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Urban tree cover has been associated with complaints about insurance claims and conflicts with CCTV

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Torbay in groundbreaking move to start valuing its trees

Tom Levitt

10th December, 2010

By quantifying the economic benefit of its trees through air pollution, shade and flood alleviation, the English Riviera town of Torbay hopes to reverse traditional local antagonism

The south Devonshire seaside town of Torbay is to become the first local authority in the UK to put an economic value on every one of its 28,000 trees.

Using software developed by the US forest service, the town has surveyed its tree cover and calculated the benefit it brings in terms of pollution being removed from the air, flood alleviation and energy saved due to summer shade and slower heat loss in the winter.

A similar survey, using the revolutionary i-Tree software, in New York found that every $1 spent on tree planting brought benefits worth $5.6.

The results of the Torbay survey are expected in early 2011. Senior tree officer Neil Coish, who has led the project, hopes the results will reverse traditional scepticism among officials and local people towards trees.

'We get so many enquiries about trees that are a problem, more enquiries about trees than litter on the street, and most of them are negative,' he said. 'It is amazing how many people see them as a nuisance rather than a benefit.'

As well as reducing air pollution and asthma levels, urban trees also encourage people to go walking outside and support improved biodiversity, according to the Campaign group 'Trees for Cities'.

Despite such evidence, just seven local authorities have undertaken any kind of cost-benefit analysis of part or all of the urban forest in their district, according to the government's recent Trees in Towns report. And less than one in five had any accurate record of the percentage of their district covered by trees or woodland.

'What we are trying to do is get our trees on the local authority's general ledger, then they become assets. That is when we might start getting political support. They benefit us all, but we just take them for granted,' explains Coish.

There are already indications that Torbay might have started a trend with Bristol, Luton, and the London boroughs of Camden and Islington also expressing an interest in using the i-Tree software in their districts.

Useful links

Trees for Cities
Trees in Towns report 2008

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