Given the harshness of the recent heat wave, it’s a good time to remember our steadfast protectors. We’re talking about the strong, silent types – the tall, embracing neighbours that shield us from the sun and quietly ensure the air we breathe is fresh and healthy.

While we don’t usually pause to take stock of the trees around us, these gentle giants are sorely missed when they’re gone. We often forget their existence requires much upkeep and planning.

Did you know that in just 12 months, one mature tree can absorb 3,400 litres of stormwater, filter 27kg of pollutants from the air and provide a cooling effect equivalent to running 10 air conditioners continuously?

How do we maintain Sydney’s urban forest?

In 2012, we put in place official strategies that aim to increase tree, shrub and grass canopy cover and biodiversity in the city. One of the plans is to boost the size of our green canopy by 50% in the next 15 years.

We’re working towards this by inspecting, maintaining and protecting trees so they can grow into old age, planting different species and varieties and keeping a register of significant trees (check it out if you’re curious about a magnificent character on your street). Just recently, we’ve planted new fig trees near the Archibald Fountain and replaced aged poplars near the Pool of Reflection in Hyde Park.

Our local government area, which is 26 sq km, has more than 30,000 street trees and 14,000 park trees, as well as an estimated 60,000 trees on private land. We’ve planted 11,742 trees since 2005 and are working hard to meet our target of 50% by 2030.

This is where you can play your part.

What you can do 

Many of us are already proud plant parents, with striking Birds of Paradise, Jade Plants and other green beauties adorning our living rooms.

So how can you take this love of bushes and creepers to the garden, so you and others can enjoy them for years to come?

  1. If landscaping on your property, create a lush garden or even a small patch with a tree or two. Think of picnics, al-fresco dinners by candle light and reading books in the shade (get a free tree in our giveaway on 1 April – we’re thinking a ceremonial tree-planting might make for a nice Sunday family activity)
  2. If you don’t have much space (even a balcony will do!), set up a vertical garden
  3. Talk to your strata about planning a tree on common property
  4. Donate a tree to a city park
  5. You don’t need your own property to get involved – get in touch to find out how you can get involved in setting up a footpath garden in your street

The benefits of trees:

  • Improve air quality through photosynthesis

  • Reduce the ‘urban heat island effect’, which is when temperatures stay warmer longer due to the many heat absorbent surfaces, such as roads, footpaths and buildings

  • Filter toxins from the first flush of stormwater run-off after rainfall

  • Keep the soil porous allowing stormwater absorption rather than draining into the harbour

  • Contrast with buildings and screen unwanted views

  • Reduce glare and provide shade

  • Offer nice environments for people to meet and spend time together

Want to know more?

Cities around the world are recognising the role of tree canopy in lowering temperatures. In 2015, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities included increasing green canopy cover on their list of top 10 urban initiatives. Check out how Sydney’s faring against other cities using this handy matrix. The researchers who created this used Google Street View to determine a rating that quantifies each city’s percentage of canopy coverage based on aerial images. You can also find out which city has the most trees.

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