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Photo of street tree pruning done just two weeks ago by Ausgrid in Walenore Avenue Newtown.  Photo by Chris O'Dell used with thanks.

Photo of street tree pruning done just two weeks ago by Ausgrid in Walenore Avenue Newtown. Photo by Chris O’Dell used with thanks.

It is wonderful to see the push to have power companies take responsibility & pay for the damage they do to street trees is starting to gain momentum.  It means that there is cultural change happening & this is always good.

“A decision by the newly formed inner west Sydney Council to lobby Ausgrid to replace damaged trees is attracting plenty of interest here in the Southern Highlands.”

Wingecarribee Council Deputy Mayor Ian Scandrett “believes Endeavour Energy should contribute to selected replacement of the main trees which have been disfigured.   However, he’s also open to the idea of directing those contributions towards putting wires underground in our streets to preserve avenues of trees.”   

Hornsby Shire Council is also tackling the issue of street tree pruning for powerlines this time with Ausgrid.

In a January 2017 media release titled, ‘Council’s push to move powerlines underground,’ “At December’s meeting Council approved a mayoral minute seeking a discussion with electricity provider Ausgrid about ways to gradually place the power supply underground.  Council will also investigate ways to ensure all new subdivisions and high density developments include underground cabling.”

 “That pruning transforms the trees into stunted shadows of their real potential.  Imagine what we can do to our streetscapes if we have unlimited ability to plant trees and allow them to grow to their full scale.  We will have beautiful avenues of trees that will make our Bushland Shire an even more attractive place to live.” ~ ” Mayor Steve Russell, Hornsby Shire Council.

I agree 100 per cent.  Imagine also the ability to cool our streets & neighbourhoods if street trees were able to grow to their full potential.  It would mean that the urban heat island effect would be less dangerous, that people are less likely to die during heatwaves, that it would be nice to walk to wherever we are going & for those who do not have cars, walking would be a nicer experience than it currently is.

Those trees would be able to deliver more amenity in terms of beauty, shade, reduced cooling costs, & as the research keeps telling us, better public health.

Trees capture air-pollution & particulate from vehicles.  Particulate matter (that black stuff on your window sills) has been found to –

  • increase the incidence of respiratory illnesses such as asthma,
  • increase the incidence of heart disease and increase the incidence of fatal heart attacks &
  • increase incidence of dementia.

If these are not reason enough why street trees should be a priority, I don’t know what can be.

One of my Perth friends told me that powerlines are going underground, which was new to me.  I googled & found this published in January 2014, which shows how far behind we are.

For over a decade, Western Power has been undertaking an extensive program to put powerlines underground throughout Western Australia. Around 18 per cent of the overhead distribution network existing at the start of the program in 1996 is now underground, including 54 per cent of the Perth metropolitan area.”

“The recognised benefits of putting power underground include fewer blackouts during inclement weather, enhanced visual appearance, improved property values, reduced street tree pruning requirement and brighter, safer streets with the new lighting system.”

About 98% of the works are done by directional drilling. ….  The extensive use of directional drilling helps minimise the impact on residents and keeps reinstatement costs low.”  There is more information on how it is done & who pays for what in this interesting article

I received the following in an email from a local resident last week –

“We desperately need a great urban canopy to cool our streets, footpaths and suburbs.   For visual amenity, for wildlife, to encourage walking, to cool cars for those of us without driveways/undercover car parking.  Putting power cables underground means we can have the trees we want looking great and providing the canopy we need.”

Inner West Council, please add putting powerlines underground in your negotiations with Ausgrid.   Although a slow process, underground cables will allow this municipality to be transformed into a greener municipality which would be healthier for all, including the wildlife.

January 2017 tree pruning by Ausgrid in Renwick Street Marrickville.  This is one of multiple examples on this street.

January 2017 tree pruning by Ausgrid in Renwick Street Marrickville. This is one of multiple examples on this street.


Two branches left after pruning by Ausgrid

Two branches left after pruning by Ausgrid

I found a very interesting article on the practice of tree topping in American newspaper the Richmond Register called, ‘Topping Trees is a Bad Practice.’  See –

It is especially interesting in terms of the topping of street trees done by power company Ausgrid, as mentioned in the City of Sydney Council Minute I posted here last week.

  • “Topping involves the drastic removal or cutting back of large branches in mature trees leaving stubs. Topping can make a tree hazardous and reduce its life.”
  • Removing much of the tree canopy upsets the crown-to-root ratio and can cause serious interruption of the tree’s food supply as well as exposing the bark to the sun. For example: a 20-year-old tree has developed 20-years-worth of leaf surface area, therefore that much area is needed to feed the 20-years-worth of branches, trunks and roots that have developed.”
  • “Large branch stubs left from topping seldom close or callus. Nutrients are no longer transported to large stubs and that part of the tree becomes unable to seal off the injury. This leaves stubs vulnerable to insect invasion and fungal decay. Once decay has begun in a branch stub, it may spread into the main trunk, ultimately killing the tree.”
  • “Topping removes all existing buds that would ordinarily produce normal sturdy branches and instead stimulates regrowth that is dense and upright just below the pruning cut. The growth that results from topping is not well integrated into the wood of the tree. Because of the weak connections, these branches are more vulnerable to breaking.”

