Belfast Telegraph

Tree cull across Belfast sees over 3,000 chopped down in three years

By Gillian Halliday

More than 3,000 trees have been chopped down by Belfast City Council in the last three years.

It is equivalent to around 6% of the council's current tree population.

In total, more than 110,000 trees have been felled across the UK since 2015.

The details emerged after an investigation by The Sunday Times, which surveyed nearly 300 local authorities.

The true number is likely to be higher because many councils did not respond to inquiries.

Of those that did reply, Belfast was ranked as the fifth most prolific urban authority for tree culling, with a total of 3,213 trees removed since 2015.

The city council stressed that in the vast number of cases, only unhealthy trees were targeted and culled.

Newcastle City Council in England felled more trees than any other local authority in the UK - a total of 8,414 - followed by Edinburgh (4,435) and Sheffield (3,529). The south Yorkshire city was narrowly followed by Enfield, which culled 3,527 trees in the past three years.

However, only 201 of 288 UK councils provided figures.

Experts and campaigners claim some councils are attempting to save money by chopping down large-canopy trees, which can be expensive to maintain.

Simon Richmond, of the Arboricultural Association trade body, said that in some areas trees were being lost for cost reasons.

However, a spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said cost was not a factor in its decision to cull trees.

She said: "We have over 60,000 trees growing within our parks and open spaces, and we predominantly only fell trees that are dead, diseased or dying, under duty of care.

"The council undertook several woodland thinning exercises of much smaller trees in 2017, which involved the removal of weak/diseased trees and the retention of more vigorous trees, which will ensure the establishment of healthier woodlands for future generations."

She said trees which line the streets of the city are not the responsibility of the council, but instead are maintained by the Department for Infrastructure.

Trees within forests within the council's boundary, like Belvoir Park, fall under the remit of Forest Service NI, she added.

Any trees located within the council's 30 open spaces across the city do fall under its ownership.

Elsewhere, a tree database, compiled by Belfast council in 2015 and available to view via the OpenDataNI website, outlines the variety of tree species that can be found on the city's streets and in parks.

Cherry, maple, beech, pear and alder are just some of the species listed in the records, along with the condition of the trees, which vary from 'good' and 'fair' to 'poor', 'dying' and 'dead'.

Overall in the UK, the number of trees cut down by councils is equivalent to 67 hectares according to Defra - the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - which equates to more than 90 Wembley football pitches. And although other UK authorities have claimed they are offsetting the culling of trees by replanting saplings, this has been disputed by experts who insist that fledgling trees cannot match the benefits of a mature-canopy tree.

Research has shown how trees have a positive impact on mental and physical health, as well as helping to reduce air pollution.

Belfast Telegraph

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