I’ve been saying for a while now that trees have the potential to save us from ourselves. Their ability to lock down carbon, stabilise soil, control water flow in heavy rain and keep soil moist in drought makes them singularly well placed to help us tackle climate change. But of course, it’s more nuanced than that. Planting trees is good – but only if you have the right tree in the right place.
First up – no guerrilla planting. It may seem tempting, subversive, radical, and easier than getting permission, but, a tree that isn’t wanted will probably die. If the land owner doesn’t want the tree, they may take it out. Trees need care, an untended tree is more likely to die. You may not know what’s going on with the land in question and you may harm a vulnerable species if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Know your trees. If you are planting non-native species, you are probably causing more harm than good in a wild environment. Know what belongs in the landscape. If you are planting fruit or nut trees, that’s great – but only in the right environments – farms, orchards, urban spaces, gardens etc.
Know your landscape. Trees do better when the land suits them. Alder and willow don’t mind having wet feet, the same conditions do not work well for silver birch. Hawthorn and blackthorn are great in hedges, ash and sycamore are not because they grow too quickly.
You may need faster growing trees – for example in a park, and might put a few slow growers in amongst them for longevity. You might not want to put spiky trees in a play area. Or yew trees for that matter – which are poisonous and have pretty red fruit. Elms have a nasty habit of dropping branches so maybe don’t plant them next to the footpath. Lime trees drop sticky stuff and make car owners grumpy so if you plant them where people park, there will be pressure to cut them down. That’s just a small selection of possible issues.
There are some places we shouldn’t plant trees at all – places with thriving eco-systems that don’t work if you add trees to them. Flower meadows, grasslands with orchids and larks in them, former bogs that need restoring… there are places it is best not to add trees.
There’s a lot to be said for taking it slowly. Find the land to plant on first. Then do the research to find out what should go there. Then plant trees.