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“Between a human and a tree is the breath. We are each other’s air.”

—Margaret Bates

P1180870 (Medium)

The green canopy of these beautiful River Red Gums soften and enhance the suburban landscape in Victoria Avenue, but for how much longer we do not know. An application has been submitted to council for the removal of these trees.

There is a wild beauty in the statuesque older trees that thrust their limbs skyward above our suburban dwellings. These trees provide numerous benefits to humans for free and without any demands, except perhaps to be allowed to live. Sadly more and more of our big old trees are disappearing from suburban areas and in most places big tree species are no longer being planted. Undoubtedly this urban forest adds value and prestige to areas like Unley and if we don’t act now to halt the loss of trees, in a generation all our Adelaide suburbs will resemble stark concrete deserts. Yet most people fail to even notice the demise of these trees, some of which stood tall and proud before Europeans even set foot on this land.

In February Unley Mayor Lachlan Clyne wrote to the Save Unley Trees Campaign advising that from August 2016 to January 2017 there were 29 applications for removal of significant and regulated trees with 20 approved. Our research shows that from May 2016 to April 2017, applications were submitted to the council to remove a total of 63 significant and regulated trees on private land. Of these, 39 were approved to be cut down, equating to roughly 3 trees every month.  Imagine what our suburbs will look like in 10 years time if this rate of tree removal continues. 

We, as human beings, have a long history of reliance on trees for shelter, food and fuel. This connection is reflected in the health effects we gain from exposure to trees. A number of studies have found that walking, sitting under, or even simply having a view of a tree can improve our physical and psychological health. Nature play for children and adults are in vogue and rightly so. What a bonus it is then to live in areas where you can access the health giving benefits of trees by simply stepping into your backyard or strolling down to the local street.

The value of trees also extends to the health of the community. There is great concern about the effects of climate change. One of the simplest and low cost ways to combat air pollution and rising temperatures is to have a good mature tree canopy.

Then there is the biodiversity that is reliant on trees. A mature gum tree for instance can provide homes and food to a variety of birds and animals. Given that another great catastrophe of our time is the rapid decline in biodiversity, the protection of habitat for other animals and birds is of vital importance and we cannot simply relegate such responsibilities to distant rural areas. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that our little part of the world is a healthy space for humans and the other native creatures that inhabit it. The majority of Australians live in urban areas and these urban habitations are spreading further and further out at a rapid pace. So it is our responsibility as urban dwellers and inhabitants of this planet to respond in meaningful ways in our local area to globally important issues of climate change and biodiversity loss.

We could keep extolling the virtues and importance of trees to human beings but in many ways it comes down to the simple notion of respect and love. In our scientific, rational era, emotions are seen as irrelevant to issues of development, planning and progress. Yet in the last decade places like New Zealand are giving legal rights to natural entities(1). This excerpt from The Advertiser on 21 March 1933 by journalist Ernest Whitington, about the Eucalypts lining Brownhill Creek near Heywood Park, is as applicable now as it was then:

“I honour these men who love our gum trees and do something really practical to preserve them. I’m sure posterity will bless them for it”.

So let’s all do what we can to save the trees we cherish in Unley and across Adelaide’s suburbs. As they recently did in Melbourne(2), let’s write love letters to these life-nurturing trees and send it to those in power, the politicians and councils, who are currently approving the alarming level of tree loss across the state. A tree is not like a piece of Ikea furniture. It cannot simply be replaced by planting another one. We do need to keep planting trees, but we also need to be much more circumspect in our removal of trees, especially our significant trees, only doing so if they are diseased, declining or dead.  In this way we will pass down to future generations some beautiful green liveable areas like Unley instead of bleak concrete deserts.

(1) This year (2017) New Zealand recognised the Whanganui River as a living entity with same legal right as a human person.

In 2008 Ecuador included in its Constitution the Rights of Nature that acknowledge that nature in all its life forms has “the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And we – the people – have the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant.”

In 2010 Bolivia passed the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth which gives rights to all of nature.