We know there is another way because Energy Australia managed our street trees for many decades with a pruning cycle of 7-8 years, while now Ausgrid has a pruning cycle of every 18-months.

Food for thought.

This sign was installed  by Marrickville Council.

This sign was installed by Marrickville Council.

A resident said with some sarcasm that they were glad Ausgrid at least left some canopy over the street.  (Marrickville)

A resident said with some sarcasm that they were glad Ausgrid at least left some canopy over the street. (Marrickville)

Today I was sent this Minute of the City of Sydney Council dated 24th October 2016.  This council document makes wonderful reading for those of us who have been greatly concerned & angered by the pruning practices of our street trees by power company Ausgrid.   It also gives our opinions legitimacy.  I thank Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney for this Minute.

Bold is my emphasis. For the original document see –


24 OCTOBER 2016


To Council:



The City’s urban canopy helps make our city liveable for our residents and workers. Street trees benefit the community’s health, remove pollutants from the air, create shade in the hot summer months and enhance general wellbeing. In densely populated areas, trees can also provide privacy.

There are currently around 81,000 trees in the City of Sydney area. Our last canopy measurement in 2013 found that the Local Government Area (LGA) has a 17.1 per cent canopy cover. This is up from just over 15 per cent in 2008.

Over the past 11 years, more than 11,431 street trees have been planted throughout the local area as part of our commitment in Sustainable Sydney 2030 to increase the local area’s green canopy by 50 per cent to 23.5 per cent in total.

Street trees need to be pruned occasionally to maintain the security of the overhead electricity wires. However, I share the concerns of residents about the disgraceful way in which Ausgrid’s contractors mutilate trees.

The methods breach the Australian Standard for the Pruning of Amenity Trees. Of particular concern is:

  • the ‘pruning’ is excessive and unnecessary and, far from being based on a risk management approach, it is simply “one size fits all”;
  • Ausgrid’s approach takes no account of tree species and growth rates, formative pruning that may have been carried out by local authorities, tree location, maintenance regime or risk of failure;
  • Ausgrid contractors effectively use ‘lopping’, the removal of branches to a designated clearance and not to a branch collar or other growth point. This is described as an ‘unacceptable practice’ in the Australian Standard for the Pruning of Amenity Trees; and
  • lopping is more expensive than a more environmentally sensitive approach would be. The harder a tree is cut the faster the regrowth. So the practice implemented by Ausgrid increases the cost of pruning as the trees require more frequent visits. The approach not only fails in terms of the environment and urban amenity, but economically.

Ausgrid’s mutilation of trees is controversial throughout the areas in which it occurs. On 12 October 2016, the Member for Summer Hill, Jo Haylen MP, moved a motion in the NSW Parliament calling on the Baird Government to hold an urgent parliamentary inquiry into “the butchering of trees across the inner west” by Ausgrid contractors. The motion followed a public meeting in Haberfield the previous month that was attended by over 100 people in response to Ausgrid pruning in that suburb.

When questioned about their approach, Ausgrid makes spurious claims to justify the extensive pruning, such as the risk of children climbing trees and getting electrocuted. I have seen no evidence to support this claim. On 13 October 2016, the Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich MP, asked a number of questions in State parliament about Ausgrid’s pruning practices and the claims they have made to justify them. I look forward to the responses.

Lopping in the City’s LGA stopped in mid-2016 after representations from the City but continues in the inner west and north shore. We remain concerned that the Ausgrid pruning program for 2017 in the City may include destructive practices, such as lopping in the absence of a formal commitment not to.

Ultimately, the solution is to place power lines underground, something I have been calling for as Lord Mayor and as State MP since 2001. Underground power lines would remove the need to mutilate street trees and provide future generations with a permanent legacy of greater energy reliability, improved safety and a better urban environment. It will bring us into step with other Australian capitals, and major international cities such as London New York, Paris and Rome.

I will write to the Premier requesting that he begin this important work as soon as possible. I will also write to the President of Local Government NSW (LGNSW), Councillor Keith Rhoades, urging LGNSW to run a state-wide campaign on this issue, given it affects communities across our State.

To avoid further mutilation of trees by Ausgrid contractors in the interim, I will seek a formal commitment from Ausgrid that their contractors will use best practice – as defined by the City of Sydney in conjunction with other Councils and major industry associations – when pruning trees, and abide by the Australian Standard for the Pruning of Amenity Trees. This would rule out destructive practices, such as lopping.

