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Stunning trees at the Opera House end of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens

50 years ago the Sydney Basin had extensive habitat for urban wildlife.  There were Sydney Blue Gum High Forests along the ridges from Crows Nest to Hornsby.  Today this species of tree is on the critically endangered list.  Despite being on this list, I know that 4 x 61 metre (200 foot) Sydney Blue Gums were chopped down for a development at Wahroonga last March.

The woodlands of the Cumberland Plain between Parramatta & Penrith are almost gone with the community fighting Blacktown Council unsuccessfully to prevent the removal of more 100 plus-year-old critically endangered trees for 2 football fields in Glenwood last April.  Not to be left out, Penrith City Council recently approved the removal of more than 300 hectares of the critically endangered Cumberland Plain woodland from the ADI site for a new suburb to be named Jordan Springs.  The community are protesting this too, yet 10 hectares of trees have already been removed.

There were salt marshes & fresh water swamps on the western side of Botany Bay.  Most have been filled in & developed for the airport, for golf courses & for housing.  Even our back yards have changed with a trend towards paved, concreted gardens or covered with decking.

Anyone aged 50 & over who grew up in Sydney will know just how much Sydney has changed.  I played in a natural creek in amongst thick bush where there is now a 6-lane highway.  In another family home, a horse lived 5 doors down.  Many people owned chickens & grew their own veggies.  Most ¼ acre blocks had multiple tall trees & they were not looked upon as a threat to life & property.  Admittedly, there are still suburbs where gardens are heavily treed, but I maintain the do-it-yourself renovation trend has been to remove these trees & neaten gardens.  Leaves are a problem for many people.

Our governments are pushing for massive population growth & demanding more development for housing.  As the population increased, our green areas decreased as well.  I think it is likely that these remaining green areas will also come under threat of development.  I remember reading last year that the proposed light rail through Rozelle & Leichhardt intended to use parks along the way for stations.  There was an outcry from the community & I think the parks have been left alone in the final plan.  As I write this post the TV news is talking about the loss of Sydney’s ‘green belt’ to development of high-rise units.  It’s non-negotiable despite opposition from great chunks of the community & many Councils.

Port Jackson Fig trees provide homes for possums & food for birds & bats

Housing developments are generally not built with significant green areas & space, like they are in London & New York for example.  When trees are used, they are often ornamental & of small stature.

Tree species such as Prunus & Ornamental Pear are being planted as street trees because they have a straight growth habit, have thin branches which can be easily pruned & do not have a shade canopy.  However nice they look, especially in autumn, they do not provide food or homes for birds & native animals.

Urbanisation has removed much of the food sources our wildlife depends upon to survive & has made many species of birds & animals extinct or placed them on the vulnerable, threatened or endangered species lists.  For most wild birds & animals, it is not as simple as finding somewhere else to live as each has their own territory & do not take kindly to interlopers arriving as they are a threat to the limited food sources.  Generally they fight until one either dies or leaves.

Yesterday I read an article about possums in last weekends Sunday Herald 23rd May 2010 – “There is an epidemic of possum napping as an increasing number of residents illegally trap the troublesome marsupials then dump them in city & suburban parks.” Unfortunately, because of territories, this is usually a death sentence for the possums.  People who are caught can be prosecuted under the Cruelty to Animals Act.

2 large Palms in an Inner West front garden

If a possum has set up home in your roof space, WIRES can humanely trap them for you & take them outside to an appropriate tree.  This is not something which should be attempted by anyone but trained experts.  Not only is a terrified possum quite capable of putting you in hospital for a few weeks, you may inadvertently leave possum babies behind leaving a bigger problem for you to deal with later.

The thing is, if there are decent trees for possums to live in, they are happy to do so & won’t be looking to live in your roof.  Making roof space secure against possum invasion is easy & quite cheap with the benefit that birds like Indian Mynas won’t use it either & rats & mice are also kept out. Snakes too.

Last year a very young Ring Tailed Possum moved into a street tree near us.  No one but us knows where it is & we only do because it visits us occasionally.  It causes no trouble in the neighbourhood other than eating a few petals.  There is no noise, no poop on cars, no damage to property.  The only evidence is the occasional collection of small branches.  My neighbour is pleased with what she thinks is my cleanup work.

Just today a good friend said, “Why would you want possums in the area?”  My answer was because this is their home too.  Living next to a park, he undoubtedly has many possums scampering through his garden & street at night & he sleeps through it. They make no negative impact on his life. Possums are only a problem if they set up house in your roof & this is something easily & cheaply managed.

