Tree death and the challenge of heatwaves


2636 dead trees 2 OKBy KIERAN FINNANE
Almost 1000 trees are dead throughout the town north of The Gap, 992 to be exact, and council has a six-line policy to deal with it.
That won’t “cut it,” says Councillor Jimmy Cocking.
He and Cr Marli Banks, supported by Cr Catherine Satour are pushing for a more vigorous response from council in the expectation of extreme weather events to come.
It appears that most if not all the trees died following last summer’s heat wave.
Council’s Technical Services department has done an audit of the trees on verges and parks around town.
The death toll was greatest among street trees: 761, likely reflecting their harsher environment, surrounded by bitumen and concrete. In parks 231 trees are dead.
Size matters: small trees make up the overwhelming majority: 732 dead.
And age also matters: of the small dead trees, 566 were “old”.
In both parks and verges, in raw numbers, Eastside was the heaviest hit: 94 of its park trees have gone; 192 of its verge trees. This toll was followed by Braitling’s: 51 park trees, 160 verge trees, then Gillen’s with 26 and 130 respectively.
There are no figures of total trees by suburb to know what proportion of the total in these areas these figures represent.
But there are 20,000 trees in public places in the municipality, so the dead tree toll represents about 5%.
This was significantly higher than Cr Cocking had expected; he had guessed it was around 1%.
Council has a policy of replacing dead trees, two to one, but Crs Cocking and Banks want to make sure that the trees survive.
They want to know more about species. Did some species succumb to the heat more readily? Did some withstand it better?
The audit does not provide that information, but the officer may have collected it. CEO Rex Mooney will find out.
Cr Banks also wanted to know about watering regimes, and whether council’s one water truck is sufficient for the job.
2636 dead trees 1 OKIt was not clear whether watering was stepped up during the heat wave, in particular whether established trees got a drink at all.
AT LEFT: Hartley Street carpark – seven dead trees, three medium size and four little, old ones.
From the regime described by Cr Glen Auricht, and to which Mr Mooney concurred, once trees are established they are left to their own devices.
There was no agreement to revisit policy, but Mr Mooney undertook to bring more information back to council. Watch this space.
Meanwhile council looks set to take some mitigation action dealing with heatwaves. The steps will be voted on at the end of the month, but include writing to the Chief Minister urging the NT Government to implement emergency plans to deal with heatwaves in the town and surrounding regions.
The Department of the Chief Minister will also be asked to develop a better public warning system and safety advice around heatwaves.
At last night’s meeting, most councillors were also supportive of council taking action to reduce its vulnerability to heatwaves, in relation to tree health and council infrastructure.
This was again an initiative of Cr Cocking.


  1. Maybe more trees could be planted in parks instead of road verges if they survive better.

  2. Suggest a google search of “paint the streets white” and you may find an article Apr 28, 2018.
    Los Angeles is painting the streets white to combat the rising temperatures in the summer caused by the heat island effect. Closer to home in SA Salisbury Council is indicating they are pleased with initial trials of this concept. Could be good for trees and is sure to be goood for people.

  3. Perhaps if people could recycle their grey water onto the trees and grass then less heat would be reflected and more trees saved. Make residents responsible for their verges would also assist.

  4. I too hope the “audit” undertaken by the ASTC’s technical services department is sufficiently detailed as to provide useful data for an informed response to the loss of so many trees to the past summer’s heatwave conditions. We can be certain that heatwave summers will continue and that maintaining and establishing new trees will become that much harder. Perhaps now we will all better value our town’s trees and ensure that the recent deliberate destruction of nearly a hundred trees for the North Stuart Highway work never happens again and that the on-going removal of trees in our CBD is reversed.

  5. It’s a no brainer. In extreme heat like we have just experienced all trees should be watered more regularly.
    I live rural and have lost five trees but realised that maybe these trees were not suited to extreme long heat and we have not had a decent rain (where I live) since November last year.
    So I find I’m watering more trees – future planting I will do better research. It’s sad to lose trees.

  6. Watch’n: I totally agree. Council needs to also take a serious look at how contractors are trimming trees below power lines. They are ugly and some large branches hang over roads. Would hate to see these come down on traffic

  7. Definitely making residents responsible to look after “their” trees would help.
    Generally council should also make sure that pathways are actually available to people who try to walk, ride, have prams or are in wheelchairs.
    Overhanging trees and bushes growing into the paths and sidewalks make this impossible in too many spots all over town!

  8. Maskat: We used to look after our footpath until the Council told us they were taking over … with a rise in the rates of course.
    As for: “Generally council should also make sure that pathways are actually available to people who try to walk, ride, have prams or are in wheelchairs” – try to go with a pram and toddlers in Brown and Priest Streets.

  9. In the first image that is pictured with this story, it appears that gravel/sand or small stones make up the ground around the tree? You then have a hot pavement sidewalk and asphalt road base.
    While the road could be painted white as per R. Bentley’s comments, the immediate ground to the base of the tree should contain mulch of some kind and drip irrigated with pipes hidden.
    Sure the drip system could block up, but if the right system is installed from day one and the mulch is set down (even as a breathable eco-friendly mat) then perhaps the trees would stay better hydrated all year round.

  10. What about systematic water harvesting for nature strips so that water from thunderstorms etc is retained rather than running into the drains immediately?
    This is something property owners can do themselves to help preserve their own street trees by making bunds adjacent to the kerb.
    The Council could cut slots to enlarge the existing expansion joints in the kerb to allow some infiltration into the subsoil between the kerbstones.
    If a few neighbours got together to trial this in a street or two in town the idea might be proven by demonstrating healthier growth in a year or three.

  11. This needs a thorough investigation and forward planning. Is the water table lower in Eastside? What’s happening underground. What can Council do to limit the tree deaths? Should they be reducing the number of new plantings so they can put more effort into supporting the growth of the trees they do plant? I think Council also needs to talk more about this issue with residents as so many trees on residential blocks are being lost too. Climate emergency, anyone?


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