I will also urge the Premier to insist that contract conditions attached to the recent leasing of 50.4 per cent of the Ausgrid network includes clear conditions for the successful lessee that tree pruning must be in accordance with best practice and follow the Australian Standard for the Pruning of Amenity Trees.


It is resolved that Council:
(A) note the destructive tree pruning practices used by Ausgrid contractors which:

  1. (i)  are excessive, unnecessary, and not based on a risk management approach, but simply “one size fits all”;
  2. (ii)  take no account of tree species and growth rates, formative pruning that may have been carried out by local authorities, tree location, maintenance regime or risk of failure;
  3. (iii)  effectively use ‘lopping’ which is described as an ‘unacceptable practice’ in the Australian Standard for the Pruning of Amenity Trees, increasing the cost of pruning as the trees require more frequent visits and thus failing not only in terms of the environment and urban amenity, but economically; and

 (iv) is not based on evidence, but on spurious claims, such as the risk of children climbing trees and being electrocuted;

  1. (B)  note that the best way to avoid tree mutilation while providing greater energy reliability, improved safety and a better urban environment is to place power lines underground;
  2. (C)  request the Lord Mayor write to the Premier seeking a commitment that:
    1. (i)  power lines in NSW will be placed underground as a matter of urgency; and
    2. (ii)  the contract for the leasing of 50.4 per cent of the Ausgrid network include conditions that pruning of trees across the network be in accordance with best practice and compliant with the Australian Standard for the Pruning of Amenity Trees;
  3. (D)  request the Lord Mayor write to Ausgrid seeking a written assurance that any pruning of trees be in accordance with best practise, [sic] compliant with the Australian Standard for the Pruning of Amenity Trees (which requires pruning be undertaken by third parties with Arboriculture qualifications – not ‘tree loppers’); and
  4. (E)  request the Lord Mayor write to the President of Local Government NSW, Councillor Keith Rhoades, asking Local Government NSW to run a state-wide campaign about compliance of electricity networks with the Australian Standard for the Pruning of Amenity Trees.


Here is your urban forest - on the ground.

Here is your urban forest – on the ground.  

little-corella-photo-by-saving-our-treesI was sent the link to this short video called, ‘How forests heal people.’    It is lovely to watch, nice to listen to & succinctly sums up the benefits that being in nature brings to human beings.

We don’t need a forest to heal, though looking at these images feels like being in a forest is a fast track way to healing.   Parks, trees, rivers, the beach, a game of golf, a trip to the mountains – all these are also effective ways to reconnect with nature & slow our brains down, thereby reaping the benefits of being in nature & starting the healing process.

Research by Planet Ark found that time spent in nature reduces a person’s chance of –

  • developing diabetes by 43%,
  • developing cardiovascular disease & stroke by 37% &
  • developing depression by 25%.

These statistics show that it makes sense being in nature & we should do it often, at least once a week even if it is a quiet wander around your garden or along the street looking at other people’s gardens.

How Forests Heal People (4.5 minutes) –

Photographer unknown.  Sourced from Pinterest.

Photographer unknown. Sourced from Pinterest.

So sad to read of the death of the 88-year-old Jacaranda tree in the south-eastern quadrangle of Sydney University.  It fell quietly overnight on Friday 28th October 2016.

This tree was planted in 1928 by Professor EG Waterhouse & had a massive 18-metre wide canopy.  It was included in the City of Sydney’s Significant Tree Register.

It had ganoderma fungal decay in the base of its trunk, which was known to the university, though tests are being done to confirm the cause of death.  It’s very nice to see such interest in a tree.

In 2014, Sydney University took cuttings of this Jacaranda tree & have successfully grafted two clones – so the genes of this iconic & much loved tree will continue to live on.

Most of the canopy is on the ground.

Most of the canopy is on the ground.

Great news for our street tree & our streetscapes.  Great news also for the wildlife who have barely any habitat as it is.

A statement from the Inner West Council said Mr Trevor Armstrong, CEO of Ausgrid power company, has made a commitment to the Council & therefore the whole community, “that contractors will reduce the cutback they are carrying out on local street trees following strong advocacy from Council and the community.” See –

After meeting with the Inner West Council, Ausgrid has said that “the maximum trimming for regrowth in the future will be 0.5 metres.”   Ausgrid’s current guidelines are for a “clearance of 1 metre around bare low voltage powerlines.”

The Inner West Council also resolved not to retain “TreeServe, the company responsible for the excessive pruning,” on their contractors list.  Let’s hope that the next contractors do a better job pruning our street trees.

I want to thank Ausgrid for taking this issue seriously & making the changes.   I also thank the Inner West Council for taking this issue to Ausgrid & pursuing the protection of our street trees.  Our urban forest is extremely important to most in the community & the look of butchered street trees does have a negative impact on us.

