Cllr Denise Carlo

Trees - glorious, magical, trees.  

Almost everyone loves trees. They are woven into our lives and lift our spirits. We take them for granted but mourn when our favourites are felled.

I hope that in my lifetime I’ll never see the loss of the majestic weeping beech in Earlham Cemetery among several others.  

Trees not only beautify our neighbourhoods. We owe our survival to trees. Their woody stems, branches, leaves and roots and soil in which they grow are a major defence against climate change.

Trees capture carbon, cool the air, absorb heavy rainfall and support wildlife.  They are the touchstone of all that we value about the environment.  

Public anger quickly ignites if a council or developer wants to chop down a healthy tree.

Plans to axe two limes on Tombland and six on King Street attracted several thousand petition signatures and the ire of residents.    

Today, all is not well with Norwich’s trees.

Large forest trees planted a century or more ago such as beech, horse chestnut and ash have been vanishing as they succumb to disease, pests, extreme weather and old age.

Trees have been squeezed out by tarmac, hard paving, underground services and development.   Planners, builders and highways engineers prefer lollipop trees with small crowns which take up less space.     

In 2016 Forest Research, the research agency of the forestry commission, assessed Norwich’s tree canopy cover as being 18.6%, compared with an England-wide average of 16%.

Nine out of Norwich’s 13 wards are below the minimum 20% target standard for canopy cover recommended for inland towns and cities. 

Another visible sign of Norwich’s declining tree coverage is the number of gaps appearing in our street trees.  A citizens’ survey in Nelson ward, in the Golden Triangle, counted 77 stumps, empty pits or tarmacked former tree pits.

If a similar degree of street tree loss is replicated across the city, it adds up to a substantial shortfall.  

Responsibility for 10,100 trees along main roads, verges, residential streets and other highways land in Norwich passed to Norfolk County Council in 2020.

It seems that in the highways engineer’s book, trees are a safety risk to be managed rather than a resource for nurturing.    

That attitude is reflected in the miserly £20,000 allocated from the multi-million highways maintenance budget in 2022/23 for purchasing new highways trees for Norwich.

Such small change will buy just 49 trees. If the situation continues, we could see the disappearance of street trees from many of our roads. 

So far, the county’s response to requests for a more generous tree budget has been to highlight its ‘One Million Trees’ project. This involves planting tree seedlings in soft ground mainly in rural and suburban parishes which rules out inhospitable city pavements.  

Norwich City Council allocated just £9,741 from its budget for new tree stock in 2021 and again in 2022. Yet trees have been an important feature of Norwich throughout its history.  

Thomas Fuller in 1662 famously described Norwich as ‘a city in an orchard or an orchard in a city’.  

Our Victorian predecessors grew trees for their public health benefits as well as for ornament.  In the inter-war years captain Sandys Winsch, Norwich’s parks superintendent, made room for 20,000 trees when he landscaped new spacious social housing communities and parks, main roads and streets.

His passion for trees shaped and enhanced the city we know today.             

Sandys Winsch’s arboreal legacy has been fading away.

We need the city and county Councils to follow his example and work together to create a new tree legacy for Norwich for the next 100 years.

We need Broadland, South Norfolk councils to stop axing healthy trees in outer Norwich for development and to set ambitious targets for tree planting.  

We need Norfolk County Council to abandon its Norwich Western Link and protect the last sliver of open countryside with its crowns of small woodlands.