It is my opinion that Councils should be planting street & park trees that provide food & good homes for urban wildlife.  Not always, because certainly there are some streets & roads where another type of tree is more appropriate, but on the whole, trees should be chosen for their ability to provide food & homes for our wildlife.  I don’t think Councils can rely on the residents to do so.  However, I also believe Councils have a role in encouraging residents to plant bird & wildlife supportive trees/shrubs/plants on their property via education & community programs.

Developers should not be able to have DAs passed without significant green spaces as a requirement.  It would be nice to see real creativity in new buildings. Glass & brick blocks do very little for the landscape.  Roof gardens, gardens on different levels, buildings which are set back from the street so there can be green space in front where cafes/restaurants can set up tables or where shoppers can meet, have a rest etc.  Research has shown shoppers spend an average of 11% more in green leafy shopping strips, so this change in design has a real potential to make significant money for businesses.

Corner of Marrickville & Victoria Roads

I digress. Suffice to say, there is going to be a lot more development, especially high-rise residential.  As this will decide what the city will look like for the next 100 years, now is the time to say no to the ugly blocks, the cold modern glass. We should demand apartment buildings that provide a good lifestyle.  We also have a responsibility to design developments with urban wildlife in mind. It doesn’t take much.  Plant the right trees, ensure they flower & plant so that something is in flower for each season.  Plant undergrowth at different levels, use both shrubs & native grasses & dispose of the wall-to-wall, corner-to-corner cement.

Unfortunately, none of this is likely to happen unless the community make it really clear this is what they want.  In time, I believe we will all want it because global warming & the Heat Island Effect is going to bring this to the forefront of the mind of the majority.  Essentially, it’s going to get very hot. Then we will notice that most of our street trees give little shade & there is a proliferation of cement.

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Last Friday, I was called to Excelsior Parade Marrickville, home of ‘The Pride of Excelsior.’ (see Shame Page) “Energy Australia are pruning the trees.”  I arrived just as they were finishing.  Whether due to recent bad publicity plaguing the energy companies or just a good crew of contractors, they had done a good job.

Energy Australia removed only what was necessary

I always give credit where when it’s due. This is one such occasion.  I have been worried about these trees knowing that Energy Australia were due.  This time there were only a few branches on the road & they had taken care not to over prune.

Interestingly, a small crowd had gathered to assess the work, indicating that others hold these trees in high esteem as well.

The trees are Brush Box, large & old, just the type that Council have recommended to be chopped down & replaced in their Tree Strategies Issues Paper (see last post).  No one knows when these trees were planted, but the housing was built in 1915.  Older residents said the trees went in around that time.  They form a canopy over the street & support a myriad of wildlife.  Everyone who comes to this street mentions the beauty of these trees.  Even the real estate agents mention them in their advertising when a house is up for sale & I am sure the house prices reflect their presence.

A Fire-Wheel tree (Stenocarpus sinuatus, Wheel of Fire, White Beefwood, White Oak for those of you who like botanical names) had to be topped for the cables.  This native species of tree can grow to 40m, but more commonly to 15m in cultivation.  Question is, why was this tree planted under electricity wires around 5 years ago? It will continue to grow & by the time Energy Australia return, the trunk will have grown taller.  Routine pruning will then turn this tree into a flat umbrella & Council will probably chop it down.  In Los Angles, Fire-Wheels are classified as heritage trees & they are described as a ‘fragile tree.’ So, well done Energy Australia.  Thank you for leaving the trees looking beautiful.  I am sure the community will be happy you did.

Integral Energy butchered these street trees in Valentine Ave Blacktown

Not so for the residents of Valentine Avenue Blacktown & Browning Crescent Lalor Park, who complained about the pruning practices of Integral Energy contractors recently.  (see my posts More butchering of street trees & Bakers dozen or it dozen matter).  Curious to see just how bad the damage was & to compare with what has happened in Marrickville LGA, we took a trip there last weekend to see the trees. What a shocker!  They were butchered & the residents were entitled to complain.

Compare the two trees

The visit was worthwhile on a number of fronts.  I now know that Blacktown Council took action to prevent savage over-pruning, whereas in cases of severe over pruning in Marrickville LGA no action seems to have been taken.  Marrickville Council also can intervene in the future, rather than sit back & allow our assets to be destroyed.

Tree-lined M4 which must assist local wildlife

I haven’t been on the M4 for a while.  After leaving the eyesore of Parramatta Road, which seriously needs the intervention of multiple councils, we reached the expressway.  This has become a green corridor as the trees planted for the Olympics have grown & now present a tall, lush, green screen.  It is quite an achievement to make a highway look nice, but they have done it.

