible after collection, although the viability of the trees over winter can be extended a little by storing the trees with the roots covered in damp soil.

This form is to find out who would like to have saplings for planting and how many, and for you to provide basic contact details (email and/or phone number) for us to organise collection of the trees. Contact details will not be used for any other purpose.

Why plant a tree?

A single mature oak tree is the equivalent of 18 tonnes of CO2 or 16 passenger return transatlantic flights.

Despite advances in carbon capture technology, the most efficient and cost-effective way to sequester carbon from the atmosphere is to plant trees.

Recent scientific reports calculate that planting trees wherever we can, without occupying land used for other purposes, would absorb up to two thirds of the carbon emitted in the last century.

Oak trees can support over 2300 different species, including birds, mammals, invertebrates, mosses, lichen and fungi.

Trees improve air quality by absorbing both gaseous (e.g. NO2) and particulate pollution.

Trees reduce traffic noise and flooding, reduce excessive heat in cities and improve physical and mental wellbeing.

Trees valued at over £4.6m are under threat at Bonnington Walk, Lockleaze

Whatever the merits of this application of achieving its primary goal to provide much needed housing may be, it should not be permitted to proceed unless and until it has properly addressed how it will replace and build upon the Green Infrastructure (including trees) that will inevitably be lost if this application proceeds as presently formulated.

Summary of our submission

We object to this application for the following reasons.

Bristol City Council has:

Declared climate and environmental emergencies.

Committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

Committed to doubling tree canopy cover by 2046.

As currently formulated, these plans to build new houses can only set back the work needed to resolve these emergencies and achieve these commitments.

  1. The need to build housing to meet sustainable economic or social development objectives should not be allowed to take precedence over ensuring that the development is also both environmentally sustainable and meets Net Gain objectives.
  2. Whatever the merits of this application of achieving its primary goal to provide much needed housing may be, it should not be permitted to proceed unless and until it has properly addressed how it will replace and build upon the Green Infrastructure (including trees) that will inevitably be lost if this application proceeds as presently formulated.
  3. The existing trees have a significant asset value which should not lightly be ignored. Using CAVAT, we have valued them at £4,674,918.
  4. Under the Mitigation Hierarchy, trees should not be removed unless there is no realistic alternative. One alternative would be to build around the trees rather than remove them.
  5. BCS9 of the Core Strategy also states that “Individual green assets should be retained wherever possible and integrated into new development”. Clear felling nearly all the trees to the east of the cycle/footpath should not, as it so often is, be the default option.
  6. Trees should not be removed merely because they are diseased or self-sown, or because they are small or not perfect specimens of their species.
  7. The removal of existing trees inevitably means that the eco-services they provided will not be replaced for decades, if at all.
  8. The adverse knock-on environmental impact on biodiversity of removing existing trees far outweighs any short-term benefits achieved by replacing them.

Our submission

The planning background

The National Planning Policy Framework

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) seeks to ensure that new development is sustainable. It stresses the importance of Green Infrastructure as one of three overarching, interdependent objectives – economic, social, and environmental. This means that the presumption in favour of sustainable environmental development is just as important as any in respect of economic or social development objectives.

Trees are an integral part of this because of the importance of trees in relation to the management of air, soil and water quality along with other associated ecosystem services, climate change adaptions and beneficial health effects. The NPPF also seeks to achieve the protection and enhancement of landscapes and achieve Net Gain in biodiversity.

The Natural England Joint Publication JP029 – Biodiversity Metric 2.0 (BDM2) provides a way of measuring and accounting for biodiversity losses and gains resulting from development or land management change. It defines Net Gain as an:

“approach to development that aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than beforehand. This means protecting existing habitats and ensuring that lost or degraded environmental features are compensated for by restoring or creating environmental features that are of greater value to wildlife and people. It does not change the fact that losses should be avoided where possible, a key part of adhering to a core environmental planning principle called the mitigation hierarchy.”

