Council to plant two trees for every one felled in ambitious plan

Every tree cut down in Wirral will be replaced with two more under the council's ambitious new strategy.

In recent months, several locals have told the ECHO how angry they are at perceived excessive tree felling in the borough.

Speaking out against the decision to chop down 33 Lombardy Poplar trees at Grange Cemetery in March, a spokesperson for the Wirral Ecology Network said: “This is absolutely shocking. We need trees to save the atmosphere.

“They can also help with flooding, which is very important at the moment.”

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But Wirral’s new strategy makes a significant pledge to address environmental campaigners’ concerns.

Cllr Liz Grey, Wirral Council’s cabinet member for the environment, said she was proud of the pledge to double tree cover.

The Labour councillor also said "natural regeneration", a process of allowing some areas of former woodland to regrow without human interference, was important to the strategy.

The Tree Strategy follows Wirral Council’s declaration of an environment and climate emergency last summer, in which the council pledged to do more to tackle climate change.

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Cllr Grey said Wirral’s strategy was far more radical than the government’s emerging national plan for trees, known as the ‘England Tree Strategy’.

She said: “Our work with the Wirral Initiative on Trees has been praised by the government and so it feels like such a shame that the government’s own Tree Strategy, currently out for consultation, is so lacking in meaningful pledges to improve tree cover.

“I really believe that the hard work put into this will pay off with a more robust set of tree protection and planting policies and that, as the endorsements show, Wirral will be leading the way when it comes to trees.”

The strategy is the culmination of work from the council and a huge number of environmental groups including the Tree Council.

These groups have come together as the ‘Wirral Initiative on Trees’.

Cllr Liz Grey, Wirral Council Cabinet member for Environment, added: “But the strategy is about much more than just planting trees; it’s about investing in expertise, planting the right trees in the right place and bringing in staff who will help us to monitor and inspect all our trees and advise on the best course of action, should a risk be identified.”

Trees can become diseased and die and, where they are situated where people pass by or visit, they can pose a risk to people as the council found in an incident on Arrowe Park Road four years ago when a falling branch caused killed a pregnant mother's unborn child.

While safety concerns will always be the council’s first priority, the authority has a commitment to only fell trees as a last resort where there is a clear safety risk.

Importantly, the new strategy also commits the council to communicating better with people about its reasons for deciding whether to cut a tree down.

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It is certainly the case that those who have written to the LDRS in frustration at trees being felled have been very unhappy with some of Wirral Council’s previous explanations for its tree management decision.

Included in the strategy is a recognition that while not all trees in the borough are the council’s responsibility, the same checks and protections should extend to trees on private land.

To that end, the council-wide Enforcement Policy has been reviewed with a commitment to investigate all allegations of offences relating to trees and to ensure appropriate action is taken whenever necessary.

To make sure strategy’s commitments are being stuck to, an Overview and Advisory Board, made up of Council representatives and partners, will monitor the council’s success or otherwise in meeting its new goals.

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Danny Gross, a campaigner from Friends of the Earth, said: "Wirral Council has created a visionary and pragmatic strategy for expanding trees, woodlands and hedgerows.

“Friends of the Earth strongly supports the ambition to double tree cover through tree planting and natural regeneration, alongside practical initiatives to protect existing trees.”

On Cllr Grey's criticism of the emerging England Tree Strategy, a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “Trees are a precious natural asset and central to the fight against climate change, which is why we’re committed to increasing tree planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025 – the rate recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.

“Our new England Tree Strategy is currently under consultation – and will set out how we will achieve our ambitious tree planting goals in partnership with communities and local authorities across the country.”