Trees: How do you Value the Invaluable? by Mark Chester

The trees around us, in the landscape, are often a feature we value and appreciate. When they are lost, what replaces can seem inadequate. So, how do we realistically value what is perceived as being invaluable?

The approach to valuation depends in part on why it is needed. There are broadly four reasons to value this asset:

  • Litigation: When we need to determine a value for compensation, fines in connection with prosecution and funding restoration work following damage.
  • Mitigation for planning: When trees are to be replaced, e.g. in a development scenario, to ensure the replacement provision adequately reflects what has been lost.
  • Valuing a local asset: If, for example, a large London plane being considered for removal to create a new vehicular access in a residential setting is valued at £30,000, those considering this option may choose to retain it. If it is removed for that level of compensation, there may be funds for significant local tree planting.
  • Valuing a population: This can be useful in highlighting the contribution made by the trees, and to support bids for additional maintenance resources of particular relevance within a local authority or similar situation. It can also be used by groups campaigning to save trees in their local area.

 

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Trees form an important part of the urban environment, so valuing them is important and when they are to be replaced, the new tree(s) should adequately reflects what has been lost.

 

If a tree subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) is felled, there is usually a requirement to replace it with a tree of comparable stature. Many local authorities require two, even three replacement trees for each one lost. This can seem generous in enhancing the local population. However, there may not be enough space for these, and I have seen a single mature beech being replaced with several smaller ornamental trees. They cannot compensate for what is lost. 

This is why being able to attribute a financial value which reflects the loss, rather than simply seeking to plant a random number of new trees, is particularly useful, rather than merely specifying numbers. It can take dozens of new trees to compensate for the loss of the mature one. There are four main methods we can use. The starting point is choosing the most appropriate for the situation.

 

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Replacing a mature tree with several smaller ornamental trees cannot compensate for what has been lost. Assigning a financial value which reflects the loss - rather than planting a random number of new trees - is crucial.

 

The Helliwell system (which focuses on visual amenity contribution) explores the contribution a tree makes to the landscape. CTLA (Council for Tree & Landscape Appraisers) and CAVAT (Capital Asset Value of Amenity Trees) explore the cost to replace the lost tree. I-trees focuses on the environmental contribution of a population of trees rather than the individual specimen.

CTLA, which was developed in the US, and CAVAT, which was written by tree officers in the UK, include the costs incurred when replacing a tree. These include preparing the site for landscaping, planting and then establishing the new tree. Landscaping projects can budget £250-300 to plant and establish young trees, with only £80-£100 of this being the cost of the tree.

In one recent court case, a landowner who felled 200 beech trees which were two centuries old, in a major hedgerow feature, was fined £105,000. This is about £500 per tree, a sum which seems more related to the cost of planting replacement saplings on a one-for-one basis than re-establishing the original feature, although that outcome itself is not practical. The firewood value of the trees was about half the size of the fine. In some court cases, where tree loss is beneficial for property value, increases have been factored when calculating the fine.

 

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A landowner who felled 200 beech trees which were two centuries old was fined £105,000 - about £500 per tree.

 

In Manchester, where a parking space was created following the removal of a protected yew tree in a front garden, the fine included a sum for the value of this new asset. The allowance was based on independent real estate valuations, and it ensured that the landowner didn’t profit from his actions.  In Poole, Dorset, the fine for loss of one significant tree included the cost for replacing it with a mature specimen and an allowance for the enhanced property value associated with an improved view of the harbour. In each case, the valuation need to be proportionate in the situations, and not simply a way to penalise the guilty party.

One of the limitations of the methods described is that they are currently unable to give a value to trees which are historically and ecologically important. This is because such a task is so difficult. We cannot replace a 200 year old beech tree with another of comparable age and size from a nursery. The late Professor Oliver Rackham described a single 500 year old oak tree as being more valuable than one hundred 400 year old oaks. It is simply priceless, and we would not wish to attempt a valuation for replacement as the tree is significant and should be retained. One suggested option to highlight the importance of such trees is to allocate Heritage Tree status, along a similar model to listed status for buildings. This does not exist yet, but is an idea that the Tree Council, the Government advisory body on trees, has been exploring.

 

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One potential option to highlight the importance of old valuable trees is to allocate Heritage Tree status, similar to that of listed buildings.

 

The art of valuing trees is a relatively new skill for the arborist to use. However, it has enabled realistic budgets to be allocated for mitigation landscaping schemes and litigation claims to be settled more fairly than before. We may not yet be able to properly value the invaluable. However, being able to attribute a value of tens of thousands of pounds for an individual street tree has raised their profile and enables those who wish to see the local tree population protected, present a stronger case for retention. It may remain a work in progress, but progress there has been, and our trees are being appreciated for their financial contribution as never before.

 

Mark Chester is a tree consultant with Cedarwood Tree Care, which he launched in 2005. He also runs the Consulting Arborist Society. He has worked in arboriculture for 20 years, and was a tree officer for 8 years.

 

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