The lack of protection for urban trees and important biodiversity sites in County Wicklow is being addressed by a new Bill launched last week by Green Party TD for Wicklow Steven Matthews. Deputy Matthews ‘Urban Tree Protection and Sites Locally Important For Ecology Bill 2023’ will allow protection for urban trees based on their value to climate, air quality and flood risk, rather than simple amenity value. With only around 40 trees or sites protected in the County, it’s clear greater protections are needed.
Deputy Matthews said, ” Put simply this Bill will do three things:
- Strengthen ‘Sites Locally Important For Ecology’ sites – LIFE sites – which communities can designate to protect important local nature areas
- Prioritise treatment and management of trees over cutting down – there will be a duty to replant and public bodies must supply an arborist report
- Change the Tree Preservation Order (TPO) process and allow for appeals.
“For many of us, being able to walk around our parks and green spaces was a lifeline and the only thing that kept us sane during the pandemic. We rediscovered the importance of nature locally. This Bill puts power back into the hands of local communities, to decide what is important locally, so that we don’t lose these precious sites.
What this means practically is that anybody in the community can request that their local Council protects a certain local nature site. The Council may then prohibit the wilful destruction of the site and, and landowners may have to enter into an agreement with the planning authority to properly manage the site.”
Regarding the new protections for urban trees, Deputy Matthews added:
“There are only 164 TPOs in force in Ireland relating to areas or individual trees. Over a quarter of these relate to Wicklow alone and only 16 of the 31 Local Authorities have a record of TPOs. At the same time, Local Authorities have been cutting down thousands of trees every year. This trend is in the wrong direction for what we are scientifically and legally required to do. International and EU laws mean that we are legally required to increase our green urban areas. This Bill is a step in that direction.”
The overarching goal of the Bill is to protect more of the spaces and features important to people and nature while not hindering much needed local housing and infrastructure.