City Council commits to increase biodiversity citywide and support doubling tree cover across Oxfordshire

Published: Tuesday, 28th January 2020

Oxford City Council has committed to increasing biodiversity in the city and is supporting the Lord-Lieutenant of Oxfordshire’s call to double tree cover across the county.

In the recommendations from the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change, enhanced biodiversity was seen as central to the overall ‘net zero’ vision of Oxford and it was recognised that tackling climate change and ecological breakdown together was important.

Assembly Members were positive about creating more biodiversity and green space around Oxford. They found that protecting and enhancing biodiversity and “greening” the city was a key route to engagement with communities and individuals, and recognised that responsibility for biodiversity was spread across government at local and national levels and citizens.

In January, 12 new trees were planted in a key East Oxford urban green space. The trees were planted on behalf of Oxford City Council by ODS - the City Council’s wholly-owned company, which operates like a social enterprise - and their Landscape Apprentice, and Councillor Tom Hayes, as part of a wider £75,000 refurbishment of the Manzil Way Gardens in East Oxford which is culminating this year.

Trees and biodiversity

In the past five years the City Council has, with the help of volunteers, planted 7000 new trees across the city, with an increased level of activity since the declaration of the climate emergency, including 2000 new trees during National Tree Week. There are 73 species of trees in Oxford’s urban forest, with the most common trees being Ash, Willow, and Poplar.

Currently, trees are estimated to cover 15.9% of Oxford, with overall canopy and shrub cover is estimated to cover 22.3% of the city. The City Council recognises how important trees are in our natural environment, but wants to make sure we take a balanced approach to improving biodiversity in the City. Oxford City is home to some of the rarest habitats of fen and grassland and their improvement and survival is key to improving biodiversity and tackling climate change, together with the planting of trees in appropriate locations.  

The City Council owns and manages just over 600 hectares of accessible green space in the city and surrounding area, including a country park, 33 nature areas and over 60 urban parks. The City also has 12 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, covering 278 hectares and including Port Meadow (which has been meadowland for at least 4000 years), Wolvercote Common, Shotover Country Park, and Lye Valley Nature Reserve.

Meadows and wetlands provide a wide range of habitats and food sources to many species, as well as absorbing carbon.

Next steps

In order to increase biodiversity across Oxford, the City Council will be:

  • Supporting a roundtable meeting in the Spring to bring together citizen scientists, community action groups, and members of the Citizens’ Assembly to identify how best to boost biodiversity across Oxford, including the planting of more trees at the local community level.
  • Working on an Urban Forest Strategy, which will determine how the City Council can improve and maintain Oxford’s 248,200 tree strong urban forest.
  • Continuing to plant trees across the city’s parks, recreation grounds, and on housing developments.
  • Exploring how to apply a Natural Resource Management approach to decision making - considering a strategic approach to biodiversity, focusing on balancing the needs of all ecosystems and protecting and maintaining important habitats such as meadows and wetlands.

“I’m thrilled that the City Council is formally backing the Lord-Lieutenant’s commitment to double tree cover across Oxfordshire and increase biodiversity within Oxford itself. As a council, we want to directly plant more trees to make Oxford greener and healthier. I was delighted to join ODS staff and apprentices at Manzil Way in the planting of more trees in St Clement’s.

“The roundtable we’re supporting seeks to solve our problems in terms of finding suitable land, increasing tree cover in those areas of Oxford higher on the Index of Multiple Deprivation, and better coordinating the work of the council and people and groups in and around the city. I’m particularly happy that we’re not simply proposing that the council should do everything or take the lead, but rather asking the question ‘who is best placed to take responsibility’, so we can figure out together how we can all do our bit and play to one another’s strengths. The Council stands ready to do what is needed and we want to create that grassroots response which enhances biodiversity, meets our climate emergency, and builds stronger communities.

Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford

“This tree planting is an extremely important positive step forward for Oxford City Council. It will enhance the multiple benefits that can be obtained from biodiversity in our city; providing a habitat for wildlife, increase CO2 sequestration, water-flow regulation, pollution control and even improve mental and physical wellbeing associated with viewing street trees. However, tree planting is just one of the many ways that we can improve biodiversity in and around Oxford. It is equally important that we examine the needs of our varied ecosystems, and that we maintain vitally important habitats and species in our city. The Natural Resource Management approach being explored by Oxford City Council will outline what we need to do to sustainably enhance biodiversity in Oxford." 

“This is hopefully the first of many such initiatives to come out of the Citizens Assembly. The strong sentiment emerging from the citizens to make Oxford one of the greenest cities in the country, is exciting ambitious and achievable.”

Professor Kathy Willis, Professor of Biodiversity at University of Oxford, and Principal of St Edmund Hall who spoke as an expert on biodiversity and offsetting at the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change

“Doubling tree cover in Oxfordshire is a crucial response to climate change. The City Council’s tree planting along with Oxford Friends of the Earth has been a great way for the community to get involved. But if we are to double tree cover in the county, we will have to plant on private land. I would ask landowners across the county to come forward and help us with the land we need.”

Tim Stevenson OBE, Lord-Lieutenant of Oxfordshire