Greening the Shire

Sutherland Shire Council’s draft Urban Tree and Bushland policy

Council’s new draft Urban Tree and Bushland policy is now on public exhibition and can be viewed at this link. The deadline for submissions is 4 October 2021.

May be an image of nature and tree

The rhetoric on social media about trees representing a threat has ramped up over the last couple of years. Many people have contacted us and said they are concerned and anxious about the number of trees being removed across the Shire. Last year councillors also voted to award themselves the right to remove healthy street trees against the advice of their own Council arborists.

Council’s new draft Urban Tree and Bushland policy mentions the need to ‘Enhance and protect diverse natural habitats’, and Council has been doing some excellent work planting thousands of native trees in public spaces, but it takes many years for saplings to replace canopy lost by the removal of mature trees.

There are positive points in the policy: an aim to meet a “No Net Canopy Loss” target, a requirement to notify nearby neighbours when anyone applies to remove a healthy street tree, and a panel of senior council staff to evaluate appeals from residents requesting the removal of healthy trees on public land.

However the policy also uses terms like ‘failure’, ‘risk’, ‘hazardous’, ‘community concerns’, ‘balance’, ‘consequences’ and ‘damage to people or property’. There is mention of trees being “kept well past their use by date and no longer fit for purpose.” The language positions trees as dangerous.

The Shire used to be known as God’s country and the beautiful tree canopy here was part of that. We know many people understand the value of trees. It is distressing when trees we love are suddenly cut down, with birds and animals becoming homeless.

An Australian Conservation Foundation analysis last year found that “Almost half of Australia’s national-listed threatened animals and a quarter of the plant species at risk are found in the largest towns and cities, and the threats are intensifying… habitat is being destroyed at a rapid rate of knots”. Large canopy trees provide critical habitat even in urban environments: old hollows can take 150-200 years to form. The larger hollows birds such as powerful owls require can take 300 years. Mature and dead trees with these hollows form critical wildlife habitat. Destroying living or dead hollow-bearing trees displaces or kills wildlife dependent on those hollows.

Mature trees are also critical for addressing climate change as they sequester carbon and reduce the urban heat island effect by producing shade that prevents the absorption and reflection of heat by hard surfaces such as footpaths, roads and buildings.

The questionable removal of trees has a detrimental effect on our environment and causes anxiety amongst those who love trees and value the leafy green canopy across the Shire.

If you care about protecting our beautiful local trees we ask you to read the draft policy and give council feedback on the survey form, or put in a submission. Points to consider including: a member of the community should be included on the tree review panel; a fee should be charged to residents lodging an appeal; and data related to tree removal and net gain/loss of canopy should be made public!

Hopefully the points here will be useful. The deadline for submissions is 4 October.

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For further information please contact Tassia Kolesnikow: tassia@ssec.org.au

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One final point: we understand that Council will be monitoring canopy cover in the future using drone surveys. This may assist efforts to reverse the current trend of decreasing tree canopy due to development on private land and public spaces.

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Bewildering

Imagine if Sutherland Shire were abundant with vegetation and habitat – in our yards, our public spaces, our nature strips and even industrial areas. Everyone loves a beautiful garden enhancing the places we inhabit, healthy spaces for us, which also allow wildlife to share these areas with us.

Bewildering is about creating beauty with vegetation, supporting biodiversity, establishing habitat for native species, and improving the quality of life we live.  Bewildering is a very deep human response to our relationship to our world especially our immediate environment that recognises our place in it, our dependence upon it, and our responsibility to it. It is more than a charming term; it is a term for charming. It is not just such things as planting trees, greening, cuddling koalas and saving whales.

We’d like to encourage people to make that vision a reality, and our verge garden project is one Bewildering initiative.

We’ve been advocating for formal Verge Gardens Guidelines for Sutherland Shire for some years now. David Ackroyd, formerly of Sutherland Shire Council, prepared a set of draft guidelines which were passed on to various Council departments.

The Covid pandemic has seen Council priorities directed elsewhere. It is disappointing that we are still waiting for Council to take action on this matter.  Currently Council allows residents to plant low growing (less than 0.5m) soft foliage plants on verges as long as approval in writing is obtained prior.  We hope Council will facilitate this process for residents by formalising their verge garden guidelines soon.

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For further information please contact Bob Crombie: bobcrombie@hotmail.com

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