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Two dead street trees right next to each other in Marrickville – notable because they are beside each other.

My last post was about the NSW government’s ‘Five Million Trees’ initiative.  See – https://bit.ly/2H2IEkz    The aim is to increase Sydney’s existing tree canopy from 16.8% to 40% over the next 12 years at a cost of $37.5 million over four years.

Fortune had it that I came across a long & detailed article from Scenario Journal titled, ‘How Many Trees Are Enough? Tree Death and the Urban Canopy’ written by Lara A. Roman.  https://bit.ly/2K1G1gC

The article looked at tree survival across US cities.  Research has found that, despite concentrated campaigns to increase the urban canopy in many major US cities, the canopy cover is actually declining. This is of major concern considering the extra pressure we have from increased development, a changing climate & its associated urban heat island impacts.

Three questions were asked –

  • “With major new planting campaigns, how many of those trees will survive for decades, reaching a mature size at which their environmental and socioeconomic benefits are greatest?
  • How many trees are enough – that is, how many need to be planted to make a lasting impact, and meet a city’s canopy cover goals?
  • What are the implications of future tree death for managing the urban forest, in terms of cycles of tree removal and replacement?”

“For street trees in New York City, eight to nine years after planting, 26.2% were dead.  For a yard tree give-away program in Sacramento,  five years after planting, 29.1% had died, on top of 15.1% that were never planted by residents.  For these yard and street tree examples, over a quarter of the trees planted died within the first five to nine years, and furthermore, for the tree give-away, some trees never made it into the ground.”                                                 

As part of their 5 Million Trees initiative the NSW government plans to give away 15,000 trees to people who are building homes in new land release areas in Western Sydney.  I wonder how many of these trees will actually be planted.  I don’t know about you, but I have bought plants from the nursery & left it too long before I put them into the ground.   One can realistically expect that high numbers of these giveaway trees will not be planted in western Sydney.  Will these be acknowledged, or will they just be written up as a successful addition to the urban canopy simply because they were given away?

The Inner West Council has given away trees for the past two National Tree Days & I applaud them for this.  It would be interesting to know whether Council has gathered information about how many of these trees made it into the ground & how many are still alive today?

The article notes that in the US there is very little in regards to monitoring & follow-up with tree planting campaigns & calls for a nationally coordinated monitoring network.

The author then cites the common belief that street trees live on average for only 7-years & a maximum of 13-years. Apparently, this belief was formed decades ago where a questionnaire was sent to urban foresters “asking the local experts to estimate the typical tree lifespans in their cities.”  The author describes this as “overly pessimistic.”

One only need to look around our own suburbs to know that there are plenty of streets with street trees that are 70-100 years of age.  Generally, these are QLD Brushbox or Fig trees.

A study to understand the change in the street tree population of West Oakland in the US looking at annual tree planting & tree deaths found that the annual mortality rate was 3.7%.   Most of the tree loss came from newly planted trees with a trunk of 7.6cms (3 inches).

“Extra vigilance during the establishment phase, in terms of maintenance and stewardship, might have the most payoff for ensuring planting survival, and thus achieving larger canopy objectives.”

“Planting a few hundred trees, or even a million, does not automatically translate into an increase in the overall tree population over the long-term. To increase population levels, the survival and planting rates have to out-weigh losses from tree death and removal, including both old and young individuals.”

I think this article brings up serious issues concerning increasing the urban forest.  I’ve noticed that street tree removals post Marrickville Council’s Tree Inventory meant that for at least 3-4 years the urban forest numbers stayed relatively the same.  With 1,590 streettrees to be removed from 2013, planting around 400 new trees a year meant that making up ground was slow.

I have noticed that a lot of street trees have been removed in the last couple of years.  Since Council does not report the removal of trees 5-metres or under & since 49% of our street trees were found to be 5-metres or under, we have no idea where street tree numbers are at now & no ability to calculate this ourselves.  The Tree Inventory was costly, so I doubt we will have a new one done for many years.

