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More trees needed to keep urban temperatures down

Top UK arboriculturists warned this week of the dangers of urban overheating following a recent government report on trees in towns and cities, which revealed trends of decreased new tree planting and increasing threats to older trees.

The new DCLG publication Trees in Towns II reports that there has been a “... big reduction in the percentages of trees in the youngest age bands...” compared to the 1992 survey, and that “this reduction in new planting, and the threat to older trees in urban areas, have resulted in an unsatisfactory age structure – an issue that needs to be urgently addressed.”

An iniative has been launched to raise awareness of the situation in the context of climate change, by broadcaster and environmentalist, Professor Chris Baines and top UK arboriculturists, Jeremy Barrell and Neville Fay.

"Big trees are being lost from our towns and cities at an alarming rate, with painful consequences for our future comfort", said Baines. "Trees play an essential role in keeping urban temperatures down and, with predicted city rises in excess of 4°C during the 21st Century because of the urban heat island effect, a future with fewer trees is going to be uncomfortably hot."

Baines points to recent research by the University of Manchester, which suggests that a 10% increase in urban canopy cover may be enough to buffer these expected temperature rises, but warned "we must be planting them now so they are big enough when we will need them most."

Barrell, whose expertise lies in nursing trees through the trauma of construction sites, said: “We have witnessed a slow but steady loss of urban trees over the last 30 years, which has dramatically undermined our big tree heritage. Traditional oak, ash and pine are being replaced by cherries, thorns and rowans; very pretty but with limited potential to buffer the predicted temperature rises."

The trio head an international list of speakers in a landmark conference, Trees: they key to climate proofing our cities, which will explore the issues and what can be done to make a difference. It is intended the conference will result in an urban canopy initiative, to set out how small changes can be made to get a big result.

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