The Mitigation Hierarchy

Avoid – Where possible habitat damage should be avoided.

Minimise – Where possible habitat damage and loss should be minimised.

Remediate – Where possible any damage or lost habitat should be restored.

Compensate – As a last resort, damaged or lost habitat should be compensated for.

This is a cascading decision process – only if the preceding choice is unavailable is the next considered.

Local Planning Authorities (LPA) in the UK have a statutory duty to consider both the protection and planting of trees when considering planning applications. The potential impact of development on all trees is therefore a material consideration. In particular, BCS9 of the Core Strategy states that “Individual green assets should be retained wherever possible and integrated into new development”.

We have summarised Bristol’s planning policies as they relate to trees here – Planning obligations in relation to trees in Bristol.

Summary of the proposal in relation to trees

This site covers just over six hectares. The Lockleaze Allotments (a 0.8 hectare Statutory Allotment[1]) is located to the south east of the widest part of the site. It appears to be disused. Most of the substantial trees growing on the site are growing in or around this allotment or to the north of it. We have calculated that, taken together, they cover at least 1.3 hectares of the site – a tree canopy cover (TCC) of around 20% which is well above the estimated TCC for Bristol as a whole which is just under 12%.

All our calculations, summarised below, can be examined in this linked spreadsheet.

The Arboricultural Impact Assessment Report (the AIS) dated June 2020 (based on a survey done on the 19th and 20th of September 2019) identified a combined total of 58 individual trees and 40 tree group features. The number of trees in each group is not given, so it is not possible to say how many trees in total are growing on the site.

Of all the trees growing on site 24 individual and at least 251 group trees are identified for removal. The trees growing in Groups G69 and G74 are all to be removed, but the number of trees in each group is not identified so we have not been able to include or count these in our calculations.

The only reason for given for felling these two groups is because they show evidence of Ash Dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus). As the AIS recognises, the mere presence of Ash Dieback is not a sufficient reason for the removal of a tree. We oppose the removal of these tree unless it can be shown that they there is a better reason for their removal.

The CAVAT calculation

Using CAVAT we have calculated that those identified trees which have a measured stem Diameter (DBH) are worth £4,674,918.  As the AIS fails to give the upper life expectancy ranges[2] of the majority of trees, we have assumed that all those trees given a 10+ or 20+ years life expectancy will survive between 40 and 80 years. This attracts a 5% discount on the base valuation. We have applied a CTI factor for Bristol of 150[3]. All the other factors are set to their default values.

The BTRS calculation

These two tree groups and five individual trees are categorised as Category ‘U’ trees under BS5837:2012 Trees in relation to design demolition and construction, and so have not been taken into account for the purpose of the Bristol Tree Replacement Standard (BTRS) calculation. A further 10 trees are also excluded from the BTRS calculation because their stem diameters are under 15 cm. We advocate that all trees identified for removal should be replaced no matter what their size.

Notwithstanding this and based on the current guidance, we have calculated the BTRS value at 455 trees as per the AIS calculation.

Net Gain calculation

No Net Gain calculation has been undertaken using BDM2 in support of this application.

We have undertaken our own BDM2 calculation in respect of just the trees surveyed in support of this application. A full calculation needs to be undertaken in respect of the whole of the site. This will inform any future decision about achieving Net Gain if this development is to be allowed to proceed.

Using BDM2, we have calculated that the combined tree canopy cover[4] of just the known, measured trees is 1.21 hectares. We have set the A-1 Site Habitat Baseline Habitat Type to Urban – Street Tree in the calculation. This assumes, amongst other things, that any replacement trees will reach maturity in 27 years and so uses a multiplier of 0.3822 to reflect this.

This gives Base Habitat Units of 5.864 and a Base Replacement value of 3.17 hectares. If we add an arbitrary Net Gain value of 10%[5], then the Base Habitat Units increases to 6.451 and the Base Replacement value to 3.49 hectares. Assuming that a 27-year-old tree has a canopy of .00403 hectares, then 866 replacement trees are needed to replace what has been removed and to achieve Net Gain.

