Trees play a vital role – we need to keep them healthy

Green councillor Ben Parker talks about tree concerns in Morningside and the action he’s taking.

Link to video version of this article >

Since being elected in May, I have had many residents get in touch with me asking questions about the trees we have in the area. Like me, they share a great love for the different species found in our parks and lining our streets, and they want to know what work the council is doing to protect the trees, and to keep them healthy for future generations. As I’ve been sad to discover, unfortunately, it isn’t wholly positive news.

Residents on Warrender Park Road have been particularly upset after the council filled soil beds around newly planted trees with resin. Though this substance is permeable, it was a kick in the teeth to residents — they had already planted wildflowers in the beds at the base of the trees when these were ripped out and covered over by contractors. This was not only a waste of time and money, but also a missed opportunity by the council for supporting the creation of a much needed corridor of planting for pollinators through the heart of the city.

Tree with metal fence and resin surround
Ben Parker is not convinced by the use of resin to protect trees

At the time, I was not convinced by the arguments put forward in favour of the use of resin, and that’s why I’ve been pressuring officers to consider alternatives. Later this autumn, the council will publish updated street design guidance, and this will include information about the materials which should be used at the base of newly planted trees. I am pushing for preference to be given to soil beds and natural planting, instead of hard materials like resin. Though this won’t change what has happened on Warrender Park Road, it will make a difference for trees being planted in the future.

But it’s not just tree planting practices which have been cause for concern. There are serious resourcing issues around tree watering and maintenance in the council, meaning that young and newly planted trees are dying before reaching maturity. After submitting questions to officers, I have discovered that there is no dedicated resource for tree watering in the forestry team. In fact, we rely on workers working overtime to complete extra watering during periods of hot weather – in the context of a warming climate, this is especially concerning and clearly unsustainable.

To understand more about the issue, I’ve been reaching out to community groups like the Friends of Meadows & Bruntsfield Links, as well as national organisations like the Woodland Trust, for advice about best practice to keep trees healthy. I’ve submitted questions to the Convenor of the Culture & Communities committee which is responsible for upkeep of parks, and my motion debated in August’s Full Council meeting around extreme heat and climate adaptation, also draws attention to the issue. In Autumn, we are expecting a report about the council’s Million Tree City project and I’ll be working with colleagues from across the political spectrum to push for more resources for the forestry team for tree maintenance.

Trees play a vital role in keeping the city cool and helping to bring down climate emissions, as well as making our streets more pleasant to be around. It’s important we protect them so we can continue to enjoy the benefits they bring.