Increasing the canopy means not the number of trees planted, but the percentage of total ground area; for example, at 50% canopy cover, half of the total ground area is covered by the vertical projection of tree crowns.”  

This has an impact on the way Council prune street trees as well. Continuing to remove side branches that serve to make the tree canopy fuller & produce longer periods of shade is counterproductive – unless it is required for safety reasons like branches over the road affecting passing trucks as an example.  However, you only need to look at the street trees around you to know that many street trees are pruned to have no side branches.

Council’s policy of no tree branches 2.5-metres (8.2 feet) above a footpath pretty much ensures that the footpath will have no shade except for perhaps an hour when the sun is in the right position.

The Five Million Trees initiative may result in significant changes with tree planting & reporting.  It would be good if this information is available to the community should they be interested.  Hopefully, outdated ways to manage street trees get dumped & our urban landscape becomes green & flourishing.

A Marrickville streetscape – a good one because it has street trees 2 storeys tall.  Photo June 2016.

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This photo was sent to me by a local resident. As you can see, there is a significant amount of the canopy on the ground ready to go through the woodchopper.  The tree that was pruned is visible behind the woodchopper.  Thanks to the resident for allowing me to use this photo.  

It is the season of peace & goodwill & I would prefer to be writing positive posts.  However, I am getting messages from distressed residents about Inner West Council – Marrickville’s tree pruning, so I need to write something.

Inner West Council is currently pruning the street trees in Marrickville South. I spoke to Council’s tree pruners earlier this year, so I was surprised when they were back again so soon.

Our street trees get “managed” from all directions – Ausgrid, development & Council.  Vandals also do things to the street trees, though I am not suggesting that Council are vandals.  Imagine having three groups coming on a regular basis to give you a haircut & maybe lop your ears off.  It is no wonder so many street trees look unattractive.

My observation with pruners is that they come once to prune.  The next time they come they take off more branches that were deemed okay the last visit & no, they haven’t grown so much to be noticeable.  Ausgrid does this & over.  In a very short time, the trees get reduced into a shadow of their former self.  Ausgrid prunes the top & Council prunes the bottom.

Inner West Council – Marrickville says on their website –

“Street trees will be pruned to:

  • Remove any dead, dying or dangerous branches
  • Allow clearance for pedestrians and vehicles
  • Allow clearance to buildings (where practicable)
  • Improve their health and structure.”

So, what is the problem?  This is what has been relayed to me.

I had no knowledge that this was happening today;… Apparently, they are pruning to Australian standards & to protect workers so grass can be mowed, and so footpath is clear & people can walk to their cars.  [they] were saying most people want the trees cut out!!”   Sounds reasonable except if you know the tree was not causing a problem to begin with.   I know this tree.  It was not intruding on the footpath, nor did it prevent people from getting to their car.  What it did have was branches low down on the trunk & as far as I have observed, this is not acceptable by Council.

“This work is being done on the smaller trees to “shape them” and make it easier for council to cut grass from base of trees and away from pedestrians using footpath. This means that the trees look like pom poms and the removal of the dense bottom canopy is not appealing at all to me.”   

“Contractor tried to tell me it’s not my tree & I have no right to protest it’s being trimmed; when I lovingly water it I feel I have some say in its up keep! And will continue fighting for it to live!!!!”    The photo above will show you just how much of the bottom canopy of this tree was removed.

The residents do not believe the trees needed pruning & if the tree  did by Council’s standards, the residents believe that the pruning was excessive.

It is heatwave conditions at the moment.  The weather forecast for the next week is four days well above 30 degrees & five days of extreme UV index.  It can’t be good for trees to undergo so much stress in these weather conditions.  I recently learnt that trees can get sunburnt.    We still have the really hot months ahead of us.

The trees are in flower providing much needed food for wildlife & also beauty for the streetscape.  Many people wait for the flowers on trees to bloom.  Much of the flowers went into the woodchipper.