Two branches left after pruning by Ausgrid in 2014.

Two branches left after pruning by Ausgrid in 2014.

2014 street tree pruning by Augrid in Marrickville

2014 street tree pruning by Augrid in Marrickville

This sign was installed  by Marrickville Council.

This sign was installed by Marrickville Council.

I think it is laughable that a large organisation who has purchased another organisation, completely changes the way they do business and then after enraging the community, decides to do community consultation.  This is what is happening with Ausgrid, which is owned by the NSW government.

Prior to Ausgrid, we had Energy Australia managing our electricity supply.  The business name has changed, but not the service the company provides.

It’s like having a deli on the main street for 60-years.  Then the business is sold & it continues to operate as a deli, except under new management.  For 60-years this deli  was famous for selling a wide range of quality cheese.  However, the new owners chose not to have a wide range of cheese, only stocking cheddar for sale.  It’s still a deli, but what it offers has changed.

Now that might not be the best analogy, but this is what I feel has happened with the transfer of management of Energy Australia to Ausgrid in terms of street tree pruning.

  • Energy Australia pruned the street trees on a 7-8 year cycle.
  • Ausgrid prunes the street trees on an 18-month cycle.

Does this mean that Energy Australia provided an inferior & dangerous service to the community for all those years?  I don’t think so at all.

While Energy Australia was not immune to butchering street trees, they did not do it as a matter of course.  Since Ausgrid has taken over management, the state of street trees all over their area of control in Sydney is deplorable.   It’s not unusual to see the street trees in sections of streets looking as though they have been through a war.

And the community has been complaining loudly.

After their initial round of pruning, it appears that Ausgrid do a few street trees in a street, then come back at a later date to do the others.  I presume this is to somewhat mitigate the look of destruction it leaves behind.

Ausgrid calls what it does “tree trimming.”  I would debate this.  “Trimming” sounds gentle & nothing like the savage butchering well below the service cable for Pay TV & even further below the electricity cables.

IMPORTANT:  I would like to state clearly that I am not focusing on or criticising the workers who do the tree pruning.  They do what the company tells them to do to.

Ausgrid clearly has different opinions on what is safe clearance from electricity cables than did the previous energy supplier Energy Australia.  Yet, we did not have electrical fires breaking out all over the place, as is the explanation for the brutal tree pruning on Ausgrid’s website.   We are keeping you safe is their message & that is hard to argue against unless you ask why Energy Australia managed to prune the street trees differently & still keep us safe.

Ausgrid needs to expand on their perception of “safe.”  Increasingly researchers all over the world are publishing about the urban heat island effect, deaths from heatwaves, mental health deterioration & increased respiratory illness & fatal heart attacks in areas that have a poor urban forest.

The street where I live had street trees that reached the top of the power poles for the two decades that we have lived here & it was the same for all the streets around us.  There were no fires. There was no loss of power supply.  Service was stable & all this through a number of major storms, including the incredibly damaging hail storm in April 1999 & the major storms of June 2007 & February 2010.

Ausgrid took over from Energy Australia in March 2011 & my street is a shadow of its former self.

We lost shade, we lost beauty (because our street trees were beautiful) & we lost bird life.  We are now a street with power poles poking metres above savaged street trees & every time Ausgrid visits, more branches are lost.

The urban forest is a mix of street trees, park trees & private trees.  Our area, the old Marrickville municipality, has –

  • the least green space in Australia – so we are not getting much benefit from trees in parks unless we go to the parks on a regular basis & stay there for a while.
  • Land lots are small & often not suitable for a decent sized tree. Therefore, the dependence on street trees – green leafy streets – is substantial in the Inner West.
  • In 2015 Marrickville municipality was rated “poor” in terms of its urban forest with a canopy cover of just 16.3%.
  • Marrickville was also also found to be the unhappiest community in Australia according to Deakin University’s Australian Unity Wellbeing Index.

Can poor happiness levels relate to the lack of canopy, to poor street trees & to the lack of green space?  Yes, I believe it can & that it does.

This is backed up by research published by The Forestry Commission of Great Britain called, ‘Trees, People & the Built Environment.’   The results of the study show that our trees are not just something to make an area look nice but they may actually be making people happier.  See –

So, with all this in mind, think about the impact Ausgrid’s new street tree pruning practices are having on our urban forest & how this flows on to the community’s health, our increased risk of a range of illnesses & disease starting from childhood & even death.   It is a serious public health issue & I have not even mentioned climate change yet.

Climate change is breaking all the records for increased & unseasonal temperatures.  Every year it is harder to be out on the streets in the middle of the day.  If we don’t have sufficient street trees with a decent canopy, then we are going to suffer.  We are already suffering.  Some of us will die from the heat.  It is as simple as that.

