Anna Foley
National Trust of Australia (Victoria)

Introduction

Building on the success of the Trust Trees app launched in Victoria in 2011, the new National Trusts of Australia Register of Significant Trees website will be completed in August 2014.  This brings the Trusts’ state-based significant tree data together as one national dataset for the first time.  Over 2,000 significant tree records have been compiled over 30 years by the National Trusts across Australia.  These records represent over 25,000 trees around the country.  From the Broome to Ballarat, Perth to the Parliamentary Triangle, Ingham to Innamincka… the new Register includes trees from all over Australia.   They grow between skyscrapers, in suburban backyards and parks, in the main streets of regional centres, around rural towns and hamlets, and in the bush and outback.  Once confined to paper files and clunky databases, these records have now been updated by volunteers and loaded into the slick new National Trusts of Australia Register of Significant Trees website at www.trusttrees.org.au.

About the Register

The National Trusts of Australia are community-based, non-government organisations, committed to promoting and conserving Australia's indigenous, natural and historic heritage through its advocacy work and its custodianship of heritage places and objects. The National Trusts of Australia have collaborated to create a national register of significant trees, which is consistent with our mission to protect and celebrate Australia’s heritage.

Trees can be significant for a number of reasons, including scientific, social, historic or aesthetic significance; however the tree only needs to meet the benchmark for one of the following criteria to be included.

Horticultural

  • Horticultural or genetic value
  • Important source of seed or propagating stock
  • Particularly resistant to disease or exposure
  • Species or variety that is rare or of a very localised distribution
  • Particularly old or venerable
  • Remnant native vegetation
  • Outstanding for its height, trunk circumference or canopy spread
  • An outstanding example of the species

Social

  • Unique location or context
  • Contribution to landscape
  • Associated with Aboriginal activities
  • Important landmark
  • Spiritual and religious associations
  • Contemporary association with the community

Historic

  • Forms part of an historic park, garden or town
  • Commemorates an occasion e.g. memorial or ceremonial plantings such as Avenue of Honour
  • Associated with an important event
  • Associated with an important person, group or institution

Aesthetic

  • A really great looking tree
  • Exhibits curious growth form or unusual physical features whether naturally occurring, resulting from natural events or human intervention
  • Is a better than an average example of its species, or in its particular location

In practice, many significant trees will qualify as significant under several of the above criteria.  The Register includes a hierarchy of significance, so registered trees are listed as being of International, National, State, Regional or Local significance.

The role of the Significant Tree Committees is to seek and assess nominations for significant trees against the nationally-agreed criteria.  Significant Tree Committees in each state and territory comprise experts in a range of relevant fields including arboriculture, botany, heritage conservation, environmental management. The Committees meet at least three times per year to discuss issues regarding significant trees and assess nominations to the Register.

To assess the nominated trees, the Significant Tree Committee will compare them to other registered trees of the same species on the Register. The Significant Tree Committees will resolve the tree’s level of significance, or may reject the nomination if the tree is considered of local or no significance.  The Significant Tree Committees also promote awareness of the cultural value of significant trees, and advocate for statutory protection for registered trees under the relevant local planning controls.

From Apples to Androids

Back in 2011, the National Trust in Victoria published an iPhone app, Trust Trees, making the Victorian Register of Significant Trees digitally available for the first time.  It was funded by Victoria’s Heritage Grants Program 2010-2011 (Moore and Hughes 2014).  In its first month of operation, more than 1000 users downloaded the app; by comparison, only 21 copies of the hardcopy version had been sold in the nine months preceding the availability of the app (Moore and Hughes 2014).  Over 5000 users have downloaded the Trust Trees app to date (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1. Downloads of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria)'s Trust Trees app since its launch on 31 March 2011, through to August 2014.

The Trust Treesapp was revolutionary in turning the Victorian Register of Significant Trees into a geo-referenced database. The introduction of map functionality allowed users with mobile technology to use the in-built GPS in their smartphone to view nearby records using the ‘Around Me’ feature, which has proven popular with users frequently on the move, including arboriculture industry professionals and tree enthusiasts travelling around the state. The data is cached on the phone, meaning the app works in areas without mobile service, as all the data (approximately 270MB) is stored on the phone hard drive itself. The Trust Treesapp has a built-in feedback feature to e-mail the National Trust project officer. Members of the public frequently report on the tree’s condition, threats to the tree, photos, suggestions of better examples

in the region, and other comments about the tree.  The main limitation of the iPhone apphas been that since it was launched, the market share for Android phones has steadily grown from 35% to 80% and the number of tablets sold has quadrupled (Edwards 2014, Business Insider 2014).The increasing demand from Android and tablet users brought about the need for rethinking the platform through which the public could access the data.

At the same time, a meeting of National Trust Executive Officers met to discuss national initiatives which would be supported by state-based National Trust organisations around the country.  A national working group of Significant Tree Committee members from around Australia was formed, to collaborate on bringing together the state-based datasets into one national register.

App technology continued to rapidly evolve, and it became obvious that there would be ongoing redesign work to maintain an app, such as minor tweaks every time Apple or Samsung changed the size of their phone screen.  It was decided to shift to a dedicated website with a responsive design that adapts for optimal viewing on any screen, regardless of whether it is a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device. The website cannot be cached, so although users must have an internet connection (either using WiFi or 3G mobile reception) to view the data, it means the amount of data and quality of images is now much higher.  Underpinned by a custom-made database, the National Trust in each state and territory around Australia are able to upload and maintain their records in one place, and the information can be updated instantly by volunteers.

Volunteers around the country have contributed over 2500 person hours to preparing the data for the new National Trusts of Australia Register of Significant Trees website.  The National Register includes over 2000 records, which represents over 25,000 trees around Australia.  All eight states and territories have been involved in the development and testing of the site.  Some states have been recording significant trees for over 30 years, and some states are just now beginning to identify their significant trees.

The new website allows for nominations to be made using an online form, which is a more environmentally friendly way of processing the paperwork.  Nominators can save their nominations and return to them while they collate the required information.  Photos, measurements of the tree, a map of its location, and any information about the tree’s history are required to submit a nomination.  This data is closely reviewed by the Significant Tree Committee in the relevant state or territory, and the online nomination record is edited to reflect the Committee’s assessment.  Once the record is classified, it is simply a matter of ‘flipping the switch’ to publish the live record onto the map.

The new website at www.trusttrees.org.au builds on the geo-referenced functionality of the Victorian Trust Trees app; retaining the “Around Me” feature for ease of use, and also allowing users to tailor map-based advanced searches.

This is the first time Australia’s significant tree records have been collated nationally, and the National Trust believes making over 2,000 national records available to the public via cross-platform technology is a world-first.

References