How much is a tree worth?
In some cases, the answer can be surprising.
As part of a its new urban tree management policy, the City of Greater Bendigo has drafted up a valuation formula, based on the age, species, carbon removal properties and size of trees in the region.
Part of the reason for a formula was, as arboriculture project officer Tania MacLeod explained, to create a metric by which the council could negotiate with developers.
The idea of it being a ‘slush fund’ was rejected by Ms MacLeod, who stressed none of the trees were ‘for sale’.
“It’s not about council raising revenue, that’s not what this policy is about - it's about saying trees are a valuable part of our landscape and we don't want to remove them,” she said.
“It’s a tool to negotiate to keep the tree in the landscape,” she said, describing tree removal as a ‘last resort’.
Developers had concerns about red tape and exorbitant costs, she said, suggesting the formula was not designed to discourage development.
The complicated formula is based on Melbourne's Amenity Value Formula, developed in 1990, bringing Bendigo up to date with other Victorian councils.
The iconic civic gardens elm tree tops the ‘amenity value’ charts at a whopping $352,000, while the King Billy Tree, a pre-settlement river red gum in Lockwood South, is by far the oldest and largest tree in the region with a trunk diameter of three metres.
Other species, like the plane trees on Pall Mall, excel in providing shade. Thermal images show areas underneath the trees can be as much as ten degrees cooler during the summer.
Some trees, like the palm trees located with the conservatory gardens have historic value. The gardens once had 19 palms, and now has four remaining 100-plus year old trees, the rest perished via a debilitating fungus or lighting strikes.
Ms MacLeod said the valuation, and the broader policy, was an indication the council was taking its tree management seriously.
The policy incorporates recommendations from a Coronial inquest into the death of a four-year-old in 2013.
Patiya May Schreiber was killed in Rosalind Park in December 2013 when a branch fell from a tree, leaving a town “scared of trees”, Ms MacLeod said.
“Customer service requests for our arborists to come and inspect trees went up exponentially,” she said.
The council will be holding community engagement sessions in September and October, and will be asking residents to highlight valuable trees in their community.