Surely it is  better to prune trees when they aren’t in flower.  It would not matter so much if we had tonnes of food-producing trees across Inner West Council – Marrickville’s section, but we don’t.  Bird-life would not be missing out on essential food supply.

Inner West Council Marrickville says on their website –

Proactive maintenance based on an annual cycle and is carried out in within a precinct according to the calendar month, i.e. January is precinct one, February is precinct two and so on.”

I downloaded their map & saw that Marrickville South is allocated June, the 6th month.  It is December, the 12th month.  Enter the website  via the Marrickville portal & they say they are doing street tree maintainance & list streets in Balmain.  That’s a bit confusing. 

To finish, I do believe Council needs to ensure that their pruners do not over prune.  Council put up signs saying Ausgrid was over pruning trees.  This was great & wonderfully supportive for the community who were reeling from the damage to street trees done by Ausgrid pruners.  What is not so great is the community perception that Council are doing the same.

Marrickville Golf Course

Inner West Council has given notice that they intend to remove & work on trees located in Marrickville Golf Course.

Council says it plans to do the following –

  • “Tree removal– includes the removal of several dead trees or trees present significant defects and/or structural issues.
  • The creation of habitat trees– where trees are reduced down to safe limbs and boxes and hollows are created for use by native fauna.
  • Tree pruning– to remove defective or dead branches to reduce risk.”

Council do not give the location or number of trees to be removed.  We should be told about each individual tree & why they must be removed.

Nor do they give the number & location of trees they intend to prune or those they intend to make into Habitat Trees.    Council goes on to say that –

“All trees to be removed will be replaced (and more) as part of a planting program to be developed in collaboration with Council, Marrickville Golf Course and the community.”

Again, Council does not tell the community how many new trees will be planted or what species.

This is not something I understand.  I think it is in Council’s interest to tell the community how many trees they will plant because this is positive information that makes people who care about the local environment happy.  If Council had informed the community that they planned to plant 15 new native trees for example, everyone would feel happy about it, which is good for Council.

It is called transparency.  It is their duty.  Open & full communication is the only thing that instills trust in the community for what its government does.   You can’t have words about believing in open government & consultation, but fail to inform your community.

On a positive note, I think it is wonderful that more habitat trees are being created, especially in this important biodiversity corridor along the Cooks River.   I also think it is great that more trees will be planted.  The golf course has plenty of room for more trees.

Ausgrid pruning of street trees in Fotheringham Street Enmore last week.   Photo by Catherine Bakker‎ and used with thanks.

Ausgrid pruning of street trees in Fotheringham Street Enmore last week. Photo by Catherine Bakker‎ and used with thanks.

More Ausgrid pruning of street trees in Fotheringham Street Enmore last week.  Photo by Catherine Bakker‎ and used with thanks.

More Ausgrid pruning of street trees in Fotheringham Street Enmore last week. Photo by Catherine Bakker‎ and used with thanks.

The Inner West Council said in a press release dated 18th January 2017 that they are negotiating with power company Ausgrid to pay the costs of removing trees damaged by Ausgrid’s pruning & the planting of replacement trees.

The press release says  –

  • Council are “targeting the replanting of trees damaged by tree trimming in many inner west streets.”
  • “Council officers have been working with Ausgrid officers to nominate selected trees that should be replaced.”
  • “Ausgrid has agreed to assess and mostly likely approve the removal of these trees.”

While I am glad that Council are negotiating to have Ausgrid pay for the removal & replacement of the trees they have decimated by their pruning, I have some trepidation wondering just how many of our street trees will need to be removed.   If you look at the state of the street trees around the former Marrickville municipality, you will see that the numbers will not be insignificant.

Ausgrid have created an unnecessary loss of the urban forest & one which will have an negative impact on the community in terms of heat, pollution, stormwater management & the mental/physical health of the community, not to mention the cost to wildlife who possibly lose their homes & food source.

