Local ecology

Growing our sprawling urban forest

Have your say about the carefully chosen species that will expand canopy cover.

Vast canopy cover shading a Sydney park

An ambitious plan is in the works to expand tree canopy cover in our area and support cool, calm and resilient communities.

The City of Sydney’s highly detailed strategies and plans were endorsed for community comment at the December Council meeting.

The community can now review and comment until 28 February 2023 on:

Together, the proposed policies and strategies will guide decision making and increase the quality and quantity of our urban forest.

Why this work is so important

Urban forests are vital to the liveability of our city and will help us combat climate change. Trees cool our homes, streets and parks, build resilience, clean the air and improve mental and physical wellbeing.

By 2050, experts forecast Sydney will be hotter and more susceptible to extreme or prolonged drought as well as high rainfall periods. That means planting the right kinds of trees at the right time and in the right places has never been more important.

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Growing a bigger and more resilient urban forest

We’ve set an ambitious goal to increase our overall green cover to 40%, including a minimum of 27% tree canopy by 2050.

Since 2004 we’ve planted more than 16,000 street trees which has helped get our current canopy cover to nearly 20%. We have more work to do and the draft urban forest strategy sets our clear directions to get more trees into the ground so they can be bring us their benefits in the years to come.

We’ll prioritise planting in areas that currently have low canopy cover which might mean creating new traffic islands or median strips to shade hot road surfaces.

More shade in more areas of the city is important in combating the urban heat island effect and will mean Sydney is more resilient during heatwaves.

Another crucial aspect of our work will be to continue managing the new trees that get planted so we give them the best chance to thrive.

Growing an urban canopy. Photo: Abril Felman / City of Sydney
Growing an urban canopy. Photo: Abril Felman / City of Sydney

Tree diversity

No single tree is perfect, but a combination of different tree types spread across our local area will help to achieve a near perfect forest.

We’ll plant indigenous, exotic, deciduous and evergreen trees in our area. Our strategies will give developers and homeowners knowledge so they too can plant the most appropriate species.

“We want to make sure we’re picking the best tree for the job. Where we need to have winter sunlight into an area, that needs to be a deciduous tree. Where we really want to make sure that we have a good habitat and biodiversity, we’ll pick a locally indigenous tree,” the City of Sydney’s urban forest manager Karen Sweeney said.

“Having a range of tree species will also help mitigate against outbreaks of pests and disease that can wipe out large sections of canopy cover and adversely impact our greening goals.

“On top of this, having a good age range is really important to the sustainability of any urban forest. Just like human populations, if the maturity of our trees skews old or young it throws out the balance and threatens the resilience of the urban forest. Across the board we’ll aim for diversity.”

Removing trees is a last resort. Replacing them is a priority

The painstaking work that has gone into our urban forest strategy, street tree master plan and the tree management and donations policy helps us grow and strengthen our urban forest.

Like any living thing, trees have a life cycle and when their time comes, we need to remove them. We’ll remove a dead or dying tree, a sick tree that can no longer be managed or a tree that presents a public safety issue. There are also occasions when we need to take trees out as part of work to renew and improve public space.

We’ll replace the removed trees with the most appropriate species and plant them at an optimal time to thrive.

Have your say

A key aspect of the City of Sydney’s 2 year-long development of the proposals and plans has been recruiting professionals in arboriculture, climate change, landscape architecture and indigenous ecology to support our own expert urban forest management team.

Now we want to hear what you have to say.

Submissions close 28 February.

Published 13 December 2022, updated 12 October 2023