Trees in the UK Garden Landscape

The Value of Garden Trees – So many wasted opportunities.

The British garden landscape acreage is large and has a huge significance on UK biodiversity and landscape. The garden retail sector is worth more than £5 billion per annum, add to this the land value of private garden acreage and the landscaping industry including garden design the figure mounts up to an identifiable proportion of the UK GDP.

A conservative estimate of the total acreage of privately owned home garden land in the UK is almost 5% of the total land of Britain and the majority of this land is within the urban and peri – urban landscape.

Last year proposals to change ‘garden grabbing’ – development allowed within the boundaries of existing gardens due to the classification of this land as ‘brown field’ sites – was proposed by the coalition government and changes to PS3 are in consultation at the time of writing. Under the previous labour government new homes built on such land rose by 11 percentage points.  The principal reason for an allowance to develop within gardens was due to the lack of contaminants which are found in true brown field sites. Asides from the Olympic site, there is a just argument to say that there was a failure to really exploit the expertise of the Forestry Commission in greening the wastelands – true urban forestry which would phytoremediate sites and provide substantial high value green space within urban sprawl. One only has to hop across the channel to the Lille Metropole and Roubaix to see the opportunities which have been missed. There is identified land uncontaminated but real brown field sites, with acreage to supply the demand for new homes. Most of this land is held in investment or belongs to big business for alternative commercial use due to the huge value now awarded to it.

The range of tree species and carbon stored within the UKs’ gardens is hugely significant. The contribution of gardens as a refuge for much flora and fauna is often underestimated, particularly with regards bird species. It is a landscape immediately visible to the great majority of the population and yet has little regulation with regards the trees in it. Tree Preservation Orders are in fact rare in real terms against the amount of trees found in the British garden landscape. Yet if all trees not protected by TPOs’ were to be removed the effects visually, ecologically and environmentally would be catastrophic in international terms.

It is a bizarre paradox when the lack of protection of trees in the garden landscape is set against the fact that many trees are worth more than the property value in which they grow, particularly under the CAVAT valuation system.

The sole recent piece of legislation to affect the garden landscape has been the Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS) regulations, which are still subject to much ignorance. Indeed ignorance of many wider issues with regards the garden landscape is apparent and blame can be apportioned directly to the media and media loving dominant forces in the horticultural sector.

There is certainly at play the underlying reasoning that ‘An Englishmans’ Home is his Castle’ that means that any legislation that enforces measures to ensure sustainable attributes in UK gardens risks a much greater anger from home owning voters than any other type of legislation. And it can be well argued that in the vast majority of cases the mindset of the average UK home owner towards his garden is in tune with protecting ALL potential values held in that garden, from increased property values, through to ecological and socio economic values.

The mist that has come to exist with regards all planning issues relating to peri-urban environment issues within planning legislation has distanced the general public from any attempt to understand the intricacies involved within planning procedure and has resulted in many applications and argument with regards such issues submitted in innocence but almost ridiculed by local authorities, resulting in a continued apathy and often disdain towards measure that had been introduced with real idealism.

Gardens are subject to fashions and since the 1980’s radical changes to garden design, and the materials used, has been at odds with sustainable land management both traditional and innovative.  Yet the garden remains in essence one of the strongest potential assets to sustainable progression. The myriad of sub professions under the banner of landscape and horticulture in the UK have become progressively fragmented from one another. There is at play a hierarchy that would rival pre revolutionary France in terms of the distance between various sectors and the resulting recognition of this has resulted in many alliances and jostling that has simply further disengaged the public and the practitioners from a self appointed periphery. Philip Voice, the owner and creator of the now influential Landscape Juice and Landscape Juice Network, has been active in displaying this situation and therefore opening up debate towards real progression, but there remains a fear this may all be a little too late.

In the meantime the horticultural sector have allowed themselves to become the culprits of introducing diseases, non native invasive plants and poor management techniques, which have resulted in real and severe threats to the rural countryside. The garden could be the buffer not the culprit, it could be the zone in which all potential threats can be examined easily and in conjunction with the highly qualified yet disrespected existing practitioner base, procedure to deal with the threats to all trees in the British landscape can be tested and proven.

The temperature differential between towns and country allow for the testing of species in climate change adaptability, the range of species suitable for garden panting is enormous in comparison to the rural landscape and the rich picking which can then allow for increased biodiversity, (beyond that which is possible in the rural landscape), can then be examined with regards the possible future management techniques for the UK rural landscape, which could further aid natural heritage studies and implementation of valid initiatives. An existing example in the UK has been created single handed by Richard Argal, a native resident of Truro. He has approached many home owners across the city over the last twenty years to request permission to plant a tree funded by himself, together with introducing trees in virtually all redundant patches of land which could enable the planting of a tree. Thus a huge array of cultivars and tree species have now been established, many of which are exceedingly rare. If the value of these trees were attributed directly to him it would make him a multi millionaire. It also provides a database for others to understand climactic and localised factors in relation to the future choosing of trees suitable for the urban and suburban landscape. Thankfully Truro City Council recognise his work and as such his trees are awarded unofficial protection.

Regrettably many of our garden trees do not have any worthwhile protection and are at risk as a result of simple ignorance of their real value.


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