Street trees in the UK
The urban forest is a term used to describe the trees and shrubs that grow in our towns and cities and is an essential part of our modern landscape.
In the countryside trees may grow entirely wild or be planted; those of the urban forest are almost always deliberately planted, either as amenity species to clothe or reclaim urban land, mark boundaries, for shade, or to beautify urban areas.
Street trees are a very specific part of the urban forest. Given their large size and frequency they are often overlooked, merging into the background of our everyday lives. Few of us take in any details, yet this part of the urban forest is extensive and varied.
Street trees are also are one of the most widespread and accessible types of natural history objects, present on almost every street, road and avenue in the UK.
Native trees (that is, trees occurring naturally in the wild in the UK) are planted but so too are non-native species originating from all over the world. Others, including - many of the colour forms - and cultivars are of garden origin and are never found in the wild.
Information on which species compose the urban forest, their identities, distribution and frequency is scattered and, in many cases, scarce. Different national and local authority departments are responsible for planting and maintaining trees and there is considerable local variation. Factors affecting which species are found in an area include differing local climate, perceived needs and availability of new species. The selection of species is also affected by fashion trends, just like clothes.
Street trees not only make our towns and cities more attractive, they serve practical purposes too, helping to create a more relaxed, healthy and safe environment, as well as a more attractive one.
When selecting which species of tree should be planted, various factors are taken into consideration, including:
- size and shape when full grown
- life span
- suitability for local soil types and other ecological limitations
- pollution tolerance
- ornamental value
- disease resistance
- any tendency to shed branches
The first step in appreciating and finding out more about our street trees is to identify them. This is easier than you might think, see: