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Exploring urban tree sustainability: Highlights from TPBE5


Adrien Baudrimont, Senior Research Manager at CIRIA, summarises Institute of Chartered Foresters fifth Trees, People and the Built Environment.


The Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF) hosted the fifth conference covering Trees, People and the Built Environment on 23 and 24 April in Birmingham. Supported by CIRIA, the approach was fully inter-disciplinary, making it a very interesting and engaging conference for all those involved in trees in the built environment.

Day 1 started with a panel discussion with the day’s session chairs. The host for the day, Kevin McCloud (well known for the TV programme Grand Designs), led the discussion on achieving benefits from trees, which highlighted the main challenges and opportunities that we would hear throughout the conference: Trees and nature provide many additional benefits to urban landscapes, from biodiversity, air quality, amenity, but also drainage opportunities. It can achieve a lot in tight spaces, in a truly multi-function fashion. However, there are not enough resources to maintain them and sustain these benefits. There is also a critical skills shortage in the industry.

The following sessions throughout the day were each led by a different institution: The Landscape Institute on planning with communities for nature and people, and how data and evidence are needed; The Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation on how roads and green spaces can work together despite challenges to recognize them as valuable assets and maintain them as such; The Royal Town Planning Institute on the critical role of planning for successful and meaningful trees and green spaces delivery. The last session of the day was led by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and explored the ongoing skill gaps and how to solve this capacity challenge.

Day 2 was a bit more focused on the timber industry, but still bringing a cross-disciplinary approach. Led by Gary Newman (Woodknowledge Wales), it opened with CIRIA CEO Dirk Vennix participating in a panel discussion on trees in construction as infrastructure components, with their dedicated set of opportunities and limitations. Dirk highlighted how critical good practice guidance is to build capacity, foster confidence, and lead by example.

The following sessions were led by the Institution of Structural Engineers and the Royal Institute of British Architects on the production of timber, its advantages in construction and how to have more of it in our city buildings. The Institute of Chartered Foresters then curated a session on the commercial outputs of the urban forest. The next session was led by the Trees and Design Action Group and the Urban Design Group and looked at the importance of delivering the right tree in the right place with the right maintenance, as well as the need for more legislation to secure this critical long-term maintenance.

Last but not least, CIRIA led the last session of the conference, with Dirk Vennix as chair and myself sharing the stage with Malcom Yull from Stantec. Malcom shared his experience designing and installing trees to maximize the many benefits they can provide in a built environment, emphasizing his passion for sustaining nature into urban landscapes. I then presented on the tools and ongoing research projects we have at CIRIA that are relevant to the audience: ciriabest as a decision support tool to make the business case for blue green infrastructures; CIRIA Biodiversity Community of Practice leading by example through its awards, the ongoing project on Enabling community maintenance for local flood risk management to engage with communities on maintaining/sustaining the benefits of blue and green spaces, and finally, on Asset Management for Blue-Green Infrastructure, aiming to properly understand the life cycle value of BGI for proper inclusion in asset management plans. We welcome input and support from stakeholders in developing the Asset Management for BGI guidance.

It was a very interesting conference and credit must go to the ICF for the true cross-disciplinary approach. Lastly, it was good to touch base with colleagues and exhibitors. Looking forward to TPBE6!