Research by the University of Oxford published in July 2016 found that –

  • “Scientists have specified how many deaths can be attributed to human-made climate change during an extreme heatwave. Researchers calculate that in Paris, the hottest city in Europe during the heatwave in summer 2003, 506 out of 735 summer deaths recorded in the French capital were due to a heatwave made worse by human-made climate change. The impact was less severe in London, with an additional 64 deaths out of a total of 315 heat-related deaths.”

The paper says the mortality rate attributed to human-made climate change in both these cities is notably high, but they are just two of a large number of cities that were affected by the heatwave that year. It suggests that the resulting total number of deaths across Europe due to climate change is likely to be substantially higher.  See –

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that “between 540 & 760 deaths could be attributed to the ongoing spell of hot weather” over a 9-day period in July 2013. See –

139 deaths due to heat occurred in Victoria Australia in January 2014.  Victoria suffered another heatwave in 2009 resulting in 374 deaths. See –

Research published in 2016 by Lancaster University found that –

  • “Toxic nanoparticles from air pollution have been discovered in human brains in “abundant” quantities.”
  • Air pollution is a global health crisis that kills more people than malaria and HIV/Aids combined and it has long been linked to lung and heart disease and strokes. But research is uncovering new impacts on health, including degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, mental illness & reduced intelligence.” See –

This is truly alarming & should be also alarm the NSW government.  They constantly tell us that they are terribly worried about the cost of caring for people who have Alzheimer’s disease.

Particulate matter from air pollution has been shown to significantly increase incidence of this disease.  So what picks up harmful particulate matter?  Trees of course!  So once again, street trees are a public health issue.

If the government wants to get control of the increasing health care costs of the community, they should provide local councils with the funds to greatly increase the urban forest.  This spending will, as the trees grow & start to become more useful, start to impact on all kinds of health issues ranging from obesity, respiratory & cardiac illness, depression & Alzheimer’s disease.  It’s a no brainer. 

  • Stop ripping out the trees for development or parking lots for WestConnex,
  • Stop the energy companies from destroying the viability & usefulness of the street trees &
  • Provide sufficient funds to allow suburbs with poor canopies to start to look like other more wealthlier suburbs across Sydney. Often the housing is similar – it is the streetscapes that are radically different.  We already know that poorer suburbs tend to have less tree cover.

I’ve often wondered whether it has been a deliberate initiative to keep some suburbs more affordable by having less tree cover & unattractive streetscapes.  Unfortunately, this is being blurred by the soaring housing costs in Sydney where even a shabby house in an unattractive street is being purchased for $1 million plus.  Even so, I think some might use housing prices as their argument why I am incorrect in my observations.

I say to the NSW government – instead of whinging on the nightly news about how the government will pay for health care in an ageing population, take action to give people the quality of life while they are living, from the cradle onwards.   Give them a decent urban forest with a great tree canopy cover, so that the air that they breathe is not harming them by creating a range of physical & mental health issues.   Keep many of the community out of hospital by making our city green.

Ausgrid’s website ( says –

To help improve our services we undertook an engagement program that –

  • aimed to understand our community’s interests,
  • develop a shared understanding of the need for managing trees growing under powerlines and near other infrastructure on our electricity network and
  • help to improve the way Ausgrid performs this work in the future.”

Now Ausgrid is showing that they are listening to the myriad complaints from both the community & local councils by holding community consultation via a working group.  And as is usual with community consultation, if we do not participate, then it is business as usual. Any further complaints are met with – well we held community consultation & didn’t get much in the way of negative feedback, so what can we do.  We are keeping you safe…blah, blah, blah.

The working group –  “… includes nine community members as well as representatives from local government areas including Parramatta, Burwood, Botany Bay, Cessnock, Canterbury-Bankstown, City of Sydney, Cumberland, Hornsby Shire, Hunters Hill, Inner West, Ku-ring-gai, Lake Macquarie, Mosman, Newcastle City, North Sydney, Northern Beaches, Port Stephens, Randwick, Strathfield, Sutherland, Willoughby and Woollahra; the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, Local Government NSW, Local Government Tree Resource Association, NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Arboriculture Australia, NSW Energy and Water Ombudsman and the Energy Networks Association.”

The working group will meet four times between August & December 2016.

So, if the state of the street tree pruning bothers you (It bothers Marrickville Council) & if you care about your own & your family’s health, take up their offer & leave feedback at the Inner West Council –  Then Council will have something from the community to take to these meetings.  If enough of us participate, we may actually be able to effect positive change, though it may take decades for some of the trees to look good again.

I hope that Ausgrid does more than listen & that it makes significant changes to its tree pruning standards.   Sydney needs street trees now more than ever with Sydney’s population over 5-million.  Trees, the urban forest canopy will become more important than ever.

