‘Very parched’: Residents urged to help as fears grow over health of Islington’s trees

Beech trees on Highbury Corner showing signs of suffering. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Residents are being urged to help as trees planted at Highbury Corner show signs of suffering from extreme weather.

Last summer, temperatures hit 39C in London and the UK recorded a high of 40C.

Trees are seen as an important weapon in the battle against climate change, with their ability to store harmful carbon.

They can also soak up water and help with instances of fewer days of heavier rainfalls – which can give rise to flash floods.

Islington is one of six London boroughs considered to be most at risk from the extremes of weather caused by climate change.

The plight of the beech trees beside the bike lane at Highbury Corner highlights the scale of the problem of watering regimes in extreme heat.

The Arboricultural Association recommends giving newly planted trees 50 litres a week in the summer months during the first three years.

It comes after the Citizen spotted that the row of beech trees appeared to be suffering.

The trees were put in as part of Transport for London’s redesign at the busy junction onto Holloway Road.

Several now have brown leaves, rather than new green foliage expected in spring and summer.

Ward councillor Caroline Russell raised concerns over the watering programme with Transport for London (TfL).

She said: “The new trees and the beech hedge at Highbury Corner got very parched last year.”

Cllr Russell said she had been given assurances that they would be properly watered.

TfL’s head of asset operations Andy Wisealls said: “We know how important public spaces are for local community and we are committed to maintaining the green space that benefits from the trees planted close to the cycle lane at Highbury Corner.”

He said TfL is increasing the frequency with which newly planted trees are watered.

It cares for 24,300 street trees across the capital “to help improve our air quality and the wellbeing of everyone”.

Islington Council has a three-year plan of watering and maintenance to help new trees establish. The contractor who cares for them has already started the summer watering plan for the 450 trees planted across Islington last winter.

Planning permissions agreed by the council also insist on watering and maintenance for three years.

Lucy Facer from Islington Clean Air Parents said: “Once they are planted, young trees desperately need the care of the community for the first three years to help them establish successfully, our urban streets are quite hot environments, so we need to ensure they have extra care, especially during hot weather.

“There is an expected survival rate of around 70 per cent for newly-planted trees but when the community looks after them it increases to 95 per cent. They need around 50 litres, two or three times a week in hot weather, and access to water isn’t always easy.”

She urged residents and businesses to help too.

“If you notice some newly planted trees near your house, the best thing you can do is give them extra water. By doing this you will be making an important contribution to tackling climate change and the tree will repay your neighbourhood with benefits of shade, reducing rain run-off and improve residents’ mental wellbeing for many years to come.”

The campaign group kickstarted a Forest for Change after asking for 200 trees from an exhibition at Somerset House. It also saw the council commit to planting more street trees each year.

Facer said: “We desperately need more trees to improve air quality, reduce flooding and green our urban streetscapes. We understand that 40 per cent street tree canopy cover is the tipping point to address climate change.”

She explained how a group of volunteers have stepped in to water four trees that campaigners planted on the corner of Liverpool Road and Barnsbury Park Road last year.

“As a result, they are thriving,” said Facer. “Without these amazing volunteers, I’m not sure the trees would have survived or look so healthy.”

She added: “As temperatures increase, we need more solutions to help capture water when it rains and look at how we use our road space and surfaces to do this.”