Why cities need trees: Angus Cunningham Q&A

We are currently crowdfunding to plant 200 trees in Islington to help combat air pollution.

The trees have been donated by Forest for Change, an interactive art exhibition that took place in the Somerset House courtyard last month.

Angus Cunningham is the CEO of Scotscape, an urban greening company who worked on the installation and are supporting our project.

We put some questions to him to find out more about urban tree planting, and why he’s so passionate about biodiversity in cities.

What led you into your profession?

My parents were very keen gardeners, and I spent school holidays spent gardening for neighbours in rural Scotland! When I landed in London in 1984 to seek my fortune, it was the default career choice. After a year as an apprentice at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, I joined the ranks of the self-employed gardening fraternity and have remained there ever since!

What were the biggest challenges with the Somerset House project?

Firstly it was choosing the trees, and making sure that their foliage colour and height matched the computer-generated image that had already been released to the press!

We also had to ensure they would not blow over, whilst not being able to fix into or damage the cobbles or the fountains in the courtyard.

Finally we had to keep them alive during a very hot spell over the month.

What trees are best for city streets?

We picked a variety of trees, including some non-natives. Native trees are not necessarily the best choice, as they are struggling with climate change and disease.

Trees at Forest for Change included common lime (Tilia platyphyllos), silver birch (Betula pendula), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), hazel (Corylus avellena), Norway maple (Acer platanoides), European Hornbeam (Carpinus Betula ‘Fastigata’), walnut (Juglens regia) and small leaved lime (Tilia Cordata ‘Greenspire’).

How much watering does a newly planted tree need?

The amount of watering required is very much specific to the site and dependant on the weather.

In general terms, once the buds on the trees begin to break, they require watering every 3-4 days during dry periods. Smaller trees of 12-14 cms girth require 50-60 litres of water per watering, whist semi-mature trees of 20-25cm girth need as much as 100-120 litres.

The watering period usually lasts from April until September.

How should newly-planted trees be protected?

Smaller trees of 12-14 cms girth should be protected from high winds using stakes and ties, left in place for 3-4 years.

Larger trees of 20-25cm girth should have stakes left in place for 4-6 years.

Why is introducing biodiversity into cities important?

The global population is increasing by 83 million people a year. By 2050, 68% of the population will be living in cities – up from 55% in 2015.

Biodiversity is required in urban places to make them healthier and more sustainable places to live and work.

Why should people support the Islington Forest for Change project?

We need more trees to ensure we have amazing air quality and for humanity to thrive in our cities.

We are inter-connected with nature, and a single tree can support life on so many levels, from within the soil to its connection to everything around it.

Ultimately we need to be creating more and more wildlife corridors. A single tree is ok, but a project like Islington Forest for Change creates connection at all levels.


The Islington Forest for Change crowdfunder runs until 28th July 2021. For a donation of £150, you can sponsor a tree in the name of an individual or organisation.

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