City trees

Posted: 18 July 2001

The London-based non-governmental organisation BioRegional Development Group was founded on the green ideal of local production for local needs. Now it has launched a pioneer urban forestry programme, which is setting an example to other cities.

Usually, waste from urban and park tree pruning is either burnt or buried in landfill sites. This is certainly true of London where an estimated 54,000 cubic meters of tree waste yearly, of which 51 per cent is landfilled and 11 per cent burnt.

Now a unique London-based non-governmental organisation BioRegional Development Group has decided that this is a valuable resource that is lost, when it could play a key role in the sustainable development of urban areas.

With the help of WWF it has established a pilot tree station in the London Borough of Croydon, which processes hundreds of tons of tree surgery timber removed from waste, and generates wood products such as charcoal or firewood, that are sold locally.

In future, there are plans to extend production to milled products such as planking, fence posts and street furniture. "Our aim is to widen this concept across the UK, and to create a network of tree stations," adds Bioregional's founder, Pooran Desai. "Such an approach would save a lot of money for city authorities, and it is one of the reasons why the Council of Croydon adopted it."

Already, the Group's pioneering forestry scheme has led to the revival of the UK's charcoal industry. Its subsidiary company BioRegional Charcoal Co. is now coordinating a national network of local charcoal producers supplying big retailers such as the do-it-yourself giant B&Q. BioRegional's charcoal is made from coppiced wood or waste wood from urban trees, and is FSC-labelled.

In addition, nationally coordinated local supply reduces pollution from transport. Energy savings have been quantified, showing that on average the supply of BioRegional charcoal compared with imports from Latin America or South Africa uses only 15 per cent of the energy required for transport. Britain currently imports 60,000 tonnes of charcoal every year - much of which is produced in the developing world in ways that would be socially and environmentally unacceptable in the UK.

The project is part of a broader effort to bring sustainability to the daily life of cities.

One of its first initiatives has been to promote environmentally sound forest management and restoration. Supported by WWF's Forests for Life Programme, BioRegional was a pioneer in reintroducing good forestry practices to woodlands in urban areas. This not only improves the biodiversity, it also contributes to the production of useful wood products, which provide local employment, and which are substitutes for imported timber.

BioRegional brought back coppice management - a traditional form of forest management in which wood is cut every few years - in neglected woodlands, and started to divert tree surgery waste from landfills. And it worked together with Croydon to certify its tree management under the principles and criteria of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the leading forest certification scheme, with 18 million hectares certified worldwide. It was the first time ever that an urban forestry programme was certified.

But BioRegional is not only working on management of woodlands. It runs many other unique projects that sustain the organisation's philosophy. For example, it promotes flax and hemp as homegrown alternatives to imports of cotton and the use of synthetic fibres and through its "Local Paper for London" campaign, BioRegional also aims to reduce the massive overuse of paper that occurs in London's companies.

Source: This article is based on an article by Olivier van Bogaert, Press Officer at WWF International, Gland, Switzerland.