As Ballarat emerges from its hottest January on record, new data reveals those living in the city’s socially vulnerable communities are suffering most in the heat.
The Cool It Project identified Wendouree, Sebastopol, Delacombe and parts of Ballarat North and Ballarat East as areas of social vulnerability to heat with a direct correlation to low urban tree canopy cover.
Many have raised concerns at the lack of trees planted in the city’s developing suburbs like Lucas and Bonshaw.
Data shows trees can provide relief from heat, with the capacity to cool surface temperatures on streets by up to 20 degrees.
Submissions are now open for a City of Ballarat action plan to improve tree coverage throughout Ballarat for community, health and environmental benefits.
You don’t have to be an environmentalist to want more trees in your area. It benefits everyone.Hedley Thomson
The draft Urban Forest Action Plan aims to increase increase canopy cover in Ballarat from the existing 17 per cent to 40 per cent by 2040.
Environment consultant and former City of Ballarat manager of parks and environment Hedley Thomson said the plan should interest all residents because of the multitude of benefits from urban trees.
“You don’t have to be an environmentalist to want more trees in your area. It benefits everyone,” he said.
“More trees adds value, improves aesthetics, is great for the environment and great for people.”
The draft Urban Forest Action Plan sets targets to establish a comprehensive tree inventory, achieve an increase in two hectares of green space in the CBD, and develop tree precinct plans for priority areas of social vulnerability.
Enhancing biodiversity by prioritising planting and restoration of urban habitats and living corridors, and strengthening Ballarat’s urban character through street trees and greening are further objectives detailed in the plan.
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City of Ballarat councillor Belinda Coates said trees were an important asset for the city, with the current 120,000 trees under council management estimated at a value of $387 million.
“Some feedback I have had already is that we need to be proactive and consider really good urban planning right at the outset, including tree canopy coverage in newer areas which is related to environmentally sustainable design in developments as well,” she said.
Community feedback from 150 people who responded to the Urban Forest Discussion Paper in 2017 helped inform the draft Urban Forest Action Plan, highlighting a need to consider biodiversity and habitat pathways, the need for council to provide adequate maintenance, the protection of existing trees, and a desire for food provision to be a benefit of trees planted.
Food is Free director Lou Ridsdale said the grassroots community organisation had made a submission to the draft action plan which expressed members’ desire to see fruit and nut trees planted in Ballarat to help ease food security issues.
“We’d love to see Ballarat replicate Todmorden, a town in the UK known also as Incredible Edible where the entire town is taken over by productive food crops and maintained by volunteers,” she said.
“Imagine our town with cabbages grown in the beds at Civic Hall, corn grown outside the post office, tomatoes at the local library for all to enjoy, and for free.”
READ MORE: Food is Free movement empowers a community
The draft Urban Forest Action Plan reveals City of Ballarat currently plants around 1000 street and park trees and removes around 200 to 400 trees each year.
The report states council will need to ‘dramatically increase’ the number of trees planted each year and allocate effective resources and budgets for ongoing maintenance.
The importance of careful consideration of a range of factors when selecting species for certain locations is also acknowledged in the plan.
Ballarat resident and senior lecturer in urban horticulture at University of Melbourne Amy Hahs said careful selection of species was important for the longevity of trees and supporting biodiversity.
“It is about selecting the right tree for the site and the purpose, considering the character of the neighbourhood and the realistic size of tree that can be supported there,” she said.
“But then also particularly for really sensitive and high biodiversity areas like around the Canadian corridor and the connections through Brown Hill, choosing indigenous tree species and plants in the lower layers is particularly important... Even vegetation in someone's garden can be habitat for wildlife.
“Getting a diversity of tree species is important so you don’t have the same risk of exposure of a disease running through a big area, but also having genetic diversity within a tree species so they are not all clones of exactly the same gene pool. It reduces the risk of something catastrophic happening to tree canopy.”
The Draft Urban Forest Action Plan is available at mysay.ballarat.vic.gov.au.
Community members can provide feedback between until February 18. Feedback received during this phase of consultation will inform the final plan.
What is an urban forest?
Ballarat’s urban forest comprises all of the trees, other vegetation, soil and water that support it, incorporating vegetation in streets, parks, gardens, river and creek embankments, wetlands, railway corridors, urban spaces, city entrances and private gardens.
What are the benefits of improving the urban forest?
There are many benefits to developing and improving the urban forest, according to City of Ballarat, including supporting air quality, water management, provision of shade, habitat and nutrient cycling, and providing the high amenity city valued by the residents and visitors alike.
As detailed in the draft Urban Forest Action Plan, the benefits of an integrated Urban Forest include:
- Helps adapt to climate change through ability to cool the landscape and intercept stormwater.
- Improves overall health and well-being and encourages active transport such as walking and cycling through the equitable distribution of shade and amenity.
- Key locations for native and indigenous tree species to provide habitat, food and movement corridors for Ballarat’s wildlife.
- Contributes to neighbourhood character.