Its Official – Trees are good for your health and we can tell you!

Both Mars and Guinness famously had to withdraw their health claims for their products, but the record number who came to the Bristol Tree Forum last week (February 7th 2012) heard Bishopston resident, Marcus Grant lay out all the scientific studies backing up the following statement; “trees in cities improve your health.” Marcus is Deputy Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre based at UWE in Bristol, he lead us enthusiastically through a complex subject.

– proven cause and effect improvements in;

Physical wellbeing – through atmospheric improvement by restoring oxygen levels which have fallen byupto 10% due to pollution. And through decreasing pollutants especially diesel particulates (typically 15 to 20%), reducing asthma caused by ground level ozone (produced off hot tarmac surfaces) – note some pollens can trigger asthma. Trees in cities reduce summer heat-wave temperatures as much as 70C reducing heat related deaths, and they provide us with shelter from u.v. Evidence indicates that a well treed neighbourhood actually promotes walking and cycling; very good for health.

Mental wellbeing – Studies show people feel less sad, depressed or stressed around trees. Hospital patients have been shown to recover more quickly if their window has a view of trees. Street trees can reduce stress and hyperactive behaviour in children and even improve their educational attainment.  This all contributes to the concept of visual amenity provided by trees, recognised in planning law for many decades, now parts of this notion are underpinned by science.

Safety – studies have shown tree lined streets can slow traffic.

– and correlations in;

Reducing crime – Urban residential areas with more trees, but that in other respects are similar, tend to have lower levels of crime and a better feeling of safety.

Additionally in these hard pressed times there are proven economic benefits to the property owner:  Trees provide shelter from the wind in winter (even without their leaves) saving heating costs of up to 5% and in the summer electricity savings can be double that if you operate air-conditioning. And cost benefits to water companies as they filter pollution from rain water run-off.

Bristol needs a forward looking agenda for the benefit of its residents, a well treed city is a healthier city and this has to be one branch of its future. But now the problem: The responsibility for trees lies with the landowner and here we have a divergence:

On one hand we have Bristol City Council who manage approx. 30% of the land area of Bristol. They followed Marcus’s talk by demonstrating what a long way they have come in the last five years. They have transformed their old approach which would eventually have lead to a treeless city, and described their planting initiatives which are achieving a net increase of 800 trees per year (and plenty of them will grow to be large). They are getting funding for trees to go alongside new road schemes, bus routes and build outs. This all recognises the fact that a tree brings its best benefits to a city if it’s canopy covers tarmac or concrete and is planted next to a road (or in a car park). And they now involve the community in shaping their tree policies.

But all other landowners like the railways, hospitals, non-state schools, homeowners, churches, car park companies, supermarkets and businesses manage the other 70% of Bristol. Currently we are not aware of any forward looking tree strategies. We would love to hear of some and we want to encourage many landowners if not all to replicate what the council are now doing but in their own way.

The Bristol Tree Forum was set up four years ago by the Council to engage with the local community. It is currently chaired by Clive Stevens a local resident, business man and volunteer (like all the other members). Its purpose is to persuade and influence landowners in Bristol to increase the city’s tree cover. We need to involve more residents to achieve this aim. Clive says, “As we live in a democracy we will only achieve these health benefits by cajoling our Councillors and MPs into making sure trees are better protected and more are planted. To do this we need a significant part of Bristol’s populace to support this goal. We will be laying on more talks and events to help in a small way to make Bristol a better place to live in. Membership is now open to individuals so just get in touch, its free and you don’t even have to come to our meetings, you just have to care about our and our children’s future.”

Article written by Clive Stevens; clive@euronova.co.uk for further information

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