Why Urban Trees Matter – To Everyone


(26 November – 4 December)

"Every tree matters” is The Tree Council’s rallying cry for this year’s National Tree Week – and nowhere is that more true than in the UK’s towns and cities which are home to the majority of the population.

Trees have such a positive impact on so many aspects of urban life that hanging on to those we’ve got – in the face of considerable threats – and planting many more needs to be high on any community’s agenda. They provide a whole range of benefits for everyone who lives, works, learns or spends leisure time in towns and cities.

It’s a message that the growing numbers of urban Tree Wardens are helping to spread in their own neighbourhoods. That’s why The Tree Council, which launched the national Tree Warden Scheme back in 1990 specifically to harness the power of volunteers for the good of their communities’ trees, is looking particularly to them to galvanise fellow citizens into action during National Tree Week.

Local residents turn out to help Newcastle Tree Wardens plant new trees along one of the city's major roads (Credit: The Tree Council)
Local residents turn out to help Newcastle Tree Wardens plant new trees along one of the city's major roads (Credit: The Tree Council)

“Our Tree Wardens, as champions of their local trees, are well placed to spread the word and are keen to get other members of their communities involved, so we’re urging people to get in touch with them,” said Pauline Buchanan Black, Director-General of environmental charity The Tree Council, which is the coalition body for over 180 organisations working together for trees.

“With our partners in the new Londoners Love Trees project – part of the Mayor of London’s Team London volunteering initiative – we are particularly working to increase the number of Tree Wardens in the capital. So we’re encouraging more people to sign up to both the well established and the new London Tree Warden networks that we are developing. The first of the new ones will be launched in Ealing during National Tree Week.”

When it comes to the huge benefits of urban trees, it’s not just a question of keeping up appearances, although they do make a staggering visual difference to any neighbourhood – whether it’s in a comfortable suburb or an area of regeneration. They not only screen ‘eyesores’ but also noise, reducing people’s perception of it and lowering levels by as much as six to eight decibels. They bring more wildlife into the heart of towns and cities and there is also evidence that people drive more slowly along streets lined with trees – which are a good deal more appealing as traffic calmers than pinch points and road humps.

Trees help to reduce air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, as their canopies act as a filter for particulate pollution. They also help to moderate the climate – locally, nationally and globally. Their shade reduces summer temperatures in towns and cities and in winter they provide shelter, saving energy consumption through their moderation of the local climate. They absorb carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, through their leaves; slow wind speeds and reduce the impact of rainstorms; and lower the risk of flash floods because their canopies intercept rain which then evaporates or drips gradually to the ground.

Brownies and Rainbows get tree planting with Plymouth Tree
Brownies and Rainbows get tree planting with Plymouth Tree

Then there is the economic effect. Not only do studies show that property prices are higher where houses are associated with mature trees but also that businesses are attracted to tree-rich settings, and that taking your lunch break in leafy surroundings helps to cut down stress and improve productivity.

In fact the health benefits of a green environment are increasingly well researched, from providing opportunities for regular moderate exercise to speedier post-operative recovery levels in hospitals. Trees also help people with respiratory problems, such as asthma and bronchitis, because their leaves filter dust and absorb harmful gases.

“Planting a tree is such an easy, enjoyable way to do something for the community and we offer grants to help schools and groups to do just that,” points out Pauline. “It can really help bring communities together and being involved with the planting of trees can build a strong sense of ownership. That in turn can help reduce vandalism and also mean people are more willing to volunteer for the continuing care which young trees need.

“This is very much the spirit of National Tree Week, which we launched way back in 1975 to follow up the success of National Tree Planting Year, with its slogan of Plant A Tree In ‘73. However, we recognise that there is still a great deal of work to be done to get everyone to appreciate the real value of trees in their patch – and to realise that there’s much they can do to ensure existing trees are cared for and more are planted.”

• Visit The Tree Council's website,, for information about National Tree Week events, to publicise details of activities, for tips on tree planting and aftercare, and more about Tree Wardening, tree planting grants and Londoners Love Trees.

First published in CJS Focus on Trees and Hedges in association with The Tree Council, for National Tree Week on 21 November 2011