Tag Archives: trees

The right tree in the right place

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.

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The invisible trees

It’s amazing what people don’t see. In cities, not seeing is an essential survival tool – this is why I don’t cope well in cities. I can spot a mouse in woodland undergrowth. I do not have the means to tune out a relentless stream of noise, cars, people, adverts and all the rest, so cities rapidly overwhelm me. To survive in a city, you clearly have to be able to tune out much of your surroundings.

One of the consequences may be that people don’t see the trees around them. Woodland Trust research found that when asked about their local street trees only 23% of people think that we need more trees on our streets. This is a pretty depressing statistic, especially when you consider how much good urban trees do. The shade and cool provided by urban trees saves people a fortune in hot weather and protects us from skin cancer. Trees improve our environments, but all too often, we don’t see them, much less what they do for us.

According to The Woodland Trust, when you get people talking and thus thinking about their trees, they become more aware of them at which point people do turn out to care. It also happens when trees are removed –in the loss of trees people may well become able to appreciate the value of what they had, but it’s a terrible time to wake up to the true value of something.  77% say they would miss their street trees.

We don’t protect what we don’t notice. We don’t value what we tuned out. No doubt most city dwellers would be very aware of the change if all the people and vehicles they routinely ignore suddenly weren’t there. The same goes for trees. It’s no good only recognising the value of things we have lost.

I will leave you with Joni Mitchell…

 


Plan for greener local landscapes

One of the topics in The Tree Charter is the idea of planning for greener local landscapes. This has obvious implications around protecting and extending existing woodland, but it’s also highly relevant when we think about planned urban environments. The use of the word ‘planned’ here is an interesting one – how much are cities and towns deliberately planned? How much are they made up as we go along? It seems to me that cityscapes are dominated by what commercial enterprises want to build.

What if cities were designed for the benefit of people? If we started from the idea that urban spaces should serve people, we would plan trees and green spaces into them. We’d do it to create spaces for leisure and exercise, for the mental health benefits trees give us, for the cooling benefits of tree shade, the reduction in light and noise pollution, and the biodiversity benefits.

Look at where you live and the odds are, the build human environment has been designed to either deliver profit or minimise expense. If an urban area has been designed to be beautiful and green, the odds are it’s a tourist spot, or home to the especially affluent.

What could a planned urban environment give us in terms of benefit to humans, and benefit to all living beings? What would our lives be like if green spaces were considered essential for everyone? What would cities look like if trees became a real priority in designing spaces?

There’s nothing to stop us doing this. Urban spaces are human constructs, we could build them any way we like. To do that, we’d have to decide that something other than profit is the most important consideration, that efficiency may not be in our best interests in all things, and that creating the worst possible environments for our poorest citizens isn’t clever or responsible.

More Tree Charter information here – https://treecharter.uk/principles-planning.html


Trees in Summer

Step from the heat of the day into the forgiving shade of trees, and you’ll appreciate just what a blessing trees are. There’s more going on in tree shade than in other such cool spaces. On days of sticky humidity, the shade of trees is refreshing. When everywhere else is parched and dry, it often remains softer and damper beneath the trees.

Trees in our urban environments help bring the temperature down. This can be a life saver – high temperatures kill. It also brings down the cost and the amount of energy required to keep a space at a temperature humans prefer. Tree cover reduces our cancer risk as well.

In urban parks on hot days, it’s the tree shade that attracts people.

Without trees you don’t get much of a dawn chorus. You don’t get moths or bats, both of whom need trees to shelter in. Urban trees can support a surprising amount of wildlife. Where there are urban trees, there can be large flocks of sparrows for example – one of the many species we’ve pushed towards the edge.

While the utility of trees is something we need to take seriously, there is far more to a tree than its usefulness. Most will live far longer than an individual human. They are powerful, transformative influences in any landscape and simply, they have the right to exist. They do so much for us, and yet we measure them in terms of any mild inconvenience they may cause.


Your favourite tree

Do you have a favourite tree? Do you have a favourite species? The second question is easier for me because that’s beech. I like all trees, I’ve never met a tree I didn’t appreciate. Beech trees are the dominant tree of my landscape and I love them dearly.

