Cork City needs thousands more trees to offset carbon emissions

Survey of trees in South Parish underlines need for a massive scaling-up of tree planting targets here, researchers say
Cork City needs thousands more trees to offset carbon emissions

Dr Eoin Lettice leading a tour of UCC's tree collection earlier this year. File picture

The economic and environmental value of urban trees has been revealed, thanks to a new study in Cork City.

But the findings have also underlined just how much more tree planting is required, especially in urban settings, if they are to play a significant role in mitigating the effects of the climate crisis.

It follows a collaboration between researchers at University College Cork (UCC) and the Green Spaces for Health eco-social group, which has led to the production of a tree audit for the historic South Parish area of the city centre, which was launched by the Lord Mayor Cllr Colm Kelleher on Monday.

Researchers from UCC’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES) worked with the local community to survey 1,109 safely accessible trees in the South Parish as part of a two-year project.

They found lime trees were the most common, with 247 specimens recorded – representing about 21% of all recorded trees in the parish – with the next most common being sycamore, at 9%, followed by hornbeam, holly and birch.

It is estimated the trees could be worth as much as €2.5m, based on an analysis of the visual amenity value of the trees alone. That does not take into account the other major benefits of urban trees, including biodiversity, physical and mental health, cooling the city, increasing tourism, and increasing footfall in retail areas.

It is estimated the trees absorb about 15,680kg of carbon from the atmosphere every year and store a total of 534,000kg of carbon.

Dr Eoin Lettice, the academic supervisor on the project, said while that may sound a lot, the average Irish person is responsible for the emission of about 13,200kg of carbon a year.

“This means we would all need one 'South Parish' worth of trees to deal with our emissions,” he said.

The carbon storage and sequestration role of urban trees is relatively modest. That being said, the multitude of other benefits are enough, on their own, to make the case for urban trees.” 

He also said it underlined the need for a massive scaling-up of tree planting targets here, where there are plans to plant a few thousand trees next year. 

By contrast, there are plans to plant 18m trees around Glasgow over the next decade.

Much of the survey work was conducted by Grace Wall, Megan Pigott and Kristine Nagornaja, undergraduate students at the School of BEES, along with members of the Green Spaces for Health group.

The project was conducted under the auspices of CARL (Community Academic Research Links) which fosters collaboration between research groups at UCC and local communities who have identified research questions that they want to answer.

Maria Young, of Green Spaces for Health, said the information gathered had influenced their community tree planting schemes, with native trees planted in the Quaker’s graveyard, on the grounds of St Fin Barre’s cathedral, and outside the River Lee Hotel.

“It also prompted us to start a tree nursery in the parish,” she said.

“There is a certain amount of tree blindness out there. I would encourage people to fall in love with trees in our neighbourhoods. When you love something, you care for it and protect it.” 

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