Loss of the ecosystem services of trees

We invite you to consider the decades-long damage that felling just one tree (let alone over 277 trees) will cause by inputting the DBH of any tree identified for removal into our Tree CO2 Calculator.

As you will see, when an equivalent tree is replaced on a one-for-one basis, the lost CO2e is never recovered. Even when the largest tree (with a DBH of 100 cm) is replaced with eight trees in accordance with BTRS, it will still take some 40 years to recover the 10.4 tonnes of lost CO2e. And this is just one of the eco-services that trees provide us!

Impact on wildlife from tree loss

We endorse the following passages from the Bonnington Walk Breeding Bird Survey Report which observes at 5.2 Habitat Loss:

The Proposed Development will include the loss of scrub, trees and buildings which provide habitat for breeding birds. The extent of habitat loss is likely to include all the scrub and trees in the centre of the Site with some edge habitat along the boundaries retained…The loss of this habitat will have an impact on any birds using it for foraging or breeding at the time. The Site is located within an urban landscape with limited natural habitats. Alternative habitats are not readily available adjacent to the Site, though alternative habitat is available in the wider landscape including Stoke Park Estate and connected habitats further east. Habitat loss on Site will have an impact at a Local level by reducing breeding bird habitat in the local area…

and at 6.2.1 Habitat Loss:

Where possible, habitat loss should be avoided, and natural habitats retained. Scrub and trees are of most value to breeding birds at this Site. When natural habitats are retained these should be protected during construction to prevent damage including root compaction and knocking off or damaging over hanging limbs.

This is just one example of the likely adverse impact on wildlife resulting from these tree removal plans. There is evidence of a diverse range of both flora and fauna that likewise will also be adversely affected by the loss of these trees.

The Bristol Tree ForumJuly 2020

You can find more detail about the application here:

20/02523/FB – Land on south side of Bonnington Walk, Bristol


[1] Owned by BCC under its asset number 8397.

[2] CAVAT uses six age ranges to set the discount factor.

[3] Bristol has a population of 459,300 and a land area (as opposed to the Administrative area which covers large parts of the River Avon and coastal margins) of 10,970 hectares. Using this gives a population per hectare of 41.9 (459,300/10,970) and so a CTI Index value of 150.

[4] Under BDM2 each tree’s Root Protection Area (RPA) is calculated at 12 times its stem diameter. RPA is roughly equivalent to a tree’s canopy.

[5] The choice is arbitrary chosen only for the sake of illustration. We are not advocating a Net Gain of 10%, though the concept of Net Gain implies an improvement on the base values.

Wales and West Utilities helps to protect Bristol’s precious trees

Wales and West Utilities has been congratulated by the Bristol Tree Forum, and thanked mightily for their understanding and practical approach to a possible future environmental catastrophe at one of their installations in Bristol.

Stoke Lodge Playing Field is a 26-acre site in Stoke Bishop in Bristol. In the north west corner of the field is a gas “kiosk” which houses gas pressure regulation equipment. It was built in 2009, replacing a smaller installation nearby which was not on the same land. It is the responsibility of Wales and West Utilities.

Many locally and nationally notable trees grow on the parkland, a number of them getting quite old now, and in need of some love and our protection.

The access to the compound is over the roots of some of these important trees, most of which are the subject of Tree Preservation Orders. Protected trees surround the compound, and their roots, which are very superficial (as is the way with tree roots) and in places even exposed, are at risk of damage from vehicles driving over them and parking on them.

The W&W gas kiosk

Tree Roots

Tree roots extend radially in every direction to a distance equal to at least the height of the tree (assuming no physical barriers) and grow predominantly near the soil surface.

Typically, 90% of all roots, and virtually all the large structural supporting roots, are in the upper 60cm of the soil.