There are many individual trees I know to look out for when walking. Larger, older, more dramatic, or inhabited in certain ways… and of course I have particular fondness for the trees closest to my home.

The single tree that looms largest for me is not the biggest, though. It’s probably old because the species is slow growing, and by hawthorn standards, it is an unusually large one. The tree in question is in a field, just over the other side of the fence from a cycle path. There’s a spring that emerges somewhere around its roots. It has presence. It is a definite candidate for being the sort of folkloric hawthorn that fairies might frequent.

There’s a fence between the path and the tree, so I’ve never been right up to it, but usually when passing, I stop there briefly to listen to the spring and look at the tree.

I’m not going to nominate it for Tree of the Year – the location means I have little hope of getting a photo that would do it justice. It’s not a tree you can easily see in one look/photo. You, however, may have a favourite tree that photographs well and could therefore be nominated. If you’ve got a tree in your life you’d like to celebrate, have a look at http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/tree-of-the-year-2019/ and for more information about Tree of the Year nominations, go here – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/press-centre/2019/05/tree-of-the-year-nominations/

 


Flowers, margins and trees

Where I live, we’re now at the point in the year when the summer flowering has begun in earnest. Many of the spring flowers appear in the woodlands – getting in before the canopies closer over. The summer flowers can generally be found at the margins – woodland edges, alongside hedges and on road verges. My locality is blessed with some large open commons where orchids and cowslips bloom in profusion at this time of year. We also have a lot of fields that are rich in wildflowers.

There’s been a great deal of intense growth in recent weeks. The cowparsley now comes up to my waist. The cleavers are, where they can lean on anything, about the same height. Ragged Robins, campions, great hairy willowherb, tall grasses and all manner of other wild flowers abound. Beautiful to look at, sometimes challenging for the nose and eyes!

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Margins tend to be the places with most biodiversity. The edges of woodlands are especially lively places. What ideally we need are large woodlands with plenty of room for open glades, thus maximising the scope for life. Butterflies especially like this kind of habitat. One of the reasons cutting small areas of woodland in cycles is good, is that you open up more margins.

Of course to many people this seems unnatural – humans manipulating nature. However, you have to consider what is no longer in most of our woods. We don’t have wild cows, let alone giant aurochs. We don’t have wild boar in most woods, or wild horses or ponies or anything else that might clear out areas of low growth. We used to have these larger mammals. We also used to have beavers.  It is their activity, in the past, that would have created clearings, and in the case of beavers, would have created pools as well.

The other major mechanism for naturally creating clearings is the death of old, massive trees. For this, you have to have a steady supply of massive ancient trees. We don’t have those. There are no giants whose falling will open up a large area – certainly not in most smaller woodlands. We’ve got hundreds of years of work to do if we want to restore them.

Our woodland ecosystems are damaged. If we want the best woodland we can have – and by best I mean most diverse and able to support the most life – we have to help. At least for now. Perhaps one day we’ll have enough woodland to have room to support the boar again. Perhaps the European program to recreate aurochs from what’s left in the DNA of domestic herds will work out… perhaps we’ll have our beavers back to manage water systems and thin out trees. If we get there, we won’t need people to do the work, but in the meantime, people are needed to make up for what’s missing. We have to compensate for the mistakes our ancestors made.

The image in this blog came from The Woodland Trust (with permission) and you can find out more about how The Woodland Trust takes care of woods here – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/about-us/ancient-woodland-restoration/ancient-woodland/why-is-ancient-woodland-special/ 


Recover health, hope and happiness with the help of trees

This blog is inspired by the principles of the Tree Charter – find out more about it and how to get involved, here – https://treecharter.uk/

There’s no doubt about it that time with trees improves our mental health. They offer a great deal of good to our bodies as well – cleaning air, cooling urban environments and rural ones alike, holding moisture in the soil. Having trees makes for good human habitat. They protect us from excess sun and thus from skin cancer.

Re-greening a landscape is a reliable way of giving people hope. A dead, dry landscape doesn’t support life and offers humans nothing – except the drama of exposed soil. A green landscape can feed and shelter us, give us respite from the weather and blesses us with beauty. In most parts of the world, planting trees is the way to overcome environmental degradation. We have to plant trees and protect the trees we’ve got, and find ways of living on the land that doesn’t strip life back to the soil.