Most of the canopy is on the ground.

Most of the canopy is on the ground.



One trunk and two branches

One trunk and two branches

We couldn't work out why this tree was pruned in the way it was.

We couldn’t work out why this tree was pruned in the way it has been.

Sydney is changing with all the high-rise development, but also because of the new style of street tree pruning by power company Ausgrid.    What was a rarity when Energy Australia managed power in the Sydney region, has now become a fairly common sight & frankly, it’s ugly.

The photos with this post are of Windsor Avenue Croydon Park.  I saw them while driving down Georges River Road & was interested enough to stop for a closer look on my return.  I imagine it was a shock to the residents when they came home because there is not much tree left.  Google maps show a much larger canopy when they last took images of the streets.

Ausgrid’s website says, Generally, in residential areas the clearance around bare low voltage powerlines is 1 metre.”

However, what I have noticed is that pruning happens much lower at 1-metre below the service cable.  I have been told to expect more service cables, so would that mean 1-metre lower than any new cable?

The following was taken from an August 2015 article in the Sydney Morning Herald where many local councils were upset about the degree of pruning by Ausgrid, including our own Marrickville Council –

“I’m not sure what’s driving the savagery that they’re using,” Cr Johns said.  I can only suspect that it’s to lower costs, that if you completely hatchet a tree then you don’t have to come back for two years instead of annually.”

My question is, why the need for annual pruning or every 18-months as happens in the Inner West when for decades, street trees were pruned every 7-8 years?   

The trees in my street reached as tall as the power poles for the two decades that we have lived here, but not since Ausgrid took over the company.  Now the power poles stick up bare metres above whatever foliage has been left on the trees & sadly, each year more of the canopy gets removed.

Even trees in front gardens have been removed after a severe pruning from the power company left them ugly & one-sided.

We were not a leafy street to start with, so this new pruning management has had a major impact on the visual amenity of the streetscape.  It is also hotter – much hotter because there is little shade left.

With more & more research showing how important trees, especially street trees, are to human health, this continued decimation is bound to impact the community.  This issue  must be addressed by local councils sooner rather than later.

Poor little tree.

Poor little tree….not much left.

One trunk and one branch

One trunk and one branch

Every branch topped.

Every branch topped.

Looks terrible.

Looks terrible.  Not only ugly, but these trees appear to be a few decades old.  They would have provided great amenity before they were reduced to this.  Much of the green visible comes from trees in front gardens.  

The winner.

The winner.

Drowning in concrete.  This was a hot place to stand.

Drowning in concrete. This was a hot place to stand.

I read a wonder blog post in Resilience called, ‘The Magic of Trees’ written by Sarah Kobos.

I can’t share it all because of copyright, so I encourage you to go & read it. See –

She writes about walking & cycling the streets & the impact of street trees; good street trees.

It is a a hot day & Sarah is riding her bicycle along lovely tree-lined streets when…..

Unfortunately, my sanguine attitude evaporated the moment I emerged from the sanctuary of a shaded neighborhood into a treeless, asphalt furnace.  No disrespect to Joan of Arc, but at least if you get burned at the stake, it’s a dry heat.  This was more like being boiled.  And then fried.  If you built a sauna inside a kiln, it would feel something like this street. The only thing worse than biking on a treeless street on a scorching hot day is walking on one.” 

“…..So when you talk about “complete streets” and “active transportation” be sure to mention the importance of canopy trees.  Because in a hot climate, if you don’t have shade, these options are moot.  Everyone with a car is going to drive.  Everyone without a car is going to suffer, or stay home.  And if you’ve never thought about street trees as a social justice issue, an afternoon spent in the summer sun walking to (and waiting for) the bus might just change your mind.”

“….Simply put, trees matter.  And I don’t mean those shrubs people stick in parking lots to fulfill the landscaping requirements of the zoning code.  I mean real trees.  The kind that line sidewalks and create canopies over the street.  The kind that turn inhospitable environments into pleasant places for people.”

This is a superb post & one that I am sure we can all relate to.

With climate change breaking all our meteorological records in Australia, we need street trees more than ever.  It is hard out there without the comfort of our car’s air-conditioning, but it is relatively easy to fix.  We just need more street trees – good street trees with a healthy canopy that shades both the footpath & the street.

We need shade trees near bus stops, outside cafes, public spaces & in shopping strips.  We need shade trees in all places where people walk, where people wait & where people like to sit.

We also need more trees in our gardens, because this will help cool the whole block & ultimately the whole suburb if there are enough trees.  With the cost of electricity having risen once again, a tree or two in the right place in our garden will have a positive impact on our power bills.

Lastly, our parks need more trees & less concrete.  We do need concrete paths so every place is accessible, but I think a number of our parks have too much concrete.

