4 May 2024

Do you have a say over what type of tree is planted on your nature strip? It depends

| James Coleman
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Street trees

Street tree plantings along Canberra Avenue. Photo: James Coleman.

Put ‘free’ in front of tree and the result is a sell-out success – unless, it seems, the free tree in question is coming to the nature strip outside your home. Then, reactions are mixed.

An event at Weston Park in Yarralumla next Saturday (11 May), where the ACT Government will give away tree plantings for nothing was fully subscribed within 30 minutes of registration opening on Eventbrite.

The lucky attendees will receive up to three trees from species, including bottlebrushes, gum trees, maple trees, birch trees, fruit trees, walnut trees, English hawthorns, American sweetgums and Persian ironwoods.

The event is one of many for the 10th annual Canberra Tree Week, which includes guided walks through the Parliament House courtyards, the National Arboretum and Mulligan’s Flat Nature Reserve through to a Treevia Night at the Old Canberra Inn on Monday night (6 May) at 6 pm.

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Founder Samantha Ning came up with the idea for the festival alongside the late Adam Burgess, curator of the National Arboretum.

“He and I were sitting around one day having a cup of tea, and we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if everyone loved trees as much as us? We should have a week to celebrate trees!'”

She says the giveaway’s success is a “really positive indication people understand how important it is to have trees in their backyards”.

Canberra landscape with Telstra tower

Canberra Tree Week was founded by Samantha Ning with input from the curator of the National Arboretum. Photo: Claire Fenwicke

She adds that “really hot days” have increased people’s appreciation of the shade provided by street trees and the Black Summer bushfires that destroyed a lot of old hollow-bearing trees in the region increased awareness of the homes that street trees provide to wildlife, “and there’s so much research about the impact on people’s wellbeing and health to be around nature and connecting to nature”.

But for many Canberrans, the best tree is the tree on your neighbour’s nature strip rather than on your own.

The ACT Government wants to plant 5000 new trees in 2024-25, 5000 trees in 2025-26, and 10,000 trees in 2026-27 to grow the city’s tree canopy to 30 per cent by 2045. Many are coming to street verges and laneways.

Street trees

Street trees along National Circuit, Forrest. Photo: James Coleman.

The quota for 2022-23’s plantings fell short by about 30 per cent due to what the government described as a “variety of factors”, including “refusal of street tree plantings by adjacent residents”. In other words, some residents have been tearing out the new plantings.

“We do understand that people have different views about trees,” Samantha says.

“But we really want to encourage people to keep the trees that we plant on their nature strips because it’s for the community’s benefit.”

To add weight, 2024 is also the year the government’s new tree protection laws kick in.

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From 1 January 2024, the Urban Forest Act 2023 replaces the Tree Protection Act 2005 to classify all trees on public land as protected trees, reduce size requirements for protected trees on private land to eight metres in height or canopy width (down from 12 metres), and protect some dead native trees.

A person who intentionally damages a protected tree will face a fine of up to $80,000, a change on the previous maximum of $64,000.

There are avenues for recourse between when the government pops a notice in your mailbox to tell you you’re getting a new street tree and when it’s in the ground. They are “open” to discussions over what species you’d prefer.

“It does depend on the area where we’re doing the planting,” Samantha explains.

TCCS worker planting trees

The ACT Government has committed to increasing Canberra’s tree canopy coverage to above 30 per cent by 2045. Photo: ACT Government.

Parts of Canberra feature a dominant single species along the streets, and the government tries to stick to that theme. Other regions were planted with trees now considered a pest and the government is having to change the species there.

But Samantha encourages homeowners to ring the phone number listed on the notification they receive in the mailbox if they’re not happy.

“If someone says, ‘Look, I don’t want the tree you’re putting in, but I want a tree, and I have this tree in mind’, then we’re open to having those discussions because putting a tree in the ground is better than not having a tree.”

She says next weekend’s tree giveaway is one way the government encourages the community to share “care of the urban forest”.

“While the ACT Government is planting large numbers of trees on public land, it’s also important people plant trees in their own backyards to add to that canopy cover.”

Visit the ACT Government website for the full list of all the Canberra Tree Week events.

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If only the government could avoid planting trees where they block sight lines for adjacent road intersections

Would be great if they saved some of our money by putting stakes next to all the natural sprouting seedlings that pop up in the park lands so they don’t get mowed. Wouldn’t need to plant as many then. Park in my suburb has had 50 or more trees saved this way and they’re prospering without care.
As for the planted species, I’d like to see in at least all the new suburbs planted with endemic native trees and shrubs and grasses. And also fruit and nut trees for the people and animals to eat. Should be fruit and nut trees in every street and park.

HiddenDragon8:05 pm 04 May 24

“While the ACT Government is planting large numbers of trees on public land, it’s also important people plant trees in their own backyards to add to that canopy cover.”

Good luck to the people who get “free” trees at Weston Park next weekend, but the chances are that more than a few of those people will come to regret their apparent good fortune, or will eventually join the many other Canberrans who have been busily lopping and/or removing trees in response to the Urban Forest Act which, perversely, has added greatly to the already substantial disincentives for having larger trees on leased land.

In the period since the bill which became the Urban Forest Act was introduced to the Legislative Assembly the chainsaws have been ringing out in many of the leafy suburbs as residents removed trees which were about to be protected – it has been very reminiscent of what happened in the lead up to the original tree protection regime, under the Carnell government, when people who knew what was coming acted swiftly to avoid being caught by the new rules.

Since the Act took effect, the chainsaws have still been busy as people deal with trees which are growing closer to achieving protected size – this is not at all surprising, because once a tree is protected, the tree protection bureaucracy effectively takes control of that part of your property and even if permission is given to remove a nuisance/dangerous tree, chances are the sticky mitts will be out for thousands, or tens of thousands, in what amounts to compensation for removing the tree.

Progress of sorts might be made with the tree canopy on public land, but the short-sighted authoritarian overreach of the government is working in the opposite direction on leased land.

“Not everyone is happy” about more trees for Canberra. But the great majority are overjoyed, for the immense benefits of beauty and coolness, and because we want a habitable planet for our kids

So all those that want to protest just have to plant trees on public land, where they don’t belong. They are then automatically protected trees and can’t be removed easily.

As long as they do their homework on the trees, and the trees do not interrupt with subterranean infrastructure, this is a good thing. Also keep the in mind the council is liable for damage caused by the trees. If this was changed, then people would have right to complain.

GrumpyGrandpa10:34 pm 04 May 24

So who is liable if a protected tree in a neighbouring yard aka private property (not the government owned nature strip), damages your property?

This might be an interesting. I’m sure the neighbour would be arguing that the government tree protection laws limit their liability and the government would argue that its a privately owned tree.

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