‘World first’ survey reveals the benefit of urban trees in Wales

The result of a survey of tree cover across all of Wales’ towns and cities, the first of its kind in the world, will be unveiled in Wrexham today (25 September 2014).

The survey, commissioned by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), used aerial photography from 2006 and 2009 to identify and map the canopy spread of trees.

It shows how many trees we have, where they are and where they are being lost over time. This will help inform how to manage urban trees in a better way for the future.

Trees can make a real difference to people in towns and cities across Wales – providing a vital service. They remove harmful air pollution, reducing incidents of asthma and heart disease; reduce flood risk by slowing surface water run-off after heavy downpours; and absorb and store carbon dioxide, helping to counteract climate change. They also provide food and habitat for wildlife such as birds and bees.

The report will be launched at the Climate Change Commission Wales meeting in Wrexham on 25 September.

Dafydd Fryer from Natural Resources Wales said:

“Trees are essential to life and provide natural services to improve the quality of life of people in our towns and cities.

“They provide a vital service to communities by cleaning the air of pollution, reducing flood risk and offsetting carbon dioxide emissions by absorbing them from the atmosphere.

“The study shows that if we can manage and plan where and which species of trees we plant in our towns and cities – and look after the trees we already have - then they can help make our communities sustainable. We will be sharing the findings of the survey with local authority planners and decision makers.”

Trees only covered 17% of land in Wales’ urban areas in 2009, which is average when compared to other towns and cities across the world.

However, tree cover varies widely across Wales – from only 6% in Rhyl to 30% in Treharris.
The study also identified that in a quarter of towns in Wales the tree canopy cover declined between 2006 and 2009 – with more than 11,000 large trees lost altogether.

Alongside the study of tree canopies in urban areas, Natural Resources Wales, Forest Research and Wrexham County Borough Council also piloted the first study in Wales to find the true value of the County Borough’s urban trees.

The i-Tree Eco study found that in total, Wrexham’s trees save the local economy more than £1.2 million every year by:

  • intercepting 27 million litres of rainfall from entering the drainage system, equivalent of saving £460,000 in sewerage charges
  • absorbing 1,329 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
  • Improving people’s health by removing 60 tonnes of air pollution which in turn saves the health services £700,000

Councillor Ian Roberts from Wrexham County Borough Council said:

“The findings of this important study confirm that the County Borough’s trees have a far greater value than just the amenity that they provide. It also highlights the importance of continuing to protect and manage our trees effectively and the long term value of planting new trees.”

The launch will be at the Catrin Finch Centre in Wrexham on Thursday 25 September at 11:45, with a visit in the afternoon to plant a commemorative tree.

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