Melbourne’s greater metropolitan area could achieve tree coverage of between 20 and 30 percent and overall tree and shrub coverage of 30 percent by 2050 if proposed targets under a new urban forestation plan are realised.

Developed by The Nature Conservancy and Resilient Melbourne, the Living Melbourne: our metropolitan urban forest plan was launched on Wednesday as part of a metropolitan wide effort to link and protect Melbourne’s urban forests.

The plan has been endorsed by 42 organisations including 30 municipal councils across the metropolitan area.

Under 20 action points spanning six areas, the plan aims to:

  • Protect and restore species habitat and improve connectivity
  • Set targets for urban forestation and track progress
  • Set up greening in the private realm
  • Collaborate across sectors and regions
  • Building a toolkit of resources to underpin implementation; and
  • Fund the protection and enhancement of urban forests.

According to the plan, Melbourne faces several challenges in urban forestation.

Mapping conducted during the plan found that current levels of tree and shrub coverage varies throughout the city’s metropolitan area.

Across Eastern Region encompassing local council areas such as Knox, Manningham, Maroondah, Monash, Whitehorse and Yarra Ranges, current levels of forestation sit at 25 percent for tree canopy coverage and 44 percent for combined tree and shrub coverage.

Across the Western Region encompassing local council areas such as Brimbank, Hobsons Ba, Maribyrnong, Melton, Mooney Valley and Wyndham, however, tree coverage sits at just four percent whilst combined tree and canopy coverage sits at 15 only percent.

That matters.

As part of the plan’s preparation, an analysis of surface land temperatures was undertaken as part of the plan to determine where the urban heat island effect had greatest impact.

This found that on average, temperature hot spots occur in areas of less than three percent vegetation cover and no tall trees.

Not surprisingly, these hot spots were mostly found in northern and western suburbs.

Whereas half of all metropolitan Melbourne has a land surface temperature which is greater than five degrees Celsius above the city’s estimated non-urban baseline, this figure rises to around 80 percent in Northern and Western regions.

In response, the plan proposes tree coverage targets by 2050 of 20 percent in the Western Region and 30 percent across the Southern, Inner South-East and Eastern regions.

By that time, combined tree and shrub coverage would range from 30 percent in the Western region to 50 percent for the Southern, Inner South-East and Eastern regions.

A further challenge is climate change.

In 2016, the Future Urban Forest report published by the City of Melbourne found that of the 375 tree species currently planted in Melbourne, 39 percent of species and 19 percent of currently planted trees were either moderately or extremely exposed to climate change even at today’s temperatures which have seen existing temperatures within the City increase by 1.9 percent during the 1950s.

City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp welcomed the strategy, which she says unites local governments and land authorities around the enhancement and protection of urban forests.

“Melbourne is renowned for its parks and gardens. A healthy urban forest is crucial to maintaining our status as one of the world’s most liveable cities, and enhancing the wellbeing of our residents and visitors,” the Lord Mayor said.

“The Living Melbourne strategy has mapped all the trees, shrubs and vegetation across public and private land in the greater Melbourne metropolitan area, highlighting the areas that have abundant greening and those that have very little.

“Nature doesn’t care about municipal boundaries, which is why it was so important for us to collaborate with Melbourne’s 32 councils, the Victorian Government and other authorities to ensure a consistent approach to protecting and growing our urban forests.”