Tag Archives: trees

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/

 

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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.


To be rich in wildlife

Today I’m picking up a principle from The Tree Charter – Sustain Landscapes Rich in Wildlife. You can read more about it here – https://treecharter.uk/principles-nature.html

When there’s scope to make money for humans, we’re all too quick to cut down trees, grub out hedges and remove wildlife corridors. We have not recognised rich landscapes as a good in their own right and we haven’t even recognised that rich landscapes are better for us.

There’s a really good article here about American studies into the benefits of urban trees – https://www.warwickdc.gov.uk/info/20323/trees/577/the_benefits_of_urban_trees.  We are better people when we live with trees. We treat each other better. Trees make us better humans, while sterile, human-made but actually inhuman landscapes make us into our worst selves.

I haven’t picked up any links for this, but I gather from the Woodland Trust’s Broadleaf magazine that studies are under way into what happens when you have more trees around crops – and the answer is that you sustain the insects who predate other insects, and you get a more self-sustaining system. Richness and diversity in the landscape means viable eco-systems which in turn means a better environment for us. There’s nothing self-indulgent or ‘hippy’ about protecting the environment and all that lives in it – this is self preservation. A sterile environment will not support us.

The word ‘rich’ is important here, I think. Humans tend to think of richness in terms of money. A human-centric view focusing on something that is of no use in itself and that only works if it can be traded for something usable. However, environmental richness cannot be amassed as a private resource in the same way. The richness of insect populations and of birds, the richness we gain from clean air and water – these are essential. The richness of life itself is something that should be available to all of us to enjoy, and that should not be destroyed for the short term profits of the few.

If we invested in the idea of environmental richness in the same way we, as a species, have invested in the idea of financial richness, we would soon stop making such a mess of things. We’re squandering bounty because we can’t see its worth. The richness of the soil when it is full of micro-organisms. The richness of oceans teeming with fish. The richness of insect life. This is real wealth. It is the wealth that could sustain us all, and without it we cannot flourish. Invest in landscapes if you want real riches.

 


Tree love

Each February, the Climate Coalition’s Show the Love campaign invites us to talk about what we love.

I love trees. I grew up on the edge of the Cotswolds, with hanging beech woods right on my doorstep. Beeches remain my favourite tree, although I’ve yet to meet a tree I don’t like. I’ve been a supporter of The Woodland Trust for more than ten years, and a volunteer for a couple of years now, in a modest and online sort of way. My love of trees makes me want to stand up for trees, and speak up for them.

Every now and then some bright spark will suggest that we need technology to get carbon out of the air and tackle climate change. We don’t need technology, we have a solution. Trees! Trees take carbon out of the air and store it. If we plant trees, we can store carbon.

Trees are also very good at managing water flows. Plant trees, and rain gets to the ground more slowly, reducing the risk of flash floods. Root systems keep soil in place where it might otherwise be washed away by excess water. Trees put water gently into their vicinity so in dry weather, trees can make a landscape more hospitable for everything else.

Trees cut down noise pollution, and air pollution. They improve our mental health.

Usually, when an answer is simple, it is wrong in some way. Magic bullets that easily fix complex problems are rare. However, trees are a real answer to many human problems and needs. Re-forestation is a solution we can crack on with right now. Protecting the trees we still have will be effective. Planting more trees will make a difference. Trees are here for us, and they may yet save us from ourselves, if only we give them the space to do what they do best (be trees).

Love trees. Plant trees. Speak up for trees. Protect trees.


The joy of dead trees

One of the problems with humans is that we like to ‘manage’ trees, parks and woodland by taking the dead trees out. This is fair enough if they’re dead, upright and at risk of falling onto a path at no notice. Otherwise, it makes very little sense. Wherever possible we should leave dead trees where they are.

A dead tree is an amazing habitat. All kinds of insets will make homes beneath the bark. Birds will feed on those insects, and also use holes in the tree for nest sites. Small mammals, bats, slow worms and lizards can also find homes amidst the decaying wood. Mosses, fungus and lichens can all make their homes here, too.

It is all too easy to see death as untidy, or unpleasant. However, a dead tree remains a great source of beauty as it goes through the decay process. Out of its death, comes life.

In pine woods, it is usually the dead trees that let the light in. You may have miles of dense trees (usually a plantation) with nothing but old needles underneath, and then come to a place where there is light, intense green plant life, ferns, mosses, saplings – invariably because a tree has died here and let in a possibility.

The death of a tree is very much part of the life cycle of a tree. It is a good thing to witness. It gives us stories about longevity and life after death that are a lot more sustainable.

 

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Find out more about ancient woodland here – http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/about-us/ancient-woodland-restoration/ancient-woodland/what-is-ancient-woodland/


Dealing with a dead tree

In the aftermath of Christmas, a great many trees will be burned or sent to landfill. I blogged earlier in the season about alternatives to cut trees (still better than plastic trees). However, we’re now at the point where you’ll be thinking about what to do with the tree, if you have one.

If you don’t have a tree, well done! Please feel virtuous and easy of conscience at this point because you’ve already done the most environmentally responsible thing you could do on this score.

If you are in the UK, your local authority may well have a tree collection point for chipping and deployment – chipped trees can be used to help maintain paths, and this kind of re-use reduces their impact.

In some areas, charities are collecting trees for a donation, and then recycling them as chippings.

Find a responsible way of dealing with your dead tree. Don’t send it to landfill.

And really, Pagans, if you’ve killed a tree to celebrate midwinter, you might want to have a think about this.