Why we need to save Bangkok's urban trees


In March, a group of protesters marched to Chatuchak District Office to show their anger at the cutting down of trees at Bon Marche Market. At the same time, TV presenter Chorpaka Viriyanond called on Bangkokians to band together to save urban trees. Since then, the Big Trees activist group has joined with some 65 organizations to form the Thailand Urban Tree Network (goo.gl/3UZH9s). BK chats with two of their team, Chanadda Damngern, 23, of Urban Tree Care (goo.gl/Kbsj8L), and Oraya Sutabutr, 47, of Big Trees, on how everyone can help make Bangkok greener.

How did Thailand Urban Tree Network form?

Oraya: It’s like a time bomb finally went off. In recent years, Bangkokians and people in other provinces have witnessed the hasty treatment that various government departments, including Bangkok Metropolitan Administration [BMA], have given to trees. This ranges from overzealous trimming to rapidly expanding deforestation. 

How does the movement work? 

Fang: We will stick to the Chatuchak model, which simply asks everyone to be our patrol officers. Anytime you see trees treated badly, please post a picture on social media with the hashtag #สายตรวจต้นไม้ [tree patrol officer] to report the incident. We will notify the relevant department or send our arborist teams from Urban Tree Care [goo.gl/Kbsj8L] to share our knowledge for free. We have carried out work in many Bangkok districts already. 

What’s the real problem behind Bangkok’s tree management? 

Fang: We have found that many of the problems stem from a lack of staff who have really limited time in which to trim trees. They get something like 40 orders a week to trim down trees, whereas arborists like us will take a day to take care of one or two trees. By trimming trees using the right methods, the BMA could reduce the workload tremendously. If you allow a tree to heal correctly, you don’t need to bother it for another year.
Oraya: The BMA’s key performance indicators are also terrible. They use the number of trucks used to carry the branches of trees to evaluate how much their staff have worked. So if they don’t fill lots of trucks with trimmed tree branches, that means they are lazy. 

You said Urban Tree Care offers its services for free; how does this work? 

Fang: We’re a tree care service run by students from Urban Tree Care School [goo.gl/gZOAy1], which was formed by Taradon Tunduan and Big Trees to specifically tackle tree problems. To make money, we work with organizations or companies to help them take care of the trees in their area; one example is Central Chidlom. It seems that demand for arborists is now rising as people have started thinking about the right ways to treat urban trees. Though I had already studied Conservation Biology, the school made me realize our knowledge of urban trees is still just developing. 

Apart from posts, likes and shares, how else can we help protect trees? 

Oraya: It’s all about education. We regularly organize courses at Urban Tree Care School to create more arborists. The main reason we formed the company was to educate people on how we can make the city better by taking care of trees. When a tree falls, people are quick to blame the tree but they don’t realize that improper care can lead to a tree’s roots shrinking. There was a successful case in the Taladnoi neighborhood where people were afraid that a giant banyan tree was making the area too dark and that it would fall when a storm hit. Our school helped them trim the branches and now the community is cery happy with it. 
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