(2) Melbourne has a wonderful Urban Forestry Strategy where it plans to double tree canopy cover by 2040 by planting 3000 trees annually and only removing existing public trees if they are dead, declining, structurally poor or hazardous. As part of this Strategy, the trees were mapped and assigned a number and people could send an email to report damaged branches, vandalism or other problems. Instead there was an outpouring of love letters for various trees around the city.  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/29/city-of-melbourne-prepares-to-see-some-emails-lovely-as-its-trees 

Anne Wharton and Dinali Devasagayam, June 2017

FairfordStRiverRedGum_sunset

The setting sun bathes this stately old River Red Gum with a golden glow. Anne has grown up with this tree, which was already well established when her Great Grandmother built her childhood home. An application to remove this significant tree will be assessed at the July Development Assessment Panel (DAP).

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(by Anne Wharton on behalf of Save Unley Trees Campaign)

Many residents in the Unley Council area are most concerned about the number of regulated and significant trees being removed from our suburbs, especially on private land.  Indeed this seems to be happening throughout suburban Adelaide.

In the property behind me at 47 Fairford Street are 2 huge River Red Gums, possibly 100+ years old.  The owners have recently submitted another application to Council to remove the western tree (their third application to cut down one or both of the trees).  Below is a photo taken today of the 2 trees and a photo taken before the new house was built nearly 2 years ago.  The tree under application is the right hand tree (western) and the bigger of the two and is on the Unley Council’s Significant Tree List.  You can also view again my neighbour Mark’s beautiful video of the trees at http://tinyurl.com/saveunleytrees.  If the application is successful, the removal of the western tree will have a detrimental impact on the eastern tree.

Top arborists in the state have emphasised the importance of such trees which are indigenous to the local area. These two trees are a community landmark, have enormous heritage value, and have important habitat and biodiversity value. This is as well as their huge environmental contribution in combatting climate change.

The Unley Council has done the right thing by twice engaging independent arborists.  These reports found that these sentinel River Red Gums are in good health and have the potential to remain actively growing at the site for another century or more.  As with previous applications, the owners have engaged arborists whose reports are in direct opposition with the Council’s independent reports.

The Council’s own arborist has declared that these trees are healthy and do not pose a significant risk. Two reports from a leading highly respected arborist confirm this as recently as January this year – so why are we still fighting for their survival?

Common sense says the Council should not be accepting any more applications on these trees – but  recent changes to the State government Planning legislation have weakened local council’s ability to protect our natural heritage and in particular our significant trees.  Common sense says, these trees have significant community value and the community should be allowed to comment – but again State government legislation won’t allow it. This gives property owners the licence to bombard Council with numerous applications, wasting the Council’s time and the rates we pay. 

Its time we stood up.  I urge you to write letters to the Unley Council and the State government stating that the legislation does not protect significant trees that are healthy and don’t pose a risk.

Please write to the Mayor and the CEO of Unley Council if you are concerned about the loss of these magnificent River Red Gums.  Below are their email addresses.

Mayor Lachlan Clyne – mayor.clyne@unley.sa.gov.au

CEO Peter Tsokas – cgowland@unley.sa.gov.au

Copy to:  Councillor Don Palmer – dpalmer@unley.sa.gov.au

Copy to:  Councillor Michael Hewitson – mhewitson@unley.sa.gov.au

Copy to:  Anne Wharton – whartonanne@gmail.com

We urge you to also write to the Minister for Planning, Mr John Rau (email address: agd@agd.sa.gov.au)

23rd May 2017.

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4/4/2016
Peter Tsokas
Chief Executive Officer
The City of Unley
PO Box 1
Unley

RE : CITY OF UNLEY 2015-2018 REGENERATING UNLEY’S URBAN FOREST DRAFT TREE POLICY

Dear Peter

FOCUS welcomes this Council initiative, and the opportunity to contribute to and enhance the future environment of our City.  We are particularly interested in tree strategy in the broader context of maintaining and promoting biodiversity.  To this end FOCUS has established a ‘Biodiversity Group’ with a view to assisting Council in it’s endeavours, particularly in the areas of community liaison and education, and possibly, in contributing to activities such as tree monitoring and second tier greening.

