By City of Burnside, South Australia

As a three-time Tree City of the World, the City of Burnside understands the pivotal role local government plays in leading the way towards a greener future for the community, working hard to protect urban greenery for, and from, current and future generations.

Leading environmental custodian, the City of Burnside’s goal is to continue to develop a prosperous community that is healthy, safe, connected and allows people and nature to live harmoniously.

As part of the Burnside Environmental Sustainability Strategy, and with the goal to become carbon neutral by 2030, Council plans to maximise green programs including the development and expansion of the city’s urban forest – currently comprising over 42,700 trees – including the planting of approximately 1,000 new trees every year.

Growing the city’s urban canopy

A fully mapped and catalogued ecosystem, Burnside’s Urban Forest can be explored in-depth online with an interactive breakdown of parklands, reserves and street trees. This project was one of the first of its kind to be developed in Australia and provides exclusive insight into industry-leading environmental commitments by the City of Burnside.

With environmental, health and aesthetic benefits, the urban forest provides many services to those who live and work within the City of Burnside and will assist in safeguarding the community against the effects of climate change, including regulating temperature, improving air quality, supporting biodiversity and enhancing both physical and mental well-being of residents and community members.

Battling to preserve the forest

In line with Council’s efforts to preserve and grow the urban forest, residents of the City of Burnside play a critical role in ensuring the advancement of environmental goals through the protection of trees and vegetation on public land – a role more urgent than ever following a recent spate of incidents in which numerous mature trees were illegally felled or heavily damaged by unknown individuals.

These incidents follow a landmark first for the City of Burnside, which after many years of court proceedings was able to reach a successful prosecution at Adelaide Magistrates Court on 21 July 2023 for the illegal removal of a street tree.

In April 2021 a mature seven-year-old Golden Rain tree was witnessed being illegally removed. After discovering that the removal was not approved by Council, a local resident took photographs and notified the City of Burnside of the incident. Council investigated and with enough evidence to prosecute, issued a summons for the matter to be heard in court.

After a two-year case, City of Burnside CEO, Chris Cowley, said he was happy with the outcome, which was successful largely because of a supportive resident and Council’s passionate Urban Forest Team. “It’s been a long and protracted case, taking a year to investigate and a further year in the courts,” Mr Cowley said. “It would never have been successful without the quick thinking of the resident who witnessed the incident and reported it to Council.

“I hope that this example highlights the seriousness of the issue and the commitment from Council to take strong action to safeguard the urban forest,” Mr Cowley said. Senior Urban Forestry Officer, Chris Hawkins, said that this was a rare win in the battle to preserve the urban forest for future generations.

“I’ve worked as an arborist for ten years and this is the first successful street tree prosecution that I know of,” Mr Hawkins said. City of Burnside Technical Officer Conservation and Land Management, Dr Mark Ellis, said the impact on local ecosystems from illegal removals like this one ran extremely deep.

“Many of our parks and reserves, especially in the hills face area, contain remnants of the original indigenous vegetation of the area prior to European settlement. These areas are priceless and are managed for the wide range of flora and fauna they support,” Dr Ellis said.

“In our rapidly changing climate it is imperative that we do everything we can to support our local ecosystems, if we lose elements of our urban forest, we also lose the species that depend on those trees.” Mr Cowley asked the community to help Council defend the City of Burnside’s urban forest by reporting any tree-damaging activity and even gathering evidence.

Community urged to keep eyes open

“We need everyone to know that this illegal behaviour is not acceptable in our community,’ Mr Cowley said. “Photographs and statements are what can really change the outcome.” As the maximum punishment in South Australia for this illegal activity, the courts can impose a $5000 fine and record a criminal conviction.

Unfortunately, even following the prosecution of this one offender, Council continues to identify numerous acts of unknown individuals illegally damaging and/or removing sections of the urban forest.

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