There has been a lot of research published recently that found that street trees provide numerous benefits to human health.  The lack of a good urban forest causes problems such as increased obesity, more respiratory & heart disease, more fatal heart attacks & the latest, more incidence of dementia.  Also, a poor urban forest is known to increase unhappiness & depression in the community & poorer learning in children.

Therefore, it is not a small impact to the community by Ausgrid when they pruned our street trees to such a degree that council thinks the trees will never recover & need to be removed.  It takes years for trees to grow to a point where they are providing viable benefits to the community, so all the health problems listed above are another impact caused by Ausgrid.

There are other tree losses that are not covered by this negotiation with Ausgrid by Council.  Just in my block one mature tree in a front garden was removed because Ausgrid removed one whole side of the tree leaving an unsightly half a tree behind. It is not only street trees that have been negatively impacted.

I applaud the Inner West Council for pursuing this action with Ausgrid.
Council is also looking at an aerial bundle cabling program, which is wonderful.  Take a look at the streets in the Botany area to see what the difference can mean to street trees.  Ausgrid will not need to prune so harshly if there is aerial bundle cabling installed.  It is a much better option than ordinary powerlines, though not as good as installing powerlines underground.  The last option is more expensive, but should be a condition for all new developments in my opinion.

Council in lobbying Ausgrid to develop an Inner West Guideline for tree pruning “sympathetic to our urban metropolitan environment – an area that is not fire prone.”

This is also a great move by Council.
Further in the press release – “The recent discussions with Ausgrid comes after Council late last year received a commitment from Ausgrid that their tree trimming contractors will continue to reduce the cutback they carry out on local street trees to achieve a safe clearance from power lines.  New contractors are now being directed to cut a reduced clearance of just 1 metre from low voltage wires, plus up to 0.5 metre for regrowth for a maximum of 1.5 metres in total resulting in a much improved result for local street trees than previous more radical pruning.”

Then why are Ausgrid, just in the last week, pruning way below the telecommunications cable?  The photos I posted in this post of trees in Fotherington Street Enmore & Renwick Street Marrickville are January 2017 examples of the new improved pruning from Ausgrid.  Sorry, but this was not the norm when Energy Australia did the street tree pruning.

The street trees in Renwick Street Marrickville were pruned last week.

The street trees in Renwick Street Marrickville were pruned by Ausgrid last week.  This is not “trimming.”

More examples of street tree pruning by Ausgrid in street trees in Renwick Street Marrickville

More examples of street tree pruning by Ausgrid in street trees in Renwick Street Marrickville.  

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 – http://bit.ly/2ifhA5e

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 –  http://bit.ly/2iEjxEw

 COUNCIL

24 OCTOBER 2016

ITEM 3.2. FILE NO:

To Council:

AUSGRID TREE PRUNING S051491

MINUTE BY THE LORD MAYOR

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.

RECOMMENDATION

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.

COUNCILLOR CLOVER MOORE  – Lord Mayor”

Here is your urban forest - on the ground.

Here is your urban forest – on the ground.  

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 – http://bit.ly/2dq10wk

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.

Augured street tree pruning in Ryde.  Photo by @stickymeringue with thanks.

Street tree pruning in Ryde by Ausgrid. Photo by @stickymeringue used with thanks.

 posted this photo on Twitter & kindly gave me permission to share here.  The gum tree is wrong for the location, but as she says, “Takes skill and artistic flair to achieve this look too.”    Trees are amazing.

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 – http://bit.ly/S8fjpR

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 – http://bit.ly/2cJ5gXx

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 –   http://bit.ly/2cKDkUo

139 deaths due to heat occurred in Victoria Australia in January 2014.  Victoria suffered another heatwave in 2009 resulting in 374 deaths. See –  http://bit.ly/M0XGps

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 – http://bit.ly/2bOMXew

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 (http://bit.ly/2cJ4aeB) 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 – council@marrickville.nsw.gov.au  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.

Seriously?

Seriously?

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.”  http://bit.ly/1NkD6dV

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.

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