Case studies: Urban forestry, Melbourne, Australia

Adding ecology to urban forestry: Melbourne’s journey

Case studies: Melbourne

Close-up of the biodiversity planting on Clowes Street, successfully attracting pollinators. Image credit: City of Melbourne

The City of Melbourne is a world leader in urban forestry – combining an ambitious vision with outstanding delivery. Drastic water shortages and extreme overheating events were turned into incentives and organising principles for using trees and other plants to increase resilience to climate change and pursue world-class standards for liveability. There is a lot to learn from these achievements, as well as from the city’s growing focus on urban ecology.

When queried about good references in urban forestry, Melbourne is typically among the first suggested by expert audiences. What has led to such notoriety? What can others learn from the City of Melbourne’s urban forestry and wider urban greening work? Where is this work heading now?

The millennium drought (1997 to 2009), rising temperatures and an ageing tree population threatened Melbourne with an environmental challenge, one that could compromise its ability to achieve high liveability standards for a rapidly growing population. This created an imperative for city officials to take steps to manage the effects of higher temperatures and unpredictable climatic events.

One of the immediate responses to the drought was to control the use of water. As a result of its Total Watermark: City as a Catchment Strategy (first released in 2009), the city succeeded in reducing water demand per head by nearly 50 percent. The city administration also developed a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for mitigating the effects of extreme heat and other risks induced by climate changes. Public realm trees were identified as a critical, yet threatened and underused asset. As a result, in 2012, a 20-year Urban Forest Strategy was launched. The strategy aims to double City of Melbourne’s public realm canopy cover from its baseline level at 22% to 40% by 2040. It also aims to increase urban forest diversity, so that the city-owned tree population is composed of no more than 5% of any given species, 10% of any genus and 20% of any one family – a goal following an urban forestry good practice known as the “Santamour rule”. Improving vegetation health, soil moisture, water quality as well as urban ecology while keeping the community informed and involved are additional objectives pursued.

2020 Green City Guidelines Green City Case Study Collection Green City Briefings: Urban Forests


T: +44 (0) 1235 776230


Latest posts

AIPH Green City Briefings Showcase Application and Benefits of Urban Greening

The AIPH Green City Briefings 2024/25 series, which launched on 16th May, demonstrates how successful integrated urban greening provides benefits…

12 December 2024 - , 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm GMT, Online

AIPH Green City Briefing: Promoting biodiversity across the city

14 November 2024 - , 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm GMT, Online

AIPH Green City Briefing: Growing trees for climate change resilient cities

Did you know?

A minimum of 3,000 trees are planted across Melbourne’s public realm each year.


Delivery partners

  • Client (project sponsors): City of Melbourne Parks and City Greening Department
  • Advisors: multiple universities
  • Horticultural maintenance professionals: Serco, Nature Links, Citywide Trees,

Funding mechanisms

  • Between $2 and $2.3 million AUD drawn from the City’s annual capital works program are allocated each year to the implementation of the Urban Forest Precincts Plans.
  • The streetscape for biodiversity project draws from the urban ecology capital works budget and by integrating with other capital works projects. Considerable in-kind support in the form of advice, writing and editing was provided by researchers.

Plants in numbers

  • A minimum of 3,000 trees are planted across the city’s public realm each year. Numbers allocated specifically to Precincts Plan streetscapes vary each year, but typically make up about 10 percent of that number. This might sound low, but it is important to note that precincts plans streetscape enhancements generally involve significant improvements to the growing environment and layout which means the canopy cover outcomes for these will be much greater than typical plantings.
  • Trees are typically sourced from five different nurseries in Victoria and two others interstate, but the City of Melbourne’s Parks and City Greening team is always exploring new options for diversifying its supply chain.

Further reading

  • City of Melbourne’s web page on its Urban Forestry Programme (provides links to Urban Forest Strategy and associated Precinct Plans)

  • City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Visual

  • Flinders Street: Example of street redesign project, initiated to facilitate tree replacement scheduled as part of the implementation of the City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy

  • City of Melbourne’s Nature in the City Strategy

  • City of Melbourne’s Biodiversity Visual

  • City of Melbourne’s Streetscapes for Biodiversity project

  • City of Melbourne’s Urban Nature Planting Guide: the plant palette identified for bird-, butterflies- and pollinators-friendly understory planting identified through the Streetscape for Biodiversity project

  • Living Melbourne: a metropolitan-scale strategy for Melbourne’s urban forest and other urban greening initiatives

Download case study