Emma Reed discusses why trees are so beneficial, how to look after them and how to implement tree strategies in new developments.

trees in a forest
Photo: Getty Images

Trees are a wonder, you only have to dip your toes into ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleban to be carried away into the magical world of conversations that are had between them, beneath the soil and between the branches. Not only are they a magical wonder in themselves, they create great benefits for people, wildlife and the environment.

For people, not only do trees provide us with shade and shelter but they help us to feel less stressed and restored. It is no wonder that people are now taking to ‘forest bathing’ or shinrin yoku, a Japanese practice of setting oneself amongst trees and having calm and quiet time to observe, breathe and relieve one’s anxieties.

For wildlife, trees and woodland provide habitat, shelter and food supplies to thousands of species of mammals, birds (many of who have declining populations), reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, moths, beetles, bugs, spiders, slugs, snails, centipedes and millipedes – the list goes on!

For the environment, the power of trees is second to none. They may be our biggest champion in combatting climate change, capturing and storing carbon at phenomenal rates – a young woodland with mixed native species can lock up 400 plus tonnes of carbon per hectare. They are continually releasing organic matter, improving and binding soils, and their contribution towards reducing soil erosion and flooding is incredible.

Existing trees on site
When proposing a new development, the local planning authority is likely to want to see a Tree Survey accompanied by an Arboricultural Impact Assessment, which provides the evidence that your proposals will not have a negative effect on the existing tree stock. Trees can provide screening to your development, provide a pleasant setting and contain multiple habitats for wildlife, so it’s a good idea to propose to keep as many as possible.

The local authority will likely want to see that trees will be not be damaged and measures (such as temporary heras fencing) are taken in accordance with ‘BS5837: 2012 Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction’. This ensures that the root protection areas (RPA) of trees are looked after during the construction period, and damage (such as compaction of soils and roots, and branch and trunk damage) is not caused by vehicles and storing of materials.

You can do your own quick check of where the RPAs are by taking the diameter of the trunk, from 1m above ground and multiplying this by 12 to give a radius from which you can map out the RPA. Once you know the area you can try to propose development outside of it.

Proposed trees
It feels like a proud moment taking the decisions as to what trees will be situated where on site, and having the knowledge that they will mature over time leaving a legacy for future generations. Have fun with it. Think about avenues, spinneys, gateway trees, hedgerow trees, woodland belts, recreating local landscape characteristics, or introducing new ones if appropriate.

Think about a mix of species. Unfortunately the grand old day of single species avenues may be a dated concept. Although they look spectacular, the truth is that there are so many new pests and diseases out there in this country, and some that may shortly be jumping across the channel, that proposing a single species can be a danger as if they are hit then the lot is gone. Consider having a mix of three different species in an avenue.

When thinking about which species may work, look at what is already on site or nearby and if it’s thriving or barely surviving. This will give you a good indication of what works and what doesn’t. Add in new species to increase variety. Ulmus (elm) ‘New Horizon’ for example is a nice choice. It is a medium to large tree, resistant to Dutch elm disease, and hosts the white-letter hairstreak butterfly, a butterfly native to the UK that is endangered due to its habitat being all but destroyed due to Dutch elm disease.

Specifying a mix of sizes is also a good idea. Smaller trees are proven to establish faster but larger ones obviously have immediate visual impact. It’s good to propose some large (perhaps 18-20cm+ girth) and some small (perhaps 8-10cm girth) and maybe even some whips (an unbranched shoot).

Good nurseries include Hilliers, Barchams and Majestic Trees, who can help with advising on tree species to use, sizes and planting. You or your landscape architect can go to the nursery and tag your trees so you know exactly what you are getting and you can make sure that you pick good specimens without any defects.

Orange tree next to a caravan
Photo: Getty Images

Planting and maintenance
Planting correctly is essential. If you have a large number of stock trees it can be devastating to see them all fail in the first year when we have a hot summer. They need watering for at least the first couple of years of establishment. Think about how you can implement this.

Make sure your tree pit has good drainage; a tree sat in water will not be happy unless it is a riparian species. Good staking is also important. Guidance can be gained from ‘BS 8545:2014. Trees: from nursery to independence in the landscape’ and ‘BS 3936-1:1992. Nursery stock. Specification for trees and shrubs’.

If you can ensure that your contractor is working in compliance with these British Standards you may be onto a winner. Ensuring that the same contractor is employed to both plant and maintain the trees for the first two years will give them the incentive to plant correctly as they will need to make replacements if trees fail in the maintenance period and this has been stated in their contract.

Check out places such as the Woodland Trust, the National Trust, your local authority, the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, the Forestry Commission and local volunteer groups which are looking to plant trees and woodlands and may be able to help.

In Calderdale, West Yorkshire, Treesponsibility is a voluntary group that has been planting woodlands for over 20 years with a view to educating people, involving communities, increasing biodiversity, improving the environment and, in more recent years with the terrible flooding that the area has suffered, to slow the flow of water from the upper hillsides down into the valley’s villages and towns. It might be that you have a similar group near you and you can get the community involved.


About the Author

Emma Reed is a chartered landscape architect and director of Reed Studio. Perched on the Pennines of West Yorkshire, Reed Studio provides landscape, garden, farm diversification and architectural design services for clients across the UK, with projects ranging from glamping sites, to rural businesses, workshops and destination cafés.

The studio offers a landscape-led approach to design, creating sites and buildings which nestle within their surroundings. The team prides itself on providing clients with a plethora of design options and also writes technical landscape and visual appraisals to satisfy local authorities, meeting planning policy requirements and assimilating into local landscape character.

Pens and a roll of tracing paper accompany Emma’s every trip and she relishes the opportunity to sketch out strategy plans, concepts and site-wide journeys and experiences. emma@reedstudio. /

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