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Monday, 11 March 2024 22:47

Calls for stronger tree protection measures

According to 2020 data Ku-ring-gai currently has an urban forest canopy cover of 45%. The Urban Forest Strategy is to increase this to 49% by 2036. However the level of canopy cover is going the wrong way and there is increasing community concern about tree destruction, both legal and illegal.

In recent months there have been some extreme examples of tree destruction in Middle Cove (over 250 trees) and Longueville (about 300 trees and shrubs). There are many examples of trees being removed in order to ‘improve’ views or increase property value as the size of a home rebuild is increased.

There is some dispute about the level of canopy loss. Council’s measures are that 1.4% of canopy has been lost over the two years to 2022. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald quoted data from a study compiled by consultancy group ArborCarbon for the state government and analysed by the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue. This claimed that the Ku-ring-gai had lost 8.2% between 2019 and 2022. The discrepancy is so large that the baseline or methodology needs to be examined.

The article stated that, altogether, Greater Sydney’s tree canopy barely changed; trees covered 21% per cent of the city in 2019 and, in 2022, cover was 21.7%. That’s a long way off from the government’s target of 40% coverage by 2036. That target will totally unachievable if the housing proposals go ahead as announced (see previous article). A large proportion of the increase needs to occur on private land. Only so many trees can be planted along streets and in parks.

Responses by local councils

Several local councils presented motions to the local government conference in November 2023 calling for increases in penalties for tree vandalism and illegal removal. The motion passed called on Local Government NSW to:

  • Urgently undertake a review of the legislative regime for tree protection and seek increased penalties and deterrents, including significantly increased fines and community service for the destruction and vandalism of trees in NSW. The review is to include the destruction and vandalism of vegetation in environmentally sensitive areas such as riparian zones, areas of high biodiversity value and foreshore protection areas. The review should identify opportunities to better coordinate tree protection across NSW, along with improved education and awareness around the importance of tree protection to build stronger community support.
  • Advocate for effective reform to improve collaboration and coordination in education and enforcement to combat tree vandalism in NSW.

Upper house petition – please sign

The Legislative Assembly of the NSW parliament has put up a petition calling on the government to significantly increase penalties for urban forest tree vandalism. It also calls for the recognition of trees as 'natural assets' in the Integrated Planning and Reporting framework of the Local Government Act.

Click here to sign the petition.

The preamble to the petition explains that councils lack resources for thorough criminal investigations, hindering effective prosecution. Despite the illegality of tree vandalism under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, only 19 cases were prosecuted from 2018 to 2022.

The petition also asks the Legislative Assembly to call on the government to amend the NSW Local Government Act to include trees in councils' asset registers as 'natural assets', allocate a budget for a collaboration of councils to undertake pilot projects to integrate natural capital/asset reporting in balance sheets and develop natural asset data capture and management standards. Recognising trees as 'natural assets' helps us appreciate their true value including their role in combating climate change and preserving biodiversity.

What’s Ku-ring-gai doing?

1. Strengthened tree regulations

Council is now enforcing strengthened tree regulations.

Residents who breach the conditions of their DA or Complying Development Certificate through illegal tree removal, will be required to replace them with a like tree in addition to fines. Residents undertaking works on their land should expect to be monitored and conditions enforced in accordance with their development approval.

2. Illegal Tree Removal Community Forum

Tuesday 26 March, 6 to 8pm
Ku-ring-gai Council Chambers,
818 Pacific Highway, Gordon

This text comes from council’s website.

Council invites all community members and groups to a public forum addressing the critical issue of illegal tree removal in our neighbourhoods. This growing problem threatens our tree canopy - an invaluable community asset we must protect.

We will discuss the challenges faced in curbing the threat, as well as potential solutions. Most importantly, we seek to hear from you - the community - regarding your insights into the problems and opportunities before us. What actions can we take together to protect our trees and urban forest?

The session will concentrate on three crucial aspects:

  • the primary obstacles in sustaining and enhancing our tree canopy
  • compliance and regulation – measures that can be taken to prevent or remedy tree removal
  • education – discouraging people from wanting to remove trees

By registering now, you can share your views in advance of the forum. This will aid in guiding the forum discussion by addressing questions on the above topics in the registration form.

This is a call to all who care about saving our trees to get involved. Join the forum and make your voice heard in developing community-driven strategies to turn the tide on illegal tree loss in Ku-ring-gai.

3. TreeCare

A group of concerned citizens has been working with some of the councillors and staff on ways to ensure that our iconic trees are cared for. The plan is to set up a TreeCare group that will install protection measures such as and information signs around significant trees on public land. The angophora at the edge of the car park at the St Ives Showground has been suggested as the first site.

4.     Tree Watch

A new community action group has been formed called the Voices of Ku-ring-gai with goals of lifting the standard of integrity, environmental protection, transparency, accountability, and community-mindedness of Ku-ring-gai Council.

One of their first initiatives is to set up a scheme called Tree Watch. Community members who opt into Tree Watch can download a poster for their community notice board or place a plaque on their fence or gate. This alerts the neighbourhood to the fact that the person who lives there places a high value on the precious and sensitive ecosystem in the neighbourhood.

The group will share information about tree losses and how to report to council if someone spots tree loppers in action and council’s website shows that the tree removal has not been approved. However, their main objective is to educate the community about the benefits provided by maintaining our tree canopy.