Brimbank ratepayers have been slugged with a $60,000 damage bill to replace vandalised and stolen trees.

The council was forced to replace three saplings last week that were stolen from a nature strip in Gilmour Road, Sunshine North. The red spotted gums were part of the council’s annual street tree infill program that will eventually include 58 trees along the road.

Brimbank’s infrastructure and city services director Neil Whiteside said the trees were among 350 the council has replaced this financial year, at a cost of $60,000.

“The majority of these were vandalised, with approximately 20 of these trees stolen,” he said.

Mr Whiteside said each year the council allocated a set budget to offset trees that need to be removed or to fund residents’ request for new trees. This sum of money – $480,000 in 2016-17 – also covers replacing stolen and vandalised trees.

Friends of the Maribyrnong Valley president Judy Ingram said 25 tube stock trees were also stolen from a planting in Caroline Chisholm Park where the Friends planted last year with Keilor Primary School pupils.

“We went down to water them and there were tree guards with no trees in them, and then when the council went down after we reported them stolen they found more missing,” she said.

Ms Ingram, who has been planting trees with the Friends for 32 years, said tree theft has become more common. “I can’t tell you why it’s suddenly the thing to pinch trees, but it’s happening everywhere. We need to keep guard over our trees for five years so they can mature.”

Brimbank council has committed to planting 150,000 tube stock trees as part of the federal government’s “one million trees” project.

So far, 90,000 have been planted and another 60,000 are to be planted this year. An extra 10,000 will also be planted to offset losses.