Where will all the trees be?

By Gabrielle Stannus

A new study funded by the nursery research and development levy continues earlier work benchmarking canopy cover in metropolitan local government areas. It also aims to highlight areas where increased consumption of green life products may be needed by governments and other consumers.

Published in 2014, Where Are All The Trees? was Australia’s first ever local government area (LGA) study of urban canopy cover. Using the i-Tree sampling method, researchers from the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) analysed tree canopy cover in 139 Australian metropolitan LGAs.

In 2016, researchers from RMIT University continued this work through i-Tree, assessing changes to canopy cover in these LGAs. This time though, the researchers also examined the relationships between canopy cover and indices of socio-economic disadvantage (SEIFA), population under five years and over 65 years living alone, non-communicable disease health data from the Australian Health Survey (2011-12), and a calculation of heat island intensity derived from satellite imagery for summer 2015-2016. Using this data, the project team developed the VHHEDA (Vulnerability to Heat, poor Health, Economic Disadvantage and Access to green spaces) index.

The results of this second study were published in the 2017 guide, Where Should All the Trees Go? The researchers found two consistent trends for tree canopy cover and total vegetation change: canopy cover loss between 2009 and 2016, and offset by gains in shrub or sapling cover during the same period. The results were then used to identify priority areas for greening across Australia and to monitor progress towards the nursery industry’s then 202020 Vision goal of making Australia’s urban areas 20 per cent greener by the year 2020.

Where will all the trees be?
This important work has continued this year, supported by the nursery research and development levy through the “Where will all the trees be?” project (NY19001). This research continues to use the same methodology employed in the earlier studies to measure canopy cover across the LGAs sampled in 2014 and 2016, with one important difference.

“Whilst it once again benchmarks tree cover across the LGAs, this research also brings in other measures to forecast and determine what influences tree cover”, says Brendan O’Keeffe, an analyst with Hort Innovation, “This time, we are looking at the trajectories for urban forest cover under different scenarios that LGAs might have, e.g. policy or management.”

“We will be looking at the number and nature of projects and programs for urban greening within those LGAs, as well as their associated budgets and staff resourcing. Most LGAs now have some sort of green space statement or policy. We want to determine how robust they are. Do they have an actual target that they are working towards to protect and enhance canopy cover? Is there funding behind that target to support these mechanisms?” Brendan explains.

Brendan says that this research will highlight areas where increased consumption of greenlife may be needed by governments, businesses, schools and consumers. This will improve planning by the industry to cater for any increased demand. It will also help to inform the development of other Hort Innovation Nursery Fund investments, relating to both research and development and the levy-funded marketing initiative Greener Spaces, Better Places.

“A key part of this work then is reaching out to councils to help them understand the results so they can put them into practice,” says Brendan. Once the research is complete, a public report will be prepared and a webinar presentation held for government and members of the Greener Spaces, Better Places network. An online interactive visual tool will be also developed, and a briefing document distributed to industry members.

Greenlife Industry Australia
“As the industry representative body, we will advocate on behalf of growers to ensure that they can make the most of the opportunities arising from the findings of this research,” says Peter Vaughan, Greenlife Industry Australia CEO, “In 2018-19, 29% of growers reported selling to government, whilst 43% sold to landscapers, developers and builders1. Under the right policy settings, sales to these customers should increase. We will therefore work with all levels of government to ensure that appropriate targets, regulation and planning tools are developed to mandate green space in new development, as well as protecting and enhancing existing canopy cover and greenery in urban areas.”

1. Greenlife Industry Australia n.d., Facts at a glance: The Australian Nursery Industry 2018-19