Camden Council failing to replace all the trees it cuts down
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Archant
Last year, the United Nations declared Camden a “Tree City of the World... leading the way in urban and community forestry”.
It received the honour after planting 637 trees in a year – almost 60 per cent over its target.
But is Camden Council as green as it appears?
Data suggests it is failing to meet its own standards. It aims to plant 400 trees per year and on paper, it appears to be far exceeding that target.
Between 2009/10 and 2019/20, it planted, on average, 507 trees per year.
But in the same period, it chopped down an average of 541.4 trees per year.
Camden's policy is to plant at least one tree for each it removes.
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Yet over those ten years its replacement rate was 94pc – and that figure assumes every new tree survived.
Camden says its new trees have a 94pc survival rate – meaning the net loss would be even greater, despite its aim to replant any new trees that die.
More trees are being lost to development projects like HS2, outside of the council's control, with no guarantee they will be replaced.
'Not getting back what we cut down’
“This is a real worry,” said Sian Berry – a Camden councillor and joint leader of the Green Party nationally.
“It’s clear that we are not getting back what we cut down – particularly as newly-planted trees do not have the same benefits as the mature ones they are often replacing.”
More than half of Camden’s council-owned trees are either juvenile or middle-aged.
Only 1% are in the oldest, most environmentally beneficial categories.
“Newly-planted trees are not as good in terms of carbon absorption, habitats for animals or the shade offered,” said Cllr Berry.
“So even if we were achieving our target, we would still not be getting back what we were losing.”
The Forestry Commission measures councils not by how many trees they plant, but increases in their “tree canopy cover”.
Camden's canopy cover has grown by 1% in nine years, to almost 23%.
A study last year found Camden was among the top 20 places in England and Wales for tree cover, but that many of them were on private land.
In an overheating city every summer, said Cllr Berry, the places where we need the extra shade are the places people can access and spend time – not private spaces.
Data published by Camden shows that between 1999 and 2016, canopy cover slightly increased in most areas, including Hampstead, Belsize and Gospel Oak.
But in Highgate, Kentish Town and Holborn it fell slightly. In Bloomsbury it was static.
Camden Council also publishes details of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) monitoring across the borough.
If the concentration of the toxic gas, emitted by vehicles, exceeds 40 microgrammes per cubic metre of air, the law has been broken.
Long-term exposure to levels over this limit can cause respiratory illness and reduce life expectancy.
Illegal NO2 levels have been consistently recorded in areas whose canopy cover has not increased.
In Holborn, across 2018 and 2019, levels were almost always above the legal limit.
One day in February 2019, the concentration hit 138.8 microgrammes.
In the same period, monitoring in Kentish Town and Bloomsbury showed the monthly average concentration was almost always over the limit.
Incomplete or unverified data for 2020 suggested breaches in all three areas had continued.
An increase in canopy cover might have helped avoid these breaches, as trees absorb NO2.
Camden Council said the monthly NO2 concentrations published on its website were not the most accurate way of measuring pollution.
“It’s not good enough,” said Cllr Berry, who added that the most polluted areas seemed to be getting the least intervention.
Proactive neighbourhoods were managing to work with the council, she said, adding: “It can’t just be left to the most organised and proactive neighbourhoods, because they are often the most privileged and leafy areas to begin with.
“We need to be getting all communities together on a mission to improve things.”
Camden Council said that in recent years it had planted more trees than it had removed.
It said it aimed to increase its annual tree planting from 400 to 600, with at least 250 of them in “new locations”.
It said it intends to become “a zero-carbon borough” by 2030 and boost its canopy cover by 3.7pc by 2045.
“It’s important we do everything we can to preserve and plant new trees wherever possible,” a spokesperson said.
Haringey Council may start publishing stats
Haringey Council does not publish data on how many trees it removes or plants – but said it may soon start doing so.
The authority is in the process of creating a new tree strategy.
After the Ham&High asked whether Haringey published the data like neighbouring Camden, it said it does not but would “consider publishing such information” in future.
The council is current creating a Tree and Woodlands Plan and a Biodiversity Action Plan in consultation with community groups.
It revealed it is working on the new policies when the Ham&High pointed out that its last Tree Strategy, for 2014 – 2018, had never been updated.
“We are engaging with local Friends groups and other local authorities to ensure their valued feedback,” it said.
“Any decision to remove trees is never taken lightly. It’s always as a last result and invariably occurs when the trees are either diseased, dying or dead.”