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The Importance of Trees

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By Jonathon Howard

Our native plants and animals work at different time scales. I know time can be measured using standardised units- but the reality is it is a subjective experience by those who are travelling through it.

Trees operate on time scales dramatically more extended than our own. They operate far more slowly than we do. There are trees still alive in our region, that were more than 200 years old when the first fleet arrived in Australia.

So I wonder when trees are chopped down to make way for a new development, whether the people considered time from a tree’s perspective. Perhaps we all need to take a long-term perspective in planning our urban environments- a perspective beyond the span of our own lifetimes.

If we did, we would not simply focus on creating a housing development but think about the communities we are creating and living environment we are providing.

Trees are essential for healthy communities and people. Urban forests intercept and reduce air pollution. Those smoky days when particulate matter hang heavy in the Albury Wodonga air and people report suffering bronchitis, asthma, and stress can be helped by trees. For example, it has been estimated that urban trees in the United States remove more than 711,000 metric tons of air pollution each year.

Trees also have indirect benefits. Numerous studies demonstrate that the presence of trees and urban nature can improve a person’s mental and physical health, a child’s attention and test scores, and property values. Trees and greener environments are also strongly linked to reduced negative thoughts, reduced symptoms of depression, better reported moods, and increased life satisfaction. The very act of planting and caring for trees may promote mental and physical health.

In sum, it is evident that trees provide many ecosystem services that can benefit an urban environment, ranging from reducing energy use and removing pollution to increased property values and happier and healthier communities. Developments that clear fell areas before they are developed is short sighted. We need to consider what we are creating in the long term. More emphasis must be placed on retaining the trees already there, and on ensuring the right species are planted in the right locations where needed.

If you are interested in finding out which species are best for your local area have a look at the ‘greener spaces better places’ website greenerspacesbetterplaces.com.au

Photo by Kirsten Coates