Clive Stevens, Chair of Bristol TreeForum reports:

Dear Friend of Bristol’s Trees – It’s been a busy 6 weeks for the TreeForum trying to keep Bristol’s re-treeing program on track.

Storm in a tree-cup
 This last month has been an exciting time for Bristol’s tree fraternity: storms, intense rain and budget cuts.

This is my take on TreeForum’s activities over December and January.

I think we should start with the announcement of £300,000 of budget cuts (about 30% of the Council’s tree budget) at the beginning of December. The TreeForum took time to analyse the impact of this and sent out a brief so people could comment accurately on the Mayor’s consultation. The results; 72 expressed a preference regarding the tree budget cuts, 68% disagreed with them, perhaps more tellingly, of the 34 who went to the effort of writing a comment, 7 ticked “agree” but 2 of them then explained how important trees are, so maybe they made a mistake? 27 wrote reasons why they disagreed with the cuts, I make that 85% against the specific budget proposal. Separately the TreeForum asked Full Council to support two small amendments to the Bristol Central Area Plan. If adopted, one requires developers to install more sustainable features like trees; the other makes mention of the importance of the green infrastructure at St Mary le Port. Personally, I will wait until there are enough confirmed tree planting sites in the centre of Bristol to mitigate the loss of these fine trees, until then I prefer them to stay. Both amendments were passed 55 to nil so the Mayor now needs to decide if he accepts them.

The Christmas holidays brought a couple of big storms


                                           Kersteman Road storm damage

but the stormiest was in January on the 15th, approximately 36 hours after the TreeForum meeting. Assistant Mayor Gus Hoyt had told us that he was expecting some good news on the budget cuts which we would see the next day. This curtailed the debate we were planning to have on the unbalanced situation Bristol’s tree program finds itself in. The next day the revised budget arrived, at midnight, but no change. Many of the 36 attendees had interpreted Gus’s comment as a promise and were not best pleased.
We rapidly put together a statement to the Cabinet Meeting (17th Jan) asking the Mayor to reconfirm his commitment to canopy cover increase, which he eventually did. We explained the weaknesses in the current approach and in return he explained how hard the Assistant Mayor had been working for trees, so maybe Gus was badly briefed by an officer? The TreeForum also discussed changing the Council’s financial approach to trees; trees are assets and we think they should be treated as such; Support all round, over to you Gus.
Then the public forum statements; firstly from Horfield and Lockleaze NP asking whatever had happened to their park’s tree planting; good question, it is being followed up. A partial excuse is that the tree department was short staffed during 2013, so they couldn’t resource the demand, but they didn’t tell their “customers.”
The final statement was from Bristol University who asked for the Bristol Tree Replacement Standard (BTRS) to be modified for them because they sustainably manage an estate rather than develop property. This request follows public disquiet at their development in Stoke Bishop when they planted mitigation trees in Cabot. The general case is an extremely important issue since the BTRS underpins Bristol’s new core strategy. It is designed to make sure, if a developer really has to fell trees, then they need to plant more on the same site according to a set scale. And if there isn’t room, then they pay the Council to plant some on nearby public land. I suspect the University will be preparing a more detailed paper for the next TreeForum meeting (14th April) to allow a more informed and deeper discussion. The TreeForum itself doesn’t have the power of decision, it would involve the University appealing to Bristol’s Planning Committee but our view might influence the outcome.

We covered a few administrative matters and I was re-elected Chair (for my final year, the constitution states rotation of Chair and Vice Chair roles must be 3 years maximum.). We also decided that Hugh Holden might have better dialogue with the Assistant Mayor so it was proposed, and agreed, that Hugh become Vice Chair.

We are now two weeks following that TreeForum “promise” (27/1/14), still no change to the budget cuts, so we have sent the Council a report of the weaknesses we see in the Council’s current approach. These are: cancelling tree stump replacement subsidies, having to fell veteran trees when diseased rather than management, plus no street tree planting in deprived areas. All resources are now aimed at planting lots of whip trees as part of an education program (PiPS). Our view is that the activities not
funded, are as important, or more important than PiPS. And worse, there are some unsustainable aspects to the PiPS program too; it finishes in 2016 and the planting intensity means that only a small proportion will ever grow large. Our report is available on request.

So stay tuned for the next instalment of this soap box opera:
- Will the Mayor reject the changes to the Central Area Plan?
- Will balance be returned to Bristol’s tree planting program?
- And has the Mayor left trees at the altar? Photo, thanks Daily Mirror.

Written by Clive Stevens (Chair Bristol TreeForum). 27.1.14 - See beta website

PS – I have been notified that Frank Kelf died in October 2013. Frank was responsible for Bristol's contribution to “Plant a tree in 73” and then “Plant some more in 74".  Frank  worked for Bristol City Council and together with the Bristol Civic Society, planted some 4,000 street trees  during that period.   Vassili Papastavrou, who wrote this paragraph, had the pleasure of meeting Frank and corresponding with him.  Frank was a true radical, a great believer in the importance of trees and uniquely inside the system