The bottom line is that if we want a cooler environment, then we need to de-pave & plant more trees.  The Sustainable Streets program is doing well in my opinion.  Every street that has more verge gardens & less concrete is cooler, more attractive & nicer to walk along.

The community benefits, the wildlife benefits & so does our collective health.  Heat kills more people than we realise & this will become more of a known issue as our city becomes hotter.  This is why the City of Sydney is increasing their urban forest by 50%.  They know that the urban heat island effect has the potential to kill.

The Inner West Council needs to allocate more in the annual budget that will allow the increase of our urban forest.   You just need to look at the suburbs of Balmain, Birchgrove, Rozelle & Annandale to see what the potential is.  These suburbs are now part of our municipality.  I am sure if the residents who live in these suburbs took the 20-minute drive to where I live they would not be in any doubt that their urban forest is far superior & this is despite their narrower streets & footpaths.

While I feel sad that Marrickville Council is no longer, I am hoping that the amalgamation will bring some equity in terms of the urban forest across the whole of the new local government area. We are entitled to expect that our urban forest too can look like it does in Balmain, Birchgrove, Rozelle & Annandale, although it will take time.

Gorgeous streetscape in Lewisham.  We have a few streets like this and to me they are very precious.

Gorgeous streetscape in Lewisham. We have a few streets like this and to me they are special.

Marrickville streetscape that will one day be leafy when the Plane trees grow.

Marrickville streetscape that will one day be leafier when the Plane trees grow.

Dulwich Hill streetscape where street trees could be planted.

Dulwich Hill streetscape where street trees could be planted.

Planet Ark has released their newest research into the benefits of trees titled, ‘Adding Trees: A prescription for health, happiness and fulfilment.’  The report found that spending time in nature makes us “healthier, happier, brighter, calmer & closer.”

Research like this makes me feel happy because it confirms what I am trying to do with this blog is correct & that I am on the right path.  Trees, green spaces, access to nature & participation in natural surroundings is most definitely a public health issue.  In fact, it is a much bigger public health issue than I think is understood by many local councils in Australia.  Take these incredible statistics from the report as examples.

Time in nature reduces a person’s chance of –

  • developing diabetes by 43%,
  • developing cardiovascular disease & stroke by 37% &
  • developing depression by 25%.

Diabetes in Australia says –

  • “Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes.
  • 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. That’s one person every five minutes.
  • The total annual cost impact of diabetes in Australia estimated at $14.6 billion.
  • For every person diagnosed with diabetes there is usually a family member or carer who also ‘lives with diabetes’ every day in a support role. This means that an estimated 2.4 million Australians are affected by diabetes every day.”

The Heart Foundation says –

  • “Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of death in Australia, with 43,603 deaths attributed to CVD in Australia in 2013.
  • Cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke & blood vessel diseases) kills one Australian every 12 minutes.
  • CVD was the main cause for 518,563 hospitalisations in 2012/13 & played an additional role in another 680,000 hospitalisations.”

A paper by Heart Disease Research Australia says –

  • “In 2010 Coronary Heart Disease had a financial burden of $5.1b & a burden of disease cost of $13.3b. Total economic cost of $18.3b.
  • Number of Australians dying from repeat heart attacks is expected to increase by over 40% (across all age groups) by 2020.”

The Submission to the Commission of Audit from the National Heart Foundation of Australia 2013 found that –

  • “Physical inactivity is a major health problem in its own right.
  • 54% of Australian adults are not physically active.
  • Physical inactivity costs …. an estimated $1.5 billion a year, causes 16,000 premature deaths a year, increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon & breast cancer & is a critical factor in Australia’s obesity epidemic, with more than half of all Australian adults being overweight or obese.”

For me it is much more enjoyable to be physically active in a lovely leafy park & along leafy green streets.  Improving the outlook of both our parks & streets by adding more trees to create more shade will encourage the community to walk, instead of instantly going for their air-conditioned car.

If walking can help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon & breast cancer & obesity, should not the outlook of the parks & transforming the streetscapes be a priority for local councils? 

Beyond Blue says –

  • “Depression costs the Australian economy approximately $12.6 billion per year and accounts for up to six million working days of lost productivity.” You can add further costs (monetary, lost productivity, personal & social) to others who are connected in some way to the depressed person.

If my calculations are correct the costs of just these these diseases in Australia is a minimum of $47 billion every year. 

Alcohol & other drug use, often connected to depression, also has a massive financial impact in the workplace & on the economy in terms of loss of productivity, absenteeism, mistakes & accidents in the workplace.  Then there are the social impacts & costs, which are vast.

If alcohol & other drug use in Australia was factored in, you could add $55.2 billion bringing the costs to a total of 102.2 billion every year.

The $55.2 billion comes from a 2008 report by Collins & Lapsley for health costs in 2004–2005.  Alcohol & other drug use in Australia seems to have accelerated since then, so we could reasonably expect the costs to be higher.

