Trees in an urban environment depend on people for their care. Newly planted trees need to be watered, mulched and staked. But what about after that? Today we are asking you to consider how to make space for trees, so that they can develop in as healthy an environment as possible and reach their full potential.
The mature trees in the featured image (photo: Lucy Carruthers) have grown together to make the most of their position and their access to sunlight; they have effectively divided the space between them. As an old or diseased tree falls, others will grow up to take its place, and trees of the same species will connect and communicate with each other to share nutrients and warn of pests and other dangers.
But street trees and other trees planted as single specimens in urban settings don’t always have this wider community of trees to draw on, and face additional challenges from the man-made structures that get in their way. They depend on us to keep them free of constricting ties, restrictive pavement surfaces and our rubbish.
As pressure on the landscape increases due to residential development, alongside a developing awareness of the need of greater tree cover in the light of Climate Breakdown and Biodiversity Loss, we need to find new ways of living with trees. When a tree and a building are seen to be competing for space it is generally the tree that loses out by being felled, often because of concerns about the damage it may cause. But issues such as subsidence caused by tree roots may not be as common as you think:
‘Trees only cause subsidence on shrinkable soils. In practice, this means on clays. If you are on a sandy soil, for example, tree related subsidence simply doesn’t happen…The vast majority of urban trees in the UK have never been involved in damage to a building and never will be.’
The following photos were taken by Justine Boussard in London Fields, where an area has been fenced off around mature London Plane trees affected by Massaria disease, to try and improve the soil and extend their lives. Dry weather is thought to worsen the effects of the disease, as is the highly compacted soil due to the high footfall of the park. Keeping park users at bay for a year or so will hopefully improve the life chances of these trees.