Soil disturbance within the rooting area should be avoided, whenever and wherever possible as this can significantly adversely affect tree health and tree stability. 

Associated with roots are much finer, thread-like, mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae are symbiotic fungi which grow on or in roots, an association which is mutually beneficial to both the tree and the fungus. They are extremely efficient at nutrient absorption, especially phosphorus, and many trees cannot survive without them.

Diagram of a typical tree root system:

Cars, lorries and vans are heavy. They leak oil and hydraulic fluids from braking systems and power steering pipework and pumps. They also leak windscreen washer fluids. These chemicals are toxic for trees.  In the root area of a tree soil compaction caused by vehicles and the deposit of toxic or impermeable materials should be avoided. The nearer to the trunk these things take place the greater is the damage done and the greater the loss of roots.

Local residents are very protective of the trees – this whole Parkland is hugely important for them, and they have taken its care to their hearts.

Vans and lorries from Wales and West attend the site, both for routine maintenance visits and for any “emergencies”.

Recently one of the residents noted a Wales and West van parked on the exposed roots of one of the trees, so they contacted the Company to point out the dangers for the tree’s future that could be caused by this.

The response from a manager at the Company was immediate and most gratifying. Within hours a site meeting had been arranged with the W&W Manager, the Resident and the BTF BS9 Tree Champion in attendance – all suitably socially-distanced!

The Manager listened to everything we said. He told us that Wales and West had not previously been aware of the importance of these trees, nor aware of the peculiarities of the siting of the compound in relation to the trees.

He went on to say that he would do everything he could to inform future Wales and West employees visiting the site of the sensitive nature of the ground they would have to drive over, and that they would keep traffic passing over the root areas to a minimum, allowing only one vehicle to park on site at a time, parking any others required nearby on the highway. The one vehicle needed would not park under the canopies of the trees. It is possible for one vehicle to park clear of tree canopy areas.

He arranged for good quality signs to be affixed to their entrance gate and to the fence enclosing the kiosk, so that Wales and West operatives would be aware of the need to avoid damage to tree roots at this particular site.

This is the sign W&W attached.

The Bristol Tree Forum has been working hard in recent years, with local residents and their representatives, to encourage Bristol City Council, as owners of the land and as Landlord, to ensure that Tree Preservation Order regulations are complied with by their tenant using the Playing Field, and if necessary enforced. We have had some limited success. This made the attitude and actions of Wales and West Utilities all the more overwhelming.

So, we would like to thank W&W’s manager again for his actions on behalf of the trees, and to compliment Wales and West Utilities for supporting an ethos which encourages community engagement and action like this.

Postscript

The sign (see above) riveted to the main entrance gate onto the site and to the gas kiosk has been removed. It looks like the rivets have been drilled out, rather than the sign being removed by snapping it off, so it must have taken some effort and maybe even some planning to do this. The sign appears to have been taken away.

Who could possible think that doing this ‘vandalism’ could be for anyone’s benefit? It cannot have been Bristol City Council and it is hard to imagine who else would do such a thing. We are investigating.

Post Postscript

Wales & West have now told us that they removed the sign, saying “We put them in the wrong place. Now moved to the right place as agreed with the leaseholders of the land.” What leaseholders? As far as we know this bit of land is not leased. It belongs to Bristol City Council.

Finally

This is the notice that was on the gate:

This is the sign W&W attached.

It is all about protecting precious trees and safeguarding our environment.

There is no single Leaseholder with control of this gate. It is owned by Bristol City Council and the use of the gate and the access to the Field it grants is shared between Cotham School and Wales and West Utilities (W&W), two Leaseholders who use separate parts of the land beyond the gate. We do not know who asked W&W to remove the notice from the gate, but we are bound to ask what reasonable person, with any regard at all for trees, the environment and climate change, would ask W&W to remove it from a shared gate that they may not control, and why would they? Own up please?!

%d bloggers like this: