Image by Lukasz Szmigiel
For a better way of life… let us look to the trees

Michelle writes ... 

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Heatwaves have claimed more lives in the last century than any other extreme weather event, including bushfires. 

 

We have a surprising ally in dealing with extreme heat – the humble tree.

 

In the lead up to the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria 2009, the crippling heat killed 374 people, more than double than the number that died in fires.

 

Environmental causes of death are not well recognised or acknowledged on death certificates, so numbers are grossly understated. Figures published in The Lancet Planetary Health show that over the past 11 years, 340 deaths in Australia were recorded as being due to excessive heat. But, further statistical analysis found almost 40,000 deaths could be attributable to heat. Most concerning is that in Australia, deaths from heat are projected to rise by 260% by 2050.

 

On this, Australia’s National Tree Day, let’s consider the fact that trees are our best and most effective tool for keeping our communities cool in a warming world. The most effective way to mitigate heat in the community is to have canopy cover in towns and villages. It’s simple – and something we have direct control over. 

Trees also have many other functions. Do you know that they communicate through underground fungal networks? They capture toxins and filter the air that we breathe. They influence weather, they store carbon, they stabilise the soil and en masse, they create clouds and rainfall. They provide shade, cooling, wind and sound breaks, food, shelter, recreation, beauty, tranquility and more. 

 

Sadly, we are losing trees at an alarming rate here in Australia. Deforestation is the second leading cause of climate change – and tragically, we are a global deforestation hotspot. Since the bushfires of 2019/20, which razed an alarming 80% of our shire’s forests, we have also seen increased fear-based illegal clearing as well as recommencement of logging in our burnt state forests. 

 

Surviving a serious heat wave is not as simple as switching on your airconditioning (if you’re lucky enough to have it). Only a few weeks ago heatwaves of up to 50°C hit Canada and the US and killed thousands of people, buckled roads, melted railways and caused widespread power outages. With the electricity grid down, people couldn’t just turn their air conditioners on. Instead, they needed to find cool places to survive.

 

I have long been advocating for smarter development in our Shire. With a background in environmental medicine, I know that tree-lined streets and green spaces and corridors not only help to ameliorate the effects of heat, but also help manage stormwater, act as wind and sound breaks and provide physical and mental health benefits.

Clearing trees to build is a major contributor to the heating up of our suburbs -- the differences between shady suburbs and treeless suburbs can be dramatic. Using tree cover along our town streets could help to reduce temperature by up to seven degrees. This could translate to annual energy savings for the average family of up to $400. It could also be the difference between hospitalisation or death for some of the more vulnerable members of community.

 

I’m running for the forthcoming Council elections, in large part because I’m frustrated by the approach to development our Council takes. Trees are our allies, but trees are being treated as foes in developments, and being cut down at every opportunity. Green cover should be properly managed alongside other infrastructure such as water, electricity and transport. Sadly, we are seeing our trees being taken away for reasons that ultimately are financial. We need to manage developments better so we can have more liveable, cooler towns and villages.

 

You may be surprised to learn that Council has a draft Street Tree Policy, but it's yet to be implemented. 

 

When elected, a considered approach to development, and conservation, will be a priority. The Mayne Team will:

  1. Develop a masterplan for the Shire, laying out the community’s expectations across the Shire that balance sustainable land uses with habitat conservation and canopy preservation. This master plan will be developed in full consultation with the community. 

  2. Implement the Street Tree Policy so the community has some certainty around the plantings that can be done in their own verges. Integrate the policy it into development control plans. We want to support and facilitate developers to be responsible for landscaping and street trees. We shall also investigate the formalisation of the current verge policy program. 

  3. Employ a Street Tree Coordinator and establish a new program with clear targets on planting and maintaining street trees for all suburbs without trees in the Shire.

  4. Ensure full implementation of the ESC Tree Preservation Code, which sets the guidelines for significant trees across the shire to be identified, listed, mapped and protected.

  5. Strengthen the code so it cannot be bypassed with bio-certification or by developers applying for biodiversity credit.

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Implementing these strategies would see our Shire have:

  • Cooler microclimates to protect our community from the extremes of temperature

  • Improved amenity through provision of public spaces that are cool, inviting and restorative

Trees are amazing. Let’s start planting and protecting our trees in our Shire and acknowledge the vital ecosystem services they provide for each and every one of us.

 

Who knows? … they might even save your life.

When elected, the The MAYNE Team will:

  

  1. develop and implement, in consultation with the community, a masterplan that balances sustainable land uses with habitat conservation and canopy preservation

  2. implement the Street Tree Policy and integrate the policy it into development control plans

  3. employ a Street Tree Coordinator and set targets on planting and maintaining street trees

  4. fully implement the ESC Tree Preservation Code: strengthen the code so it cannot be bypassed with bio-certification or by developers applying for biodiversity credit

 

5 August 2021