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A new study from the UK highlights the importance of urban trees as a matter of health. The study, which combines research from England and New Zealand, concludes that people who can see trees from their window are happier and healthier – particularly in high density housing areas.

Now, New Zealand campaigners are citing the study to strengthen their argument for improved tree protection measures.

New Zealand’s Tree Council secretary, Dr Mels Barton says: “The link between people living at one property and valuing something else across the road comes out as so, so, important – and it’s not been demonstrated before,” she says. “We will definitely be waving [the report] around; there is not enough research into the benefits of urban trees.”

The study refers to the increase in physical and mental health conditions that result from urbanisation. It also presents evidence of how urban trees help combat these conditions by providing “indirect nature experiences”.

“With the rise in urban living, most people now spend much of their day indoors, therefore the green viewscape from home or from work often constitutes by far their most common nature experience. Having a room with a view of nature does not necessarily mean that people are continuously experiencing that view. Instead, people spend a significant amount of time with their attention directed towards specific tasks, and the presence of a window with a natural scene allows micro-restorative experiences, with scenes that are more fascinating being likely to be more restorative. There is robust evidence to suggest that indirect nature experiences provide a broad range of health and wellbeing benefits, including increased psychological wellbeing, improved cognitive function and concentration, reduced healing times and reduced stress at work,” it says.

Given the health benefits of urban trees, Dr Barton says the study supports the idea that trees belong to communities, not to individuals.

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“Your tree is not just your tree,” she says. “It really belongs to those people who can see it. It really affects people’s well-being and it’s important to them. So, it shouldn’t be your right to make the decision to remove it. Trees are being removed every day. We want that to stop before it’s too late.”

The study also has implications for inner city streetscapes, as well as residential areas.

“The layout of cities and where we put specimen trees is really important”, says Dr Barton. “Auckland in particular has developed ad-hoc with all these pocket parks as development contributions that are too small to put a house on … they’re really of almost no benefit.”

The bottom line, according to Dr Barton, is that trees should be planted where they can be seen – and where their benefits can be enjoyed by many.