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Southwark Green: Trees can support us – if we care for them

The trees have put on their spring finery, with bursts of pink cherry blossom and magnolias sporting fat, waxy buds or delicate, papercut petals, writes Eleanor Margolies…

A few Southwark streets – Winterbrook Road, Melbourne Grove, Trothy Road – have become avenues of cloud-like Yoshino cherry blossom, the tree most celebrated in Japan, for two special weeks.

In a talk for ‘Better Streets for Southwark’ last week, Paul Wood, the author of London Street Trees, showed how the TreeTalk website allows you to identify local trees, find out more about particular species, and create a walk route. 

After years of failing to replace street trees (with a shocking loss of more than 2,000 trees in the last decade), Southwark Council has recognised the need to take better care of its trees. The promise to plant 10,000 new trees is a start, though only a quarter of these will be street trees.

In Lewisham, Street Trees for Living supports volunteer street reps to look after trees and suggest new locations.  Paul sees potential for TreeTalk to link people who want to adopt local trees and keep an eye on them, building on the work of existing groups. 

We talked about the joys of edible streets, such as the Surrey Canal path, where fruit and nut trees grow for considerate foraging, and the problem of healthy trees being felled at the whim of insurance companies. The burden of proof now falls on councils to show that a tree is not causing subsidence. We need a change in the law to make insurers pay compensation for the benefits a tree brings – cleaning the air, providing shade in summer and shelter for wildlife – to discourage needless felling.

The 1st of April is the birthday of Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya which has planted over 51 million trees and trained more than 30,000 women in forestry and sustainable agriculture. Their work demonstrates how trees can support us – if we care for them.


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