BANGKOK: battle to save the 'big trees'
No healthy city is complete without trees. Planting lots of large trees in urban areas can benefit not only the environment but also the people. That was the main reason behind the launch of the “Urban Tree Care” project.
A collaboration between Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of architecture, Somdet Chaopraya Institute of Psychiatry, PTT Plc and Big Trees Project Group, Urban Tree Care is designed to educate urbanites about the knowledge and skills needed to take care of big trees in their urban areas.
The first course, which started yesterday, was pitched at managers and high-ranking officials whose work relates to big trees in the city, with the aim of enhancing the beauty of the cityscape. After campaigning to raise public awareness about the priceless value of big trees in the city for the past four years, Oraya Sutabutr, from Big Trees Project Group, said the group has received many complaints about tree felling in many areas.
Trees are also cut down to a smaller size instead of being trimmed, while others that are decades-old are felled completely for business purposes, she said. “The complaints reflect the fact that city dwellers are now more active in tree conservation. That encouraged us to work together to come up with a project that can give them knowledge and important skills to take care of big trees in the city,” Ms Oraya said, adding that the skills people learn from the training can even lead to a new occupation such as arborist, which is new to Thai people.
After lengthy discussions, a plan was formed. Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of architecture would be responsible for developing a training programme; Big Trees Project Group would coordinate the parties concerned; Somdet Chaopraya Institute of Psychiatry would provide the room for the training programme, while PTT Plc agreed to be the sponsor.
Topics of discussion in the programme include the life of big trees, the unique characteristics and benefits of urban forestry; basic tools for gardening and tree maintenance; possible dangers posed by big trees as well as how to handle dead trees. Course attendees also learn how to trim branches and deal with root problems, how to maintain big trees on a construction site, how to assess the value of trees and manage tree maintenance.
The programme typically takes 150 hours and includes coursework and a workshop. A field trip is also an important requirement to complete the programme. Taradon Tunduan, an experienced arborist and guest speaker for the programme, said there are two main problems with big trees in urban environments — the tree itself and the effects of the tree on the city’s environment. He has been working with big city trees for many years. Mr Taradon said Thais lack knowledge of big trees. There are only a few people working in this field. “Many don’t realise that some trees are sick and need special care,” he said. He cited the failure to recognise the importance of big trees in the city. When a big tree branches out and gets entangled in electrical wires, the first choice is to keep the wires and cut the tree.
Often they are cut short rather than being trimmed, he added. Trimming a tree makes it pleasing to the eye while helping to reduce possible dangers. However, some trees can be too big and may cause structural damage when dried branches fall on houses, cars and roads during a heavy storm, he warned. Mr Taradon, who has more than two decades of experience, said officers at the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and the Treasury Department and staff at real estate companies don’t fully understand the concept of “big trees in the city”.
“When the idea is mentioned, most of them think of small trees and bushes in a garden,” he said. Singapore is widely recognised for its green space, with a large number of big trees in the urban environment. Mr Taradon said the Singapore government realises the importance of big trees in the city to make it a sustainable green city. Big trees need very good care when they are first planted. They have big roots that can store a quantity of water. They may need occasional care and maintenance when they branch out and threaten structural damage to properties.
Garden trees and ornamental plants are hugely popular in Thailand and they tend to get daily care — watering and trimming. When they are not well taken care of, they dry out and die. “The planting of big trees was a good move for Singapore to achieve the goal of becoming a sustainable green city,” Mr Taradon said, adding that Thailand needs to take the green city concept very seriously before it’s too late. In his view, individuals whose houses have big trees should have priority to acquire knowledge and skills in big tree maintenance. “I’ve learned many families sell their houses which have big trees to real estate companies which want to develop a condominium — and the trees that have been kept for decades are cut down. That’s very regrettable,” Mr Taradon said.
Somneuk Janthanaporn, a Khlongsan district officer and who is attending the training programme, said staff at all Bangkok district offices who are responsible for the cutting down of trees are required to undergo training concerning tree maintenance. However, the knowledge and skills they learn are not applied because of work overload. “Every day we have to work with hundreds of trees, particularly those that branch out and get entangled with wires, as we need to protect people from fires that might occur. You can imagine how much work we handle. If we have to do every step of the job, we are not able to get our tasks done in time,” Mr Somneuk said. Ms Oraya said Big Trees Project Group is using Somdet Chaopraya Institute of Psychiatry for the next operative training programme. “One important thing that we want to see is executives of the BMA and other government officers responsible for maintenance of trees getting the chance to take part in governmental policy covering the green city project,” she said.
The programme began on Tuesday with a lecture on “The life of a big tree”, delivered by national artist emeritus Prof Decha Boonkham, who has frequently castigates the BMA and the Metropolitan Electricity Authority for cutting down trees. The first programme kicked off yesterday and runs to June 11. It is limited to 15 people and the fee is 3,000 baht.
in Bangkok Post, 10/05/2014 Supoj Wancharoen