Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy

Melbourne trees are under threat, with almost 44% projected to disappear in the next 20 years, so the city had to come up with a plan to includes increasing canopy cover and improving biodiversity, vegetation and soil moisture. The city was received an award of excellence for research, policy and communication from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, with judges calling their ‘Urban Forest Strategy – Making a Great City Greener 2012-20132′ a glowing example of ‘how to transform policy into practice to create a distinctive and liveable city’.



The City of Melbourne’s urban forest will be resilient, healthy and diverse and will contribute to the health and wellbeing of our community and to the creation of a liveable city. To link to full text click here

Key challenges

Melbourne is currently facing three significant challenges: climate change, population growth and urban heating placing pressure on the built fabric, services and people of the city. A healthy urban forest will play a critical role in maintaining the health and liveability of Melbourne. Over the next 20 years and beyond, Melbourne will experience a changing climate, becoming increasingly warm, dry, and liable to more frequent extremes of heat and inundation. The city’s urban heat island effect will intensify.

One of the important functions of the urban forest is to provide shade and cooling. Increased canopy coverage throughout the city will minimise the urban heat island effect and improve thermal comfort at street level for pedestrians. Increased water sensitive urban design will play an important role in managing inundation and providing soil moisture for healthy vegetation growth, as well as enhancing the city’s ecology.

Climate change science and international urban forestry research both indicate that a range of threats facing the urban forest will increase in the future, particularly vulnerability to pests, disease and extremes of weather. Melbourne’s residential, worker and visitor populations will increase. An associated growth in the urban forest, ‘green infrastructure’ and ‘ecosystem services’ would respond to these pressures, reduce the cost of grey infrastructure and improve the quality of the urban environment.


The recent period of drought and water restrictions triggered irreversible decline for many trees. This exaggerated the age-related decline of many significant elms and other trees. Modelling shows that within the next ten years, 23% of our current tree population will be at the end of their useful lives and within twenty years this figure will have reached 39%. To guide future planting, a series of tools and programs have been, and will continue to be, developed. Building the urban forest as a living ecosystem and ensuring that it provides the maximum benefits for our communities will rely on smart species selection, improving soil moisture retention, reducing stormwater flows, improving water quality and re-use, increasing shade and canopy cover, and reducing infrastructure conflicts.

Urban forestry is entering a new era in Australia and this strategy highlights how important it is, particularly in context of enhancing liveability and adapting to predicted climate change. An urban forest provides a multitude of benefits for ecosystems, the economy, and community health and wellbeing.


Photograph source: City of Melbourne

Principles, strategies & targets

The vision is of a healthy, resilient and diverse urban forest that contributes to the health and wellbeing of our communities, and to a liveable city that will create better urban environments for everyone. The principles outlined in the strategy are to guide decision-making to create a future forest. The strategy highlights proactive and adaptive management, and will transform an asset that has a current amenity value estimated at $700 million and a future value that is potentially priceless.

The strategy’s guiding principles are to:

  • mitigate and adapt to climate change
  • reduce the urban heat island effect
  • become a ‘water sensitive’ city
  • design for health and wellbeing
  • design for liveability and cultural integrity
  • create healthier ecosystems
  • position Melbourne as a leader in urban forestry

The strategies and targets proposed to achieve this vision are:

  • Strategy 1: Increase canopy cover Target: Increase public realm canopy cover from 22% at present to 40% by 2040.
  • Strategy 2: Increase urban forest diversity Target: The urban forest will be composed of no more than 5% of any tree species, no more than 10% of any genus and no more than 20% of any one family.
  • Strategy 3: Improve vegetation health Target: 90% of the City of Melbourne’s tree population will be healthy by 2040.
  • Strategy 4: Improve soil moisture and water quality Target: Soil moisture levels will be maintained at levels to provide healthy growth of vegetation.
  • Strategy 5: Improve urban ecology Target: Protect and enhance a level of biodiversity that contributes to a healthy ecosystem.
  • Strategy 6: Inform and consult the community Target: The community will have a broader understanding of the importance of our urban forest, increase their connection to it and engage with its process of evolution.

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