This week I had the pleasure of meeting with two ACT Government Ministers to talk about proactive tree management in our schools. It’s time to start this conversation with many Canberra schools at risk of losing significant canopy cover for years because of the absence of tree management plans that emphasise tree health and planting.
ACT schools are required to have annual tree audits which focus on safety but it has become too common for the audits to simply focus on annual dead-wooding and eventually the tree’s removal. They don’t consider the school’s long-term goals for their grounds, or the benefits of strategic forward-planning. With many trees being planted around the same time the school was built, our schools have an aging tree population with no young trees to replace them.
Of course, we must continue to conduct safety audits so our school communities and infrastructure are protected as reasonably practicable but ironically lack of attention to maintaining tree health makes them more dangerous. Studies have proven that trees in stress or decline are more likely to have limb failures than trees in good health.
A proactive tree management plan would include plant nutrition and soil conditioning, pest and disease control, and a planting program that selects species to suit the micro-climate and staggered planting and removal based on existing trees’ useful life expectancy and risk. For the plans to be most effective, they need to be developed by suitably qualified Arborists (i.e. AQF Level 5), preferably with additional current training and experience in the topics above. Modern day arboriculture focuses on holistic tree management and considers sustainability and other environmental factors – gone are the days of ‘lopping and chopping’.
What will be a win for schools and government is that proactive tree management is cheaper and easier to budget over forward years. Dedicating expenditure only to unscheduled reactive work that often comes from annual tree audits leaves schools feeling disempowered. They have little say in their vegetation management and continuously pay for consistent reactive works, which could be reduced through better health management and strategic scheduled maintenance. Of course, no tree is 100% safe and funds for some reactive tree work should still be allocated.
The cherry on top for proactive tree management is just as residential properties increase in value from having well-maintained trees, so too do schools. Increased property value, shade and improved air quality are obvious benefits but studies also show thriving green spaces in schools reduces stress and mental fatigue, improves concentration and learning outcomes. It’s also an opportunity to teach students about the importance of maintaining our green spaces to support a healthy lifestyle.
There is great opportunity here for school communities (private and public), government and qualified local arborists to plan and develop better green urban infrastructure for our future generations. I welcome more exploration of proactive tree management initiatives so our kids and community get to enjoy an optimum urban green environment.