14 April 2022

ACT's plan to prevent the loss of mature native trees could have gone further: conservationist

| Lottie Twyford
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Old tree

Mature trees like this must be protected and it’s not enough to let developers simply plant new ones. Photo: Sally Hopman.

The ACT Government’s draft action plan for protecting mature native trees has been welcomed, but the former Conservation Council head has called on the government to take it further.

Minister for the Environment Rebecca Vassarotti released a draft of the government’s Action Plan to Prevent the Loss of Mature Native Trees at the end of last month, noting there had been a “continuing decline in the number of mature native trees over the last two centuries, in particular in urban areas, due to land clearing, loss of connectivity and climate change”.

The ACT lost just over six per cent of its mature urban trees between 2015 and 2020, primarily due to land clearing.

That’s around 4200 mature trees a year, with the developing suburbs of Coombs, Denman Prospect, Throsby, Taylor, Wright and Whitlam suffering the largest percentage of losses per suburb.

Ms Vassarotti noted the priority of the plan was protecting mature native trees, particularly when new suburbs and estates are developed.

Another aspect will be ensuring younger trees can reach maturity in the first place.

“The Action Plan outlines proposed actions to prevent further loss across the Territory, including educating private developers and leasehold landowners of the importance of maintaining mature native trees in the landscape,” Ms Vassarotti said.

But for the former executive director of the ACT Conservation Council Larry O’Loughlin, it’s a case of ensuring some action follows these words.

READ ALSO Canberra’s great trees are a risk worth having and managing

After all, the track record – as evidenced above – hasn’t been great when it comes to protecting trees as new suburbs are built, especially in cases where developers apply to remove trees on the condition they will replace them elsewhere.

“We really need to say to the planners … they have to look after the trees because if we lose our mature native trees, we don’t get them back for at least a hundred years,” he said.

Alongside greater powers to direct planners and developers on what to do with land, Mr O’Loughlin said he would have hoped to see stronger language included in the action plan.

For example, using the word ‘must’ instead of ‘should’ in its proposed actions.

Apartments and townhouses

Lots of trees were lost in the development of new suburbs like Coombs, Wright, Denman Prospect and Taylor. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

He’s also concerned that it’s taken three years to develop the draft since the issue of mature native tree loss was first flagged as a threat.

And while the ACT Government is simultaneously looking to boost the Territory’s tree canopy to 30 per cent, with at least 54,000 trees to be planted by 2023/24 thanks to a $14.5 million budget promise, Mr O’Loughlin said the suggestion that mature trees could be replaced with new trees was incorrect.

“They are also not planting the same sorts of trees in any case so we aren’t getting that recruitment,” he said.

Canberra’s tree canopy cover was estimated to be around 22.5 per cent in 2020.

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“There’s this really strong chance that we will lose all mature native trees in the urban environment in around 150 years – in a worst-case scenario,” Mr O’Loughlin lamented.

There are predictions that hollow-bearing or large mature native trees may decline by 87 per cent over three hundred years if existing management practices are not changed.

In 150 years, the new trees the government is currently planting might be classified as mature, Mr O’Loughlin said, but they will be different, effectively changing Canberra’s environment.

READ ALSO Why does that building have a tree on top of it?

“The wonderful woodland birds we have now can travel across the city because they have places to land and nest and eat something and move on. They are stepping stones. If we lose the trees, we lose that, too,” he explained.

However, the ACT Government is making other changes in this area, one of which is a variation to the Territory plan that will mean residential developments require more trees, planting areas and soft landscaping.

Draft variation 369 will revise the amount of tree cover required in multi-unit developments from 15 per cent to 20 per cent, among other changes.

The Action Plan to Prevent the Loss of Mature Native Trees is open for consultation until 27 May.

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Who cares about trees when you can make poorly and cheaply made apartments all over the place

It’s not just dropping branches causing damage, but also the termites living in these hollowed out trees. There is one of these old trees in a park in my suburb, and the government owned house located about 20m away was completely eaten out by termites. When a large branch dropped from the tree a few years ago a massive termite nest was exposed. The house had to rebuilt with a slab foundation and steel frame.

For a government that touts itself as being green, I was gob smacked to learn that anyone can cut down any tree they like, as long as it is under 12 meters tall.

That’s basically 90% of the trees in Canberra.

Until the gov address this basic fact the Urban Tree project will remain a complete joke, and our $14.5 million will just go up in smoke.

HiddenDragon6:43 pm 18 Apr 22

The plan to make it even harder than it already is to have anything done about dangerous, nuisance trees on leased land – including the retention of dead trees – will simply ensure that fewer trees get planted and more get removed before they reach the criteria for protection.

The ACT has had an absolutely over-the-top regime for protecting trees on leased land for a couple of decades now and, if the stats justifying this plan are to be believed, it has failed and yet the solution is to double down on suffocating, infuriating restrictions which will simply add to the growing army who might concede that big trees are a nice idea on public land but don’t want such trees anywhere near their homes.

A balanced approach which recognised the importance of protecting humans and their homes – not just trees which meet arbitrary criteria – might actually engender wider support, instead of grudging, resentful compliance.

Another key point is that large gum trees are dangerous in an urban setting. Those large trees are prone to dropping large branches that can damage property or badly injure people. We had a 12m limb about 20% of the tree fall in Jan on a nice still day. It narrowly missed our house. Now we are still waiting for the dangerous tree to be removed despite the neighbour getting ACT Govt permission to remove it. If the trees were trimmed and cared for they might survive. However, when unattended they grow out of control and the decay. Gum trees in this situation should be replaced by a deciduous tree that shades in summer and allows sunlight in winter.

Protect mature native trees!!? Look around. The Bush is full of them, where, when they drop their HEAVY branches, they generally don’t kill people. They also give little shade. The founders of Canberra had the right idea: shady, attractive non natives, the trees that give Canberra its reputation for colourful autumnal displays.

The left and the right hands are on different sides of the ACT.

Its really hard to get rid of now dangerous trees, yet new developments are empty fields.

Not sure why native birds can’t land in different species of trees?
I don’t die if I eat Chinese food…

You who voted for the Greens thinking it was an environmental/conservation party were ripped off and should be slapping your dumb selves. They sold out to the developers.
“The ACT lost just over six per cent of its mature urban trees between 2015 and 2020, primarily due to land clearing.”
Along with the loss of trees goes a loss of habitat for native birds and a loss to all of us who enjoy the bush capital.
Thank for nothing Greens voters.

Greens = ideology at all costs

Stephen Saunders1:49 pm 18 Apr 22

In the older burbs, you need special permission, to remove anything higher than 12m, be it oak or uke. Plus, there are special protections for registered trees of special value.

I dunno why, these provisions would not equally apply to developers and leaseholders.

What a laugh. The government thinks nothing of ripping down majestic trees for the tram. I can hear John Williamson playing that song now – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eti99nV3gCk

Indeed Futureproof. There used to be a stand of gum trees at the Phillip oval, now gorn to allow for expansion of the southern transport corridor.
I did ring our local paper thing about it, but nothing was printed.

I think the beautiful mature Cedars in Commonwealth Avenue are for the chop for the ‘sacred tram’.

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