I also discovered that Blacktown, Seven Hills & Lalor Park are as green as Eastwood.  There are tall trees everywhere, many of them Eucalypts & it is impossible to count the trees on the horizon. I think Blacktown Council has done well regarding street trees. I found other articles about the recent pruning of street trees & in other locations the Blacktown area.  From the Blacktown Sun – http://www.blacktownsun.com.au/news/local/news/general/pruning-vandalism/1729453.aspx & another from the Blacktown Advocate – http://blacktown-advocate.whereilive.com.au/your-news/story/why-is-energy-australia-mutilating-blacktowns-trees/ & from the Cumberland Courier – http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/your-news/comments/why-is-energy-australia-mutilating-blacktowns-trees/

During my research I was stunned to read that Blacktown City Council gives away 70,000 trees every year free to residents as part of the Visionary Greening Of Blacktown Program.  It’s working.  Then I came across “more than 7,000 native trees have been planted in Fairfield as part of Blacktown City Council Council’s Regenesis Project.” (Aug & Sept 09) http://www.streetcorner.com.au/news/showPost.cfm?bid=11987&mycomm=WC A look at Blacktown Council’s web-site revealed more.  Over 500 residents & businesses people helped plant 23,370 native trees, shrubs & grasses over 8 month period ending June 09. http://www.blacktown.nsw.gov.au/news-and-events/news-releases/wow-23370-trees-planted-since-october.cfm

The Sikh temple & a street in the new housing estate

Even the Sikh Centre, a massive temple, has been given an Environment Grant ($4,200) to rejuvenate the local streetscape, as this is a new housing development with building still under way.

Blacktown City Council has done a Tree Inventory & they also have a Significant Tree Register.  Our Council has  neither & at present have no intention to do so.

I’m going to stop now because I sound like I have set up the Blacktown City Council Fan Club.  http://www.bccfanclub.org.au for your free t-shirt! (NOTE: no such web-site) This research started because I wanted to know why our Council ignores what happens to our street trees & Blacktown Council doesn’t.  Now I can see why.  It’s also good to know what other Council’s are doing about street trees & over-all greening of their municipality so we know what is a reasonable expectation.

Back to the Brush Box trees on Excelsior Parade.  These trees are also at risk of being damaged by passing trucks.  Residents in the area are campaigning on a number of issues & one of their concerns is that long semi-trailers on Excelsior Parade will destroy the trees.  Considering the damage heavy vehicles have caused to trees in the nearby Carrington Road (see post –https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/5th-january-2010-saved-by-the-land-environment-court-maimed-by-trucks/) I think their concerns are justified. To view their concerns go to the Council Gripe web-site at – http://councilgripe.com/content/marrickville-council-police-inaction-re-traffic-safety-warren-road-marrickville

Top right shows the overhead cables cut across the corner-the trees here were scooped out even though they were a fair distance from the cables

The Cumberland Courier reported today of another incident of Integral Energy contractors ‘butchering’ street trees during routine pruning.  Despite the events of late January 2010 in Lalor Park (see Bakers dozen or it dozen matter below) they did it again, this time in Valentine Street Blacktown.

Quoted from the news article – The job was done so badly, an Integral Energy spokesman offered an apology to the residents & pledged to either reshape or replace the 6 trees. The pruning was “excessive 
& did not meet our standards”, he said.

Once again I thank The Cumberland Courier for reporting these matters.  I also thank the residents who were brave enough to take this company on & I thank Blacktown Council for taking action.  We will continue to suffer the effects of savage pruning unless we say this is unacceptable as well as unnecessary each time it happens & in each area where it happens. When the street trees are ruined it has a great impact on our lives for many years.

To read the article, click on the following link – http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/blacktowns-butchered-trees-integral-at-it-again/

Yesterday I received an e-mail from Voren, a local resident which included a bunch of photos of mutilated street trees on Riverside Crescent Dulwich Hill.  These photos are a perfect example of how the streetscape can be ruined by pruning for electricity cables.  I was extremely happy to receive these & welcome any photos or addresses of public trees you think is worth the attention of SoT.  My e-mail address can be found on the About me page.

Voren's photos of the street trees in Riverside Crescent Dulwich Hill

On 26th January 2010 the Cumberland Courier ran another street tree article titled Tears for mutilated trees.  This time the residents of Lalor Park were distressed at the state Integral Energy left their 50-year-old street trees after pruning for overhead wires.  Terms such as “hacked,” “massacred,” “mutilated” & “butchered” were used to describe the aftermath.

Back in October 2009 Blacktown City Council put Integral Energy on notice about their pruning practices after they had pruned the trees in Riverstone & surrounding suburbs.

When they saw what happened to the street trees in Lalor Park, Blacktown Council stepped in & suspended Integral Energy’s powerline clearance pruning work.

Integral Energy apologised & now has to work under the supervision of Blacktown Council, review their tree pruning practices & fulfil a range of other requirements.

