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Nature Strips – Local Councils

Councils need to increase the urban tree canopy to tackle the urban heat island effect. They plant street trees but struggle to keep young trees watered. Residents are the obvious people to water the trees but how do you get them to do it?

The land in front of properties has long been a source of confusion and dispute. It is public land, and the responsibility of councils. Councils have traditionally planted and maintained street trees while residents are expected by councils to keep the grass tidy.

Over the past decade there has been a push to allow residents to use plants other than grass. The discourse is predominantly about urban food growing and edible verge gardens. Yet, edible verges gardens are the ones most likely to cause concerns about maintenance and resentment from other residents.

Many councils have developed policies and guidelines for residents with recommended plants. (see policy list) Every policy is different but there are common threads. Low growing native plants are preferred, pedestrian safety and visibility are paramount. Very few of the councils with policies actively promote verge gardens.

Planting a nature strip in front of their house is still done by a tiny minority of residents. Street trees are the council's responsibility and residents are expected to do the rest. This project continues that shared responsibility.

Currently councils use employees or contractors to maintain many roadside verges by mowing, edging and using weedkiller, usually glyphosate. Community verge projects could replace some of that, making better use of Council budgets.

Benefits to Council

Extensive well-planted nature strips supporting council-planted street trees help Councils meet their targets to increase tree canopy and greenspace to tackle urban heat island effect, reduce run-off, and increase amenity.

While Councils can set requirements for new developments, existing suburbs are more difficult to tackle.

The co-ordinated approach proposed here could enable Councils to have greater input into what is planted than the current isolated cases. They could deal with each organisation or project in a similar way to the bushcare groups and other volunteer groups.

Role of Councils

  • Provide Council policies on verge gardening, pathways between houses. Guidelines rather than requiring permits for standard verges avoids unnecessary administrative costs.
  • Plant and prune street trees as they do now
  • Provide tubestock, mulch, etc (optional)
  • Overall management eg determine the best species for trees, initiatives like stormwater retention for street trees, rain gardens, etc

Responsibilities of Councils

  • Provide the policy framework regarding safety, planting choice, consistency (eg with street trees)
  • Provide permits where necessary and audit the city green assets. This project would mean that ongoing reporting could be done electronically at community level.