Trees are cool: really cool. They improve our environment, boost our wellbeing, mitigate flooding, extract and store unwanted harmful carbon from the atmosphere and are a sustainable source of building materials. They also provide habitat and food for myriad bugs, animals and plants.

As if that wasn’t enough, they make our local communities and towns more attractive - and increase the value of our properties. They provide a direct income for some, an indirect income for many more and they contribute £millions to the economy.

geograph 2799906 by Richard Humphrey snowy road

  © Copyright Richard Humphrey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


So why do we insist on treating trees so badly? Why do we have the lowest percentage canopy cover in Europe? Why do we allow urban tree failure rates of up to 60 per cent, something I witnessed first-hand working in a London borough several years ago? And why do we have to fight so hard for trees to be properly regarded in a development context?

We should be able to do a lot better. The British arboriculture industry is one of the best in the world with highly respected contractors and consultants (but I suppose I would say that). Our scientists and experts stand among the finest and we have the knowledge and skills to plant and manage trees in any situation to allow them to thrive.

Industry challenges

Despite their multiple benefits, trees, landscaping and green infrastructure are often the first casualties in any cost-cutting or value-engineering exercise. Added to that, the UK’s arboriculture, landscape and horticulture industries are facing skills shortages, in particular a lack of candidates qualifying at higher levels. These are sectors that could easily - and relatively cheaply - ease some of our most significant social and environmental issues.

As we head into a new year, where should the arb sector be focusing its attention? How can we raise the profile of arboriculture and encourage more young people into the industry? Trees should, after all, be the ultimate growth sector of the 21st century.

We need both resolution and revolution for 2016. My suggestions are:

  • lobby parliament to lift the political awareness of trees and green infrastructure (Trees and Design Action Group has made real progress here)
  • educate society about the value and benefit of trees
  • plant more trees to increase our canopy cover
  • incorporate more green infrastructure in towns and cities
  • lift the standard of management so that trees and green infrastructure can better deliver all their benefits
  • invest in the future workforce to ensure that the good work not only continues but expands
  • support our scientists and experts so that first-rate arboricultural practice continues to be based on best scientific knowledge
  • change our planning system to a model that is better suited to manage trees and green infrastructure for the general betterment of local communities
  • encourage the development sector to regard trees and green infrastructure as assets and protect and manage them accordingly.

It is about doing what we currently do, just doing more of it better. Or perhaps more accurately, being allowed to do more of it better.