Humans don’t thrive in sterile environments – be that an urban sprawl, or a landscape we’ve ravaged. We are kinder to each other when we live alongside trees. We thrive in gentler, leafier landscapes. Agriculture works better in landscapes that aren’t denuded of trees and shrubs – the soil stays put in heavy rains and insects are present for pollination. If we only thought of trees in terms of how much use they provide to humans, we should be planting trees everywhere we can, with great enthusiasm.

Of course when we plant trees, we benefit more than ourselves. We benefit every creature for whom trees are a habitat. We can restore ecosystems and bring back diversity of life. If there’s any pockets left of an eco system, we can give it a fighting chance by expanding the trees and connecting up the surviving landscapes.

Tree planting gives us the best hope of reducing the impact of climate change, and surviving the changes it will make.


Horse Chestnut in May

The tree that has most folkloric associations with May is of course the hawthorn – whose flowers are also called May because they appear at the start of the month. However, the tree that has most impact on me at this time of year, is the horse chestnut. This is simply because there’s a large one right outside my window.

Over the last few weeks, my chestnut has come into leaf. My view previously had a lot of sky in it, and now it is a vibrant green instead. It’s a dramatic seasonal shift for me, because my workspace is at the window facing the tree.

In recent days, the horse chestnut has flowered – producing tall white candles of blossom in great profusion. It’s a lovely sight, and I appreciate it every time I look up from the keyboard – which is a frequent occurrence.

Here’s a lovely video from the Woodland Trust tracking a year in the life of a horse chestnut –

 


Seasonal greening

There have been leaves emerging and plants growing in my area since late February. However, in the last week, there’s been a distinct rush of growth as many of the trees have come into leaf. The difference has been visible day to day.

The slowest trees – the few local oaks – still haven’t started, and the ash is slow. What dominates around here is beech. The smaller trees have their leaves, and the large ones clearly aren’t far behind. From the hilltops you can see how patches of woodland are developing – and each wood is different depending on how its slope relates to the sun.

For me, the new beech leaves are a seasonal wonder. They unfurl as flimsy things, incredibly pale so the light passes through them. When the sun is on them, they seem to glow, and they slightly colour the light as it passes through. A spring beechwood has a distinctly otherwordly feel to it.

As the year progresses, the beech leaves become darker and more substantial. The whole character of the woods changes, as shade deepens.

Alongside the trees’ unfurling leaves, there’s an eruption of foliage at ground level as well. On the commons, the cowslips are blooming in great profusion, and I’ve seen a few early purple orchids.

As the leaves change, my relationship with the sky will change, too. With the hotter part of the year underway, I will seek the welcome shade of trees, and tend to avoid the large open skies – except at twilight. I’m grateful for the opportunities to do that, also.

 


Spring Views

In a landscape dominated by deciduous woodland, the views change with the season. Once the leaves are on the trees, it can become harder to see any great distance. Views are caught occasionally, through the gaps.

We have a history of cutting down trees to create views. The eighteenth century notion of the picturesque landscape had landowners creating views by cutting down trees. This movement has informed landscape art and is part of the story of what we tell ourselves a good view means. We expect distance, drama, and plenty of scope for looking at it. Where the views are to be enjoyed, and where the trees are to grow for being viewed distorts the landscape itself. If we’re trying to make it something pretty to look at, if we want to see the dramatic shape of the land, we take out nature to replace it with human ideas of beauty.

We may see beauty in landscapes that are ravaged. If we come to them not knowing what should be living there and how they might look if we’d not pared them back to a few inches of closely cropped grass, we may perceive the drama and not the damage. The Lake District in the UK is an example of a close grazed landscape revealing the drama and views of big landforms. It is a landscape that should have a lot more trees in it. That we want to have a certain kind of experience when looking at it has an impact on the land.

Seeing a long way should, I think, be treated as a seasonal activity. It’s a pleasure available in spring before the leaves emerge and in autumn after they are gone. We can have the trees and the views, if we don’t insist on having the views all year round.