Hallelujah!  Finally a municipal council stepping in to ensure the street trees are not mutilated to the point where it is questionable whether they will survive, where the streetscape is marred for many years, where once beautiful trees are ruined forever & where people have to lose an essential part of what makes a street a desirable place to live as well as the negative impact on property values.  It may be that a council has stepped in before, but apart from Mosman Council doing so many years ago, I am unaware of this.

There is more of this tree on the ground than what is left on the tree

The Lalor Park residents say they no longer have shade on the street or footpath.  I can attest to that as my own street lost the shade from the street trees after recent pruning by Energy Australia.  When the sun is overhead we now have the long shadow of the electricity & pay TV cables instead of shade from street trees.  Frankly it looks weird & of course it is hot.

You can’t stand under a street tree having a chat to your neighbours anymore.  You have to look for shade & move to it, either on private property or walk across the road where the street trees were only slightly pruned.  This apparently small thing will have an impact on community relations over time.

This is a great article from the Cumberland Courier with much more information than I have reported.  You can read it by clicking on the following link – http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/tears-for-mutilated-trees/ I thank the Cumberland Courier as they have been reporting on trees frequently of late.

Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco USA recently posted a call for help on their web-site asking residents to alert them to public trees which have been illegally pruned.

Friends of the Urban Forest & the Bureau of Urban Forestry (don’t you love these names) have planted 10,928 new street trees in San Francisco since 2003.

About street trees they say, “The small, younger trees currently provide very little environmental benefit…” meaning that if older more mature trees are removed due to heavy pruning which weakens them or makes them way too ugly, then replacing them is not as good as a solution as it seems on the surface.  Personally I am worried that in our LGA we will reach the stage where we will have more young trees with thin trunks than we will have older trees.

Older trees sequester greater amounts of CO2, filter more particulate matter & other pollutants (though you need leaves to do this & there are plenty of trees with thick trunks, but with relatively few branches & leaves after pruning in Marrickville LGA), produce larger amounts of oxygen & collects more storm water runoff than does a tree with a thin trunk.

We can already see in some areas of our LGA that the skyline has few tall trees.  I think it is a shame that we can count the trees visible along the skyline.  This is not the case in many other suburbs of Sydney metropolitan area where the overall look & feel is green because their canopy is substantial.

We need to keep as many of the large stature street trees as we are able & our young trees need to be given a chance to grow up because it is then they provide the most benefit.  Severe pruning clearly demonstrated in Voren’s photographs not only makes the tree ugly & negatively impacts the streetscape & our lives, but also weakens the tree making it more susceptible to disease.  A weakened & diseased tree will be more likely to fall in a storm or some other event that places pressure upon it.

I do understand that street trees need to be pruned for the passage of overhead wires & I have never advocated that this should be stopped.  I do believe however that our electricity companies can do a much better job of pruning & Blacktown Council’s intervention has proved this.

The article by Friends of the Urban Forest is interesting reading & describes the impact of over pruning & topping.  They also have some fantastic photographs of trees that have been severely mutilated.  You can access this via the following link – http://www.fuf.net/getInvolved/topping.html

Tempe Wetlands - how will the RTA put a major arterial road over this without destroying it?

On a final note, a local community group called Tempe 2010 is holding a rally on Saturday 6th February at 11am meeting in South Street (between Hart & Fanning Streets) Tempe.  They are opposing the building of a new arterial road that is to go over the Cooks River, across the newly renovated Tempe Reserve & over the top of the lovely Tempe Wetlands ending at a t-section at Sydney Park.

SoT is interested not only because of the obvious factors of more roads, traffic, noise & pollution, but also because the Tempe Reserve is likely to be grossly affected & the damage to the wetlands is a real concern.  There is also the question of how many trees will need to be removed to build this new road.

All the details as well as how to access information from the RTA about this project & to connect with Tempe 2010 can be accessed via the Marrickville Greens web-site http://marrickvillegreens.wordpress.com/

The Greens have been in the Inner West Courier about this issue recently & have stated they are against this project as it stands.  I hope the other councillors look into the impact of the new arterial road & decide to publicly oppose it if it is indeed as environmentally destructive as it seems to be.  I say ‘seems’ because I haven’t looked into the literature as yet.

We cannot keep building cities for cars instead of people.  Four vulnerable assets; the Cooks River, Tempe Reserve, the many old park trees & the Tempe Wetlands need to be fought for & protected by both Marrickville Council & the community if this project negatively impacts on these.  One visit to these areas will show you just how much work Marrickville Council & community groups have put into improving all these sites over the years.  I think this is a worthwhile event to attend & find out what we need to know to make an informed decision.  It is also good to support a community group who is working to save quite significant assets for our benefit & for future generations.  J

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