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TreeTalk - connecting residents to their local urban nature

Logo: Tree Talk

2020 will be known as the year when Covid-19 changed our lives, but also for people finally having the time to re-engage with their local environment, and to appreciate nature in their streets. TreeTalk London, a website designed to help explore London’s trees has made simple walking journeys both eye-opening and engaging for its users.

Launched 3 years ago by Revolution Consultancy & Design, and continually developed since then, TreeTalk London now maps over 700,000 trees and has 700+ distinct species within its dataset; and it’s still growing!

Mapping London’s Trees (TreeTalk)
Mapping London’s Trees (TreeTalk)

The key to TreeTalk’s usability is bringing data alive and providing a bespoke routing platform, allowing users to create tree-led journeys straight from their doorstep. This has added benefits such as encouraging ‘active travel’ and improving health and wellbeing.

In TreeTalk’s London website, the tree data comes from the Greater London Authority (GLA) who have combined the data from London’s boroughs and TfL (who are responsible for planting and managing trees along London’s busiest main roads). TreeTalk’s goal is to help everyone explore this huge urban forest.

Each of London’s 32 boroughs (plus the City of London) is a separate organisation, managing their trees, and their data, according to their own standards. So bringing all those together into a single map is very complex. There is a lot of “cleaning” required, to deal with different species naming schemes and other quirks. Some of the Latin names can be a bit tricky, and with the base data being input by busy people on the ground, mistakes are not uncommon. Some boroughs haven’t been able to provide their data yet, for instance Hackney, Brent and Croydon, but discussions are underway to help get this data in the future.

The five most common trees in the dataset are London Planes (Platanus x hispanica), Cherry (Prunus), Lime (Tilia), Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). But equally interesting are the surprises in the data, the rare finds, such as Crêpe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) in Islington, Peanut Butter Tree (Clerodendrum trichotomum) in Peckham, and Persian Lilac (Melia azedarach) in Chelsea.

Norway Maple in Islington (Paul Wood)
Norway Maple in Islington (Paul Wood)

The great thing about TreeTalk is that it can use your location to create a route straight from your doorstep, or from any other starting point to a final destination, getting you from ‘A to B’. If you happen to be out and about and spot a tree that you like the look of, then you can find that tree in TreeTalk, and create a route from it. The routing engine is continually being refined, and that means that other aspects, e.g. air quality, tree canopy and green streets will be layered in the future to give the richest active travel experience for the user.

Example of user generated route (TreeTalk)
Example of user generated route (TreeTalk)

Rob Tustain, Director at Revolution Consultancy, explains: “What really brought it home for us, was that we received so many interesting comments and really positive feedback during the lockdown. Everyone seemed so grateful for our work. It was so satisfying to connect with such a variety of people, not just tree experts.”

One TreeTalk user commented: “This is one of the best things I’ve found in lockdown. Every tree (almost) in London has been mapped. Put in your address and it gives you a personalised tree walk so you can learn as you go.”

Another said: “This is an excellent find. Much more fun than Pokemon Go!”

Tustain added: “Ultimately, it is about helping people have a better connection with their local urban nature, and encouraging ‘active travel’ in a fun, interesting way.”

‘Sunburst’ Honey Locusts in Hammersmith (Paul Wood)
‘Sunburst’ Honey Locusts in Hammersmith (Paul Wood)

TreeTalk has also proven popular in other parts of the UK, where residents have been asking how to get it in their area. TreeTalk is following up on this latent demand nationally in order to make a difference in people’s lives right across the country.

TreeTalk has come a long way since it was launched. This has given Revolution Consultancy & Design time to refine their platform, and they have been able to apply this across other projects such as GoParksLondon, a website with over 4,000 accessible green spaces for Londoners, through to London Car Free Day; incorporating event functionality to their routing offering.

Tustain added: “We are very keen to hear from other cities and towns looking to share their trees to their residents. Our hope is that a greater appreciation of urban nature will have long term benefits. Not only is proximity to nature good for mental and physical wellbeing, but a greener city is more liveable. Trees especially help to reduce CO2, moderate extreme temperatures, soak up pollutants and mitigate the worst effects of flooding.”

Logo: Revolution Consultancy & Design

So now that all the benefits of trees and green space have become clear to many people, and with the reduction in pollution caused by much reduced vehicle and air traffic, perhaps a vision of a more pleasant city has been glimpsed?

TreeTalk is a collaboration between Steve Pocock, Paul Wood and Rob Tustain, and has been designed and developed by Revolution Consultancy & Design.

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