The Draft Tree Policy is an excellent document; well researched, thoughtfully constructed and attractively presented.

FOCUS supports the concept of an ‘Urban Forest’ and the seven Principles underpinning the Tree Strategy.  The strategies in the three pathways for street, park and private trees seem sensible and realistic. We have mixed views about the details of tree succession and second generation planning for street trees, but based on the data presented, we feel that the proposals are good starting points for discussion.

FOCUS has been a strong advocate of the need to protect significant and regulated trees on private property, whilst recognising the considerable difficulties in achieving this.  We support the proposals for mapping and auditing, education and advice, and improved planning and development application protocols.

FOCUS endorses the concerns and actions in the Strategy relating to water/soil moisture retention, climate change and urban infill.

Please see attached FOCUS recommendations and suggestions.

Yours Sincerely

Ros Islip
President
FOCUS

Cc John Devine, General Manager Assets and Infrastructure, Councillors.


RECOMMENDATIONS AND SUGGESTIONS

FOCUS  wishes  to highlight the following list of constructive ways in which we can endorse, support and help implement the aims of the Council’s Tree Strategy:

  • FOCUS, along with other stakeholders, can play a helpful role in promoting community awareness of biodiversity issues.  This could involve targeted programs for community engagement, specific education programs (eg for schoolchildren), and the establishment of a Facebook Page or Web Site providing education, information, and a forum for community discussion.  We believe that Council might be able to provide funding to subsidise such activities.
  • We are concerned about the effects of subdivision leading to relatively larger homes and smaller gardens.  Council could address some of these issues in the planning process, and should also highlight ‘model’ gardens as an example to householders and the community in general.
  • Council should assume leadership in providing advice and support to householders concerning trees that are suitable for habitat and shade without the potential to cause structural damage.
  • The reference to existing canopy cover of 26.1% describes streets and parks.  FOCUS believes that the Tree Strategy should set a long term target for canopy cover for the whole of the Unley area.
  • We support, and would like to assist in, second tier greening projects, water conservation, biodiversity monitoring and protection, the establishment of ‘Pocket Parks’ in dead end streets, and the greening of public car parks.
  • FOCUS members have a particular wish to preserve remnant indigenous trees for their importance to the biodiversity and habitat of the area.  We endorse the Response you will have received from Margaret and Andrew Black,  dated 23 October 2015, and titled: ‘Our Heritage is in your Hands – Biodiversity Conservation in Unley’
  • We are particularly concerned about the fate of remnant River Red Gums, and would wish to be involved in their monitoring and protection. We believe that the issue of auditing and monitoring is urgent.
  • We would wish to be reassured that the restrained approach to implementing street tree succession for Jacarandas, outlined in Councillor Rabbit’s Q and A document, will be adopted.
  • We endorse any plans for footpath modifications to improve water permeability.
  • We are concerned about the inconsistency and unprofessionalism of some Arborist’s reports. We will support any efforts at Local or State Government levels to regulate and standardise reporting. We encourage Council to place a greater emphasis on its own Arborist’s impartial recommendations when reviewing development applications.
  • FOCUS recognises that the new State planning laws and regulations will put significant and regulated trees on private land at increased risk.  We will support Council in any efforts to mitigate this risk. We would be interested to hear of any efforts to explore the details and limits of legal processes for tree protection.
  • We support the proposal to prepare a Draft Development Plan Amendment for significant trees.
  • We are aware of the threats to trees and biodiversity, in general, of urban infill and climate change.  We urge Council to do everything in its powers to modify these effects.
  • We believe that the Tree Strategy provides an opportunity for Council to increase our, currently, very low open space ratio, particularly in relation to new developments.
  • We urge Council to keep the community up to date by dedicating an issue of ‘Unley Life’ to ‘greening’ information and initiatives, and by providing regular updates on the Tree Policy.
  • FOCUS advocates for a dedicated greening issue of Unley Life and for regular updates of the 4 year plan.
  • FOCUS supports the vegetating of public Car Parks
  • Finally, FOCUS applauds Council’s initiative in establishing a comprehensive Tree Strategy.   We wish to be part of this ongoing process.

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