Mature Trees Matter

All trees matter because they protect our health and give life to all. But mature trees matter more because:

Mature trees create the most oxygen- plants are the earth’s only source of oxygen.

Mature trees soak up the most carbon- the bigger the tree, the more it soaks.

Mature trees cool the air – the findings of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  report means that mature trees may save the planet.

Mature trees are essential habitats for wildlife.

The future of trees, especially large mature canopy trees in Australia is exceedingly bleak. The majority of Australia’s mature trees are in national parks and reserves but according to WWH, only 67 million hectares are in protected areas including national parks and nature reserves, Indigenous Protected Areas, council reserves, conservation covenants and private conservation sanctuaries. That’s just 17% of these precious assets safe from destruction. This leaves 233 million hectares of forests and woodlands outside protected areas.  The report states that 500 million trees will be destroyed or damaged by 2030 at current levels of deforestation and forest degradation in Australia.” (WWH Report 2019 – Towards Two Billion Trees).

In September 2018, the federal government promised to expand Australia's timber plantations by one billion trees by 2028. Statistics from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) show that to date only 1 per cent of that goal has been planted. 

The future of mature trees in urban areas is beyond bleak, it is dire.  Increased residential development and density, smaller lots and larger houses, pavements and the loss of bush areas to playing and recreational fields has reduced the space available for planting trees, particularly large canopy trees.  Sutherland Council’s 2011 policy on trees recognised that many of the existing canopy trees are remnant species and are nearing the end of their life span and will need to be replaced if the Shire’s character is to be preserved.  This policy confirms the  Council’s commitment to ‘address the loss of canopy trees through the Shire and ensure the next generation of canopy trees is planted so that the unique local character we enjoy today will remain a fundamental quality of life in Sutherland Shire for the next generation”  (Sutherland Shire Council Urban Tree and Policy  31 October 2011).

It is clear however that the Council has failed to deliver on this promise. According to a report in the Leader (August 12- 2015).  A spokeswoman for the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre said more than 1500 established trees were lost each year in the area.  In 2016 it was reported that on average 7000 trees were removed from the shire every year; nine out of 10 trees applied for by removal application were granted approval.” (St George & Sutherland Shire Leader, 2.3.17).

This policy reiterates the Council’s promise to provide:

a better quality of life for our community and future generations. As part of the NSW Government initiative to plant five million trees for Greater Sydney by 2030, we will be working alongside the NSW Government and other councils to grow tree canopy, creating a greener NSW to improve our health, climate, economy and environment. We will plant the right trees in the right places to ensure the right scale of tree for the long term.’

We are now in 2021 and the situation has not improved.  The Council released its draft Urban Tree and Bushland policy in August.

However, a recent report in the Leader indicates that the draft Urban Tree and Bushland Policy sees a strategic shift from a chiefly tree preservation approach to a more holistic tree management model a model that does not guarantee the protection of mature trees nor indeed the planting of long-lived trees. 

“Sutherland Shire Council's tree-planting program replaces a fraction of what is lost. Where large mature canopy trees are lost, replacement is in the form of smaller species. Short-lived trees tend to be fast-growing, smaller in stature and have weaker wood and as such while they may produce food for a range of species are not conducive to habitation. Recent, proposed changes to the Shire’s tree removal application and approval policy and procedures will effectively remove all protection for trees”. (The Leader August 3 2021). 

The draft Urban Tree and Bushland policy does not provide more protection for trees.  The application and review procedures of the 2011 policy remain (Schedule C) but two additional appeal opportunities have been added.

    • An applicant may request a councillor to take the matter to a council meeting on the resident's behalf if they feel there is an injustice.
    • If a resident has not previously engaged an AQF 5 Consulting Arborist, they may appeal by doing so and whose recommendation will be accepted automatically, or to appeal to the Land and Environment Court.

What can be done to guarantee a ‘no net loss of tree canopy in Sutherland Shire?

The answer is simple- not much unless residents become proactive in tree protection and preservation.  We can certainly remind Councillors to deliver on the promise, implicit in the Urban Tree and Bushland Policy but the following actions should be considered:

    • Elect councillors who support and act for tree preservation.
    • Support the use of (and expenditure on) soil support cells and root protection systems.
    • Demand transparency in the tree removal application process and the ‘Off-Site replacement scheme.
    • Stop over-development in the Shire and vote for councillors who support this – in particular those working to obtain a permanent exemption from the NSW State government application of the code in its R2 Low-Density Residential zones.  This code allows for buildings of greater bulk and scale than what is currently permitted in most councils’ Local Environment Plans (LEPs). The code also creates an avenue for a complying development to bypass council approval, thus minimising the rights of neighbours and councils to object to impacts on privacy, overshadowing, view sharing, streetscape or desired future character.