I wonder how much it would cost to increase the urban forest canopy in all metropolitan suburbs that had a poor or medium canopy, install aerial bundled cabling where needed & create green leafy parks, shopping strips & small green spaces.  I doubt the cost would come anywhere near $47 billion annually & most certainly not 102.2 billion every year.

Preventative health care is cheaper in the long run.  If trees, beautiful streetscapes & leafy shopping strips help make the community healthier & happier, why isn’t it being done to the degree that is needed by the bulk of our local councils?  To me it shows there needs to be a significant culture change toward trees in many areas in Sydney & undoubtedly in many areas in other cities.   Step 1:  allocate significantly more to the annual budget for trees, streetscapes & parks.

There also needs to be a culture change when it comes to getting people to want to go outdoors & spend time in nature.  We live in a very fast paced world these days & the temptation to veg out watching television or playing internet games is strong.

Our kids do not have contact with nature like we did when I was a child.  In the research report there is a term – outdoor illiterate.”  I think it is a brilliant way to describe the consequences for children who spend very little time outdoors.

Today I saw something unusual in that a gum boot wearing toddler was splashing around in a puddle at the markets.  Her mum was enjoying watching her daughter having a good time.

The report found that children of today spend the bulk of their time inside on level floor surfaces.  As a consequence of this lifestyle it has been found that “Australian children cannot walk confidently and & skillfully in outdoor environs; they are unfamiliar with uneven ground, crossing rivers or negotiating steep hilly terrain (Stone, 2009).”  How sad is that.   Outside is becoming an issue too with more concrete paths being added to our parks.

It makes me wonder what are the implications for children’s ability to age well?  Flexibility & balance become increasingly important as one gets older.  Falling due to poor balance often results in a broken hip, necessitating surgery, lengthy rehabilitation & unfortunately for many, a one way journey to live out the rest of their lives in a nursing home.  Are we setting up children to have more problems earlier when they get older?

“The message is urgent: unplug, boot it down, get off-line, get outdoors, breathe again, become real in the real world.” ~ David Orr.

Not just children, but adults too.  Technology is great, but not if it comes at the cost of our children not being able to walk properly & people of all ages being sick, unhappy or chronically depressed.

Living in a city is great too, but again, not if we have poor green spaces, or too few green spaces or crowded green spaces that focus on providing organized entertainment with little or no space for peaceful reflection & down time.

A May 2016 article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled, ‘Sydney’s green spaces to get squeezed as city’s population swells’ ‪  said –

  • Over the next 15 years the amount of total open space per person in the city is expected to shrink by more than 20 per cent, from 18.3 square metres a head to 14.4 square metres by 2036.” Our courtyard is larger than this!
  • “By that stage the Sydney local government area will be home to an extra 81,000 people, up from 200,000 now.” And this is just the City of Sydney.

In the mid-1990s, Pyrmont had a population of around 1,000 people.  This has ballooned to more than 15,000 & the suburb is unrecognizable, at least from across the water at White Bay.

In the article, the demand for playing fields is deemed unachievable & so suggests that the way to provide what is needed is to install synthetic playing fields – so we will even lose the grass.

How the birds like magpies, galahs & little corellas who rely on these spaces will cope, I do not know, but the reality is, wildlife doesn’t feature much when local councils want to install synthetic turf.   Locally, you just need to look at Arlington Reserve to see this.  It all happened against fierce community opposition & at the same time as the light rail station was being built in an area where listed as ‘endangered’ Long-nosed Bandicoots were thought to live.

How did these animals cope when two green areas of habitat close to each other were being torn apart & redeveloped?  I think the attitude is that birds/animals will move on, but increasingly it is becoming an issue of “where to?”  The declining numbers of common native birds like the magpie is proof they are not adjusting to the loss of green space.

I don’t know about you, but a big part of my nature / green space experience is birds.  I like to see them. I like to look at them & I especially like to hear them.  As I ride around Marrickville & surrounds, I often pass through deadly quiet streets.  There are poor street trees, or few street trees & very few trees in gardens. As a consequence, there seems to be a lack of birds.  That or they are all sleeping when I ride past.

How do you keep a population happy & healthy if there is little green space & where wildlife doesn’t feature much?

I’ve already written too much & have barely touched on the findings of the report, so will post Part 2 soon.  It’s a brilliant report & certainly got me thinking.

It is great that Marrickville Council depaved and created verge gardens along this stretch in Sydenham, plus added some Poplar trees.  Before it was just hard concrete.

It is great that Marrickville Council depaved and created verge gardens along this stretch in Sydenham, plus added some Poplar trees. Before it was just hard concrete.

Pyrmont skyline from White Bay

Pyrmont skyline from White Bay.  I fear that the bulk of Sydney will look like this within 10-20 years.  

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