Sheffield is home to around 4.5 million trees and 36,000 of these are street trees (on the roadside or public highway). As part of the Streets Ahead contract, the city’s street tree stock will be managed and maintained over a 25-year period to ensure a varied, suitable and safe stock of street trees for generations to come. 

Prior to the start of the Streets Ahead contract in 2012, unhealthy or damaging street trees were removed without being replaced. The Streets Ahead contract allocated funding for the maintenance of all of our street trees. This funding will help us prevent a decline in our street tree stock and maintain a healthy age profile across the city.

It’s our aim to retain street trees for longer, indefinitely if possible, while still delivering the planned improvements to the city’s highway network and meeting the standards set out in the Streets Ahead contract.

New approach

We want the best for Sheffield's street tree stock and firmly believe that replacing some trees as part of a managed programme is the best way of safeguarding the long term future of the city's street trees. 

In September 2018, together with our contractor Amey, we met with members of the Sheffield Tree Action Group steering group for mediated talks conducted by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution and chaired by the Bishop of Sheffield, Rt Revd, Dr Pete Wilcox.

Following these talks, we are embarking on a new approach to street tree management which will help us retain more street trees indefinitely and stagger the replacement of others to reduce the impact on individual streets.

The idea is to retain trees indefinitely, where possible, using a much more flexible combination of highways adjustments, enhanced monitoring and maintenance.

This work could also mean using pavement surfaces and kerbs around trees which are different to the rest of the street and involve using materials not originally envisaged as part of the planned upgrade work.

In special cases, for example to retain war memorial trees, which have a unique significance, we may need to employ more extensive engineering solutions which could have additional implications for local residents.

Our contractor, Amey, will fund the cost of any solutions that will allow a tree to be safely retained for longer whilst still delivering the long-term benefits of the Streets Ahead contract at no extra cost to Sheffield’s taxpayers.

Amey will be engaging with affected communities on the necessary replacement works with a view to building local consensus. This may take time.

Where long-term retention is not possible, we will try to limit the impact on specific streets by staggering the replacement of trees over a much longer period, in some cases, up to 10 years. This will always be subject to maintaining the highway in a safe condition.

If inspections are planned on a tree near to your home, Amey will contact you beforehand to let you know.

Our current court injunction, preventing unlawful trespass into safety zones constructed around street tree removal, remains in place for the time being.

Assessing trees

Assessment of the affected trees will soon be underway. We anticipate being able to retain more than one-third of the trees which were previously earmarked for replacement and, by applying the same principles to future tree assessments, far fewer trees will be identified for replacement in future years.

A multi-disciplined team, made up of qualified and experienced tree and highways staff who’ve been trained in using advanced techniques and equipment near trees, will carry out inspections.

The team will work jointly with members of Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG) and their chosen independent highways engineers.

The team can make decisions to retain trees and carry out the work required the same day, if possible.

However, they will never remove a tree there and then. The final decision to replace a tree will remain with the Council.

If a tree is found to be immediately dangerous or obstructive, we’ll arrange for it to be replaced as soon as possible. Otherwise, we’ll consider the next steps and discuss it with residents.

All street trees are assessed by qualified tree experts who hold current professional tree inspector qualifications from LANTRA, the UK’s Sector Skills Council for land-based and environmental industries.

Replacing trees

Healthy street trees will only be replaced if no other practical or affordable solution can be found.

Where street trees need to be replaced, this will be done on a one for one basis and the replacement trees will be from species that are better suited to a street environment.

We are also planting some of the trees that were previously removed before the Streets Ahead contract began so that there will be an overall increase in the number of street trees at the end of the Streets Ahead contract in 2037.

Bird nests and bat roosts

We employ trained ecologists who check all trees for bird nests and bat roosts. Where bird nests or bat roost are found, the removal of the tree will be delayed unless it is a safety hazard and requires immediate action.

The ecologists will assess the tree to establish if any birds are nesting in it or if any bats are roosting in the tree. A further check is carried out on the day the removal of the tree is planned.

Following recent talks, we have pledged, wherever possible, not to carry out tree removal works during the bird nesting season, which is approximately April to September. 

A new strategy for tree management

During 2019, we will be working with a wide range of stakeholders, and with the support of an independent chairperson, to develop a new street tree strategy, reflective of the agreements made in recent talks with campaigners and stakeholders.

The strategy will outline our strategic approach to maintaining and managing the city’s street trees and will inform Amey’s approach to street trees as part of the Streets Ahead contract.