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Inaugural Cheshire East Tree Conference

The inaugural Cheshire East Tree Conference came about following a discussion between Tree Groups from Knutsford and Wilmslow who had both encountered barriers to getting new trees planted in their towns. The conference, hosted in Congleton Town Hall on 17th January, welcomed nearly 60 representatives from 14 towns and villages across Cheshire East borough, despite the ice and snow.

The keynote speaker, Pete Stringer from Greater Manchester’s City of Trees, described how a mapping database could identify locations where planting trees could address existing problems, such as flooding or poor air quality. This approach can help policy makers and land owners identify priority areas for planting trees, and provide supporting evidence for applications for grant funding. John Handley of Transition Wilmslow highlighted the ways in which trees can help reduce some of the impacts of climate change, and the need to maintain the tree canopy in both towns and rural areas. Paddy Johnson of Transition Wilmslow presented the finding that 84% of the trees in Wilmslow’s tree-lined streets, inherited from a Victorian era of mass tree planting, do not meet the interim tree planting policy agreed by Cheshire East Highways and Transport Committee in 2022. Other leafy towns of Cheshire are likely to be in the same situation, with old trees not being replaced as they die.

Ruth Benson (Congleton) described their town’s ‘community listening’ project, and how this helped gain support for tree-planting projects. Speakers from some towns described negative attitudes to trees and occasional open hostility to people engaged in planting. Vandalism to trees and orchards has been a problem. Engaging with local people, listening and seeking compromises helped the Congleton project to move forward, while getting people engaged in conservation work in Crewe has helped reduce anti-social behaviour.

Representatives from several towns spoke about the important role of partnerships between Town or Parish Councils and their local volunteer groups, allowing for division of labour. Everywhere, the importance of volunteers was key. Tips were shared on how to keep volunteers engaged (hot drinks and biscuits!) as well as the need to keep expanding the volunteer base through advertising and social media. Volunteers are not just needed for tree planting, but also to help with care and maintenance during the life of the trees.

Many of the towns represented described frustration with the lack of positive engagement with the Highways Department of Cheshire East Borough Council in response to requests to plant new trees or replace felled street trees. A key theme of this event was to identify ways in which a joint approach from towns and villages across the Borough might facilitate solutions, including changes to tree planting policies. Requirements to use commonly owned land on new housing developments to plant trees which will grow to a significant size  is a policy adopted in the Holmes Chapel Neighbourhood Plan. Cheshire Wildlife Trust highlighted the opportunity to use mapping to identify areas peripheral to new developments to address policies on Net Environment Gain.  But getting planting of trees in rural areas is also challenging, where private land-owners may not be aware of some of the financial incentives to planting trees and hedgerows, or are simply put off by bureaucratic processes for accessing funding.

Delegates recognised the opportunity of a better-connected network, whether to communicate their concerns to Cheshire East Council, to share expertise, or to work collectively with larger organisations such as Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Mersey Forest. This could enable access to expertise, training and larger funding opportunities not accessible to individual towns. The organisers (Knutsford, Wilmslow and Congleton) look forward to some practical next steps.

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