CAMPAIGNERS, authorities and other stakeholders have produced a first-of-its-kind strategy to protect street trees in Sheffield for generations to come, after a controversial saga lasting more than four years.

It follows nine months of work between Sheffield Tree Action Group (STAG), Sheffield Council, Amey, experts from Natural Capital Solutions, Leeds Council and the Woodland Trust – which has been independently chaired by the chief executive of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust.

Paul Selby, from STAG, said: “Assuming the strategy is adopted and implemented by Sheffield Council, Sheffield residents can be confident that their street trees will be protected, sustained, and increased in number.

“The benefits of this new and enlightened approach will be felt not just by current generations, but future generations too.”

Collaboration on the plans started after years of rows between STAG, the council and Amey over a £2.2 billion highways management contract called Streets Ahead. During that time 5,400 trees were felled – about 600 of which the Forestry Commission said were chopped illegally. There were also mass protests, riots in the streets, arrests and court cases.

A pause in felling, mediated talks and meetings where the minutes were published online have allowed them to finally come to an agreement on a way forward.

Councillor Mark Jones, cabinet member for environment and streetscene, admitted the authority made wrong decisions in the past but were now looking to be leaders on the issue.

He said: “We live in a city famous for its greenery, something many of us are rightly proud of. Trees matter. Not only do they help improve air quality and support wildlife but they have also been proven to benefit our mental health. We need better and more robust measures in place to make sure trees across Sheffield continue providing value to our natural and urban environment.

“We’ve not always got the approach to street trees right. However, through the hard work and dedication of the development group and many others we have created this new strategy, one which ensures we listen carefully to all viewpoints and will shape how we do things better.”

Plans focus around six key goals, which each have a number of actions required to achieve them including regular monitoring and targeted planting. These goals are:

  • Sustainably and carefully manage street trees in accordance with best practice
  • Ensure street trees are more resilient through the type and age of trees we plant and how we manage current stock
  • Increase the value and benefits of street trees
  • Contribute to a more equal distribution of urban forest across the city to promote health and well-being
  • Increase street tree canopy cover
  • Involve the wider community in caring for and valuing street trees.

They also want to introduce a tree warden scheme to allow residents to get involved too.

Consultation on the strategy will begin soon and run until spring 2021. Comments will be sought through an online survey and a tree discussion event in November this year. The group will also seek commitment to the strategy from other stakeholders during this time.

After that is completed, a finalised plan will be produced and implemented.

The group do not have a total figure for how much the new strategy will cost as they said many of the actions can be put into existing work. The additional charges they did estimate were ‘minimal’ and they said extra tree planting can be funded by grants.

Part of the work included commissioning Treeconomics to do a state-of-the-art i-Tree Eco report drawing on more than 35,000 records from the Streets Ahead database to assess the benefits of Sheffield’s street trees.

They found the current value of street tree benefits in the city was £7.7 million over 80 years and the public amenity value over the same time period was £340 million.

At present, there are 35,259 street trees in Sheffield for which Amey has responsibility.

Treeconomics said if all the layers of leaves within the tree canopies were spread out they would cover an area of more than 800 times the size of Bramall Lane.

More affluent areas such as Dore and Totley have double the canopy cover of the most deprived areas.

Street trees in the city remove three tonnes of air pollutants every year and store 12,000 tonnes of carbon, according to Treeconomics.

Sheffield has a ‘relatively high’ diversity of street tree species, with 187 identified but the majority were rated ‘fair’, meaning they were not either outstandingly good or particularly poor specimens in terms of benefits.

Two thirds of the tree stock are currently still maturing.

Going forwards, each tree will be assessed by a six-stage process and any street tree that needs to be replaced because it is either dead, dying, diseased, damaged or dangerous will be replaced on a one-for-one basis close to the original site.

Darren Butt, account director at Streets Ahead, said: “We have welcomed the opportunity to sit down with all partners to discuss and agree a shared vision for street trees in Sheffield. By engaging with local communities and members of STAG we have a solid foundation from which to build, continuing to work collaboratively, achieving the outcomes that benefit everyone in the city.

“We are confident that our working relationships are stronger and more resilient as a result going forward.”

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