The recent news that Paris is planning to plant a series of urban forests in order to improve its air quality and address climate change is the latest development amid growing calls for more trees to be planted across the world.
In the UK, the Government has this year launched its Urban Tree Challenge Fund, a £10m plan to pay for the planting of more than 130,000 trees planted across England’s towns and cities - and that could be good news for Derbyshire-based Securiscape.
While much of the planting will take place in parks and green spaces, there will inevitably be calls to bring more trees in to line our streets, not least because they can bring so many local benefits as well as play a part in a wider campaign to save the environment.
Yet if only it was so easy. There are tremendous challenges to introducing trees to the streets, not least on the grounds of space, both overhead and underground, and levels of sunlight in amongst towering buildings.
A labyrinth of service pipes and cables also criss-cross the city underneath the pavements, while soil beneath the paving stones is compacted and airless, all of which creates a hostile environment for trees.
This is even before poor maintenance and concerns about insurance companies looking to customers to remove trees for fear of the damage caused by roots to buildings and, by breaking the surface and becoming a trip hazard, pedestrians.
Currently, about a half of urban trees don’t make it to their 10th birthday and they have fallen out of favour, but a renaissance is underway thanks to the capabilities of modern street planters and new tree varieties, which are bringing a touch of the woodland to the urban jungle while meeting another need entirely – the growing need for organisations to use street furniture in order to protect their premises from hostile incidents concerning vehicle-borne attacks.
In theory, the trees themselves would be perfect for this, since they make excellent natural bollards, but they cannot be planted close enough together in order to prevent a vehicle from passing in between, while a newly planted sapling would be no match for a 7.5 tonne truck, one of a number of standard vehicles classifications used in PAS 68 tests, the UK impact test standard for hostile mitigation products.
Put that sapling inside a security planter, however, and the situation is a lot more promising.
The best security planters, notably those successfully tested to PAS68 standard, can be arranged to ensure that, while pedestrians, wheelchair users, cyclists and parents with prams and pushchairs can pass through vehicles cannot, while their shallow fixings mean that they can be installed without disturbing underground services.
The result is an impregnable perimeter which satisfies the need to save lives without creating the feel of a warzone, whilst bringing trees into the streets at the same time, making them an ideal retro-fitted and eco-friendly finishing touch outside renovation and refurbishment projects.
An excellent example of this is outside the headquarters of a key tenant within the exclusive Broadgate development in the City of London, where a row of designer planters, each one finished with a bronze patina shroud and containing a tree, acts both as a defence mechanism and a low-maintenance enhancement.
While the secret to the planters’ defensive capable is a well-guarded secret, the secret to their ability to support a tree surrounds their ability to self-water. Traditionally, trees in planters have suffered because their roots have rotted and become diseased due to being forced to sit in standing water at the bottom of the container.
Modern planters avoid this, because a layer of capillary matting installed inside the container means that the tree draws up water as and when it needs it from a hidden reservoir which is kept separate from the compost and refilled through a hole at the top of the planter.
By giving nature what it needs, nature can give us what we need. One benefit of placing trees close to buildings is that its canopy of leaves can help cool the building during the summer, while another is financial – studies show that trees can increase property prices by between seven and 15%.
But perhaps the best reason is that the feeling of being connected to nature is as comforting as feeling safe – making the use of security planters to support an influx of trees into our cities the ultimate win-win situation for everyone.