Primary - Contributing to local economies: 2011 Torbay - trees as assets

Torbay has adopted a new computer software package developed in the US by the Forest Service which puts a financial value on the ecosystem services trees perform, from reduced air pollution to the amount of carbon dioxide removed. The i-Tree software is designed to quantify the economic, environmental and social value of trees in towns and cities - in short put a dollar sign in front of them.

The project, at Torbay, in south Devon, is the first time i-Tree has been used in the UK and aims to adapt the software to British currency and conditions.

The senior tree officer Neil Coish said that ‘What we are trying to do is get our trees on the local authority's general ledger, then they become assets. That is when we might start getting political support. They benefit us all, but we just take them for granted.'

Surveying all the borough's 28,000 trees, in manicured parks and gardens, orchards, hedgerows, surviving stands of gnarled ancient woodland, or clinging to the side of sea cliffs, would be impossible. Instead, a small survey site was chosen at random in each of 250 squares drawn on a map, where everything was recorded: how many trees, their species, their size, the vegetation growing alongside, or whether the plot was entirely covered by bricks and concrete.

Currently urban trees are undervalued, as only 5% of local authorities do any cost benefit analysis. On average councils spend £1.38 per person on trees a year.

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