Significant and heritage tree management in Canberra

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Edkins St Downer ACT

When visitors arrive in Canberra the thing that strikes them is just how green and leafy the city is, adding another dimension to our ‘bush capital’. The planned metropolis was envisioned as a garden city by architect Walter Burley Griffin, who won the Federal Capital Design Competition to become the original designer of Canberra.

Today, more than half of the ACT is covered in trees. The streets of the inner suburbs of Canberra are lined with trees that are beautiful to look at in every season of the year – whether they are green, golden or bare. But did you know that many of these trees are actually heritage trees, and all have a story behind them?

What are significant and heritage trees?

The ACT Tree Register 2005 was created with the intention of protecting Canberra’s significant trees. Trees can be nominated for the Tree Register by anyone, and if they are considered to be exceptional – that is, of high heritage, landscape or scientific value – then they will be included.

TAMS (Territory and Municipal Services) describes the criteria for inclusion on the register as a tree or group of trees:

  • being located in the built up urban area
  • having natural or cultural heritage value
    • This could include a tree that is associated with a significant public figure or it might be associated with aboriginal heritage or culture.
  • and/or has landscape and aesthetic value
    • Such as a tree which contributes significantly to its surrounding landscape based on its overall form, structure, vigour and aesthetic values. This point also applies to trees that represent an outstanding example of the species, such as its old age or large size.
  • and/or has scientific value
    • If a tree is part of an endangered or vulnerable species that is endemic to the ACT but is now reduced it can be considered for the register. It will also be considered if it demonstrates a likelihood of providing information which will contribute significantly to a wider understanding of natural history.

Trees that make it onto the Tree Register as significant or heritage are not necessarily trees that are found in public landmarked areas. The residents of Canberra are welcome to apply to register any tree that they think fulfils the above requirements. This could be a tree on their own lawn, one that is lining their street, or even one that is out the front of their favourite café down the road.

Some examples of trees on the Tree Register that are part of our everyday community are the American elms that grow in the Blanfordia 5 Garden City heritage precinct in Griffith, the red oaks along Edkins Street Downer, and an English oak planted in 1962 by a then seven-year-old boy in his own yard. Andrew Haydon was the young boy who was responsible for the oak, which sprung to life after he planted an acorn he found on his way home from school. He says the tree became such a thing of beauty that people often stop to take a photo of it, and some have even knocked on his door just to compliment him on what a magnificent tree it is.

Register a tree

A list of Registered Trees by suburb is available on the TAMS website. If you think you have a tree that should be on the register, simply complete and submit the form on the TAMS website and they will assess the tree to see if it meets the above criteria.

Working with protected trees

Trees listed on the ACT Tree Register are protected. They cannot be cut down or altered in any way that will cause them to decline. If you have a tree on your land that is on the register and it needs some work, you should hire a qualified Arborist experienced in managing heritage trees. Your Arborist will be able to seek government advice and/or approval for maintenance.

Simply listing a tree on the Tree Register does not ensure its survival. It’s worth having an Arborist assess the tree and, if required, develop a tree management plan.  A management plan would include pest and disease control, plant nutrition and soil conditioning. If the tree is an Elm you might also need a qualified Arborist to treat the tree against Elm Leaf Beetle, to ensure it survives any severe attacks.