30% Tree Canopy Target by 2040 for Perth

Native trees in Perth - photography by Fleur Edwards

WATCA is calling on the WA government to urgently address Perth’s shrinking urban tree canopy by committing to a 30% Tree Canopy Target by 2040.

In 2020 Perth had only 16% tree canopy coverage - and it's still in decline.

In 2021, Nearmaps ranked Perth as the most barren major city in Australia, with just 22% of the population living in suburbs with more than 20% tree cover, compared to 30% in Melbourne, 44% in Sydney and 79% in Brisbane.

Perth has the hottest summers in the country and yet we still have no Tree Canopy Target and continue to be the only state without basic protections for large trees on private property.

Other cities including Melbourne, Canberra, and tree regulations in place and it’s time Perth caught up before it’s too late.

What is Tree Canopy?

Tree Canopy is the layer of leaves, branches and stems that cover the ground when viewed from above and give us shade.  This canopy combines to make up the Urban Forest.  Our Urban Forest includes all the trees in our urban areas; in our parks and public spaces, our remaining bushland, our streets and other transport corridors, our private gardens, our community gardens. 

Perth’s Tree Canopy is in Sharp Decline

A 2017 national benchmark report of Australia’s urban canopy cover by 202020 Vision showed a sharp decline in established vegetation across Perth and Peel.

Of particular concern was the decline of larger trees on private land, which make up 85% of the Perth’s tree canopy.

In 2020, the WA Department of Planning, Lands & Heritage Urban Tree Canopy Dashboard showed that canopy cover across the Perth metropolitan area was just 16% and shrinking.  This comprised 23% in parks, 14% in road reserves and only 12% cover within street blocks (mostly private land). 

Only a small percentage of this canopy cover is made up of large trees of more than 8 metres in height, yet these large trees are the ones that deliver the greatest community benefits.  Size matters!

Research shows that some Perth suburbs have 60% of available space dedicated to carparks and roads, and as little as 10% tree canopy left.  You don’t have to be a scientist to realise this just isn’t sustainable for our city (or the planet).

The Heat Island Effect

Loss of large trees and green space is a serious issue in Perth, particularly in new suburbs and for new infrastructure where there is wholesale clearing of land for development.

In established suburbs, existing large trees are routinely removed to make space for bigger buildings, without a thought of the consequences for our communities.

These trees are often replaced with hard surfaces, which are usually highly effective at absorbing and storing heat during the day.  This heat is released at night leading to higher temperatures after dark. This is known as the urban heat island effect.  It results in city dwellers being exposed to much higher temperatures for longer periods each day.  And as climate change takes effect, it is causing our cities to heat up at a much faster rate than our country areas. 

The urban heat island effect has a major impact on the liveablity of our cities and levels of community health and wellbeing. And the easiest way to address it is to protect and plant more trees.

Setting a Target Will Grow Our Urban Forest

If we can achieve 30% Tree Canopy Cover in Perth by 2040 we can lower temperatures in our city by up to 10°C - and that’s just one of the amazing  benefits that an expanded Urban Forest will bring to our community and environment.

Setting a Tree Canopy Target will help strike a balance between development and preserving our precious green spaces now and for generations in the future.

But it's not enough to set a Target, it needs to be supported by real action - planning, policy changes, funding and monitoring.