Tag Archives: trees

The Big Climate Fightback

It is not enough to put less carbon into the atmosphere. We have to take carbon out. There are a number of ways of doing this and none of the solutions are about technology. We need to restore peatbogs and proper grassland where those are the natural habitats for an area. Both store carbon. For everything else, there’s trees.

We need to put back hedges and copses. We need to extend existing woodlands and plant new ones. We need trees in urban spaces. Any scrappy bit of unloved grass needs trees on it as a matter of some urgency. Establishing woodlands is a complicated business and doing it well requires knowledge of both trees and the land you are working with. When it comes to urban tree planting, there’s not a lot you can get wrong. More trees are good, and any space where a tree can thrive it’s worth putting trees in. Trees in urban spaces don’t just suck up carbon – they keep us cool which in turn will reduce our energy needs and help us cut carbon.

If you want to take action to help fight climate change and protect life on Earth, plant a tree. If you own land – even a small garden – think about what you can grow in it. A miniature fruit tree is always worth a thought. A small tree is so much better than no tree.

If you can’t plant trees yourself, see who can and support them. See what your local nature groups are doing, and what your local council may be up for. If you’ve got a local Transition Network, talk to them about it. Perhaps your local school, or hospital, or community centre has some space where trees could be planted? And again, trees in such places do so much good above and beyond their ability to take up carbon.

I’m not in a position to plant trees – I have no space of my own where I could do that. I’m going to give money to a local charity who are planning to plant trees as soon as they’ve secured land. They’re an excellent charity and I first met them planting trees on the side of the road. They’ve also got some plans afoot to plant shrubs and wildflowers – it’s all good.

If you want to take positive action quickly to help make a difference, plant trees. Give money to groups who are planting trees. Ask your local council to plant trees.

You may also want to get involved with this project from The Woodland Trust – a scheme to get a million people each planting a tree on the 30th of November.

http://www.woodlandtru.st/3ajtf

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Looking for autumn

It is the first of October, and here in the UK, there are not that many signs of autumn. Most of the trees around me are still in green leaf – a few have picked up yellow tones.  The horse chestnuts are cracking on with things, but this is in no small part because they are diseased. In previous years, their leaves have been down by this point, so they are late in their own way. Their conkers are one of the few autumnal things I’ve been noticing.

Last night was the first evening of the season when I shut all the windows. This morning, I have windows open again. It’s not super-cold, but there has been a shift. I remember camping at a folk festival at the end of September about twenty years ago and having frost on my tent in the morning. Autumns are warmer than they were when I was young.

My rose bush is blooming again. I don’t have a garden, but I do have a collection of pots, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down for the winter.

I have mixed feelings, because of course this is climate change in action, and that worries me deeply. At the same time, I’ve always found long winters hard. When the leaves come down around now, it can make for a long wintery season. Having the green still there is in many ways a comfort to me. I have committed to loving the land and nature no matter what climate change does to it, and the continuation of leaves is an easy thing to love.

The seasonal walk I undertake to appreciate the beech leaves is on hold. I have no idea when it might make sense to do that.


Trains and trees – action needed

Generally speaking I think trains are a good idea and I’m broadly in favour of developing more train infrastructure.  What I’m not in favour of is the HS2 project which is going to cost a fortune and will trash irreplaceable ancient woodland.

I’ve run into this before – where apparently green solutions aren’t properly green because it’s not been thought through properly. Yes, tidal energy is clean, but getting it by ruining the unique habitat that is The River Severn is not the right answer. Yes, wind power is good, but not if you stick massive turbines in the paths of migrating birds, or destroy a unique habitat with them.

The living environment is not some kind of luxury bonus when we’re thinking about green projects. One of the problems with reducing things to their carbon impact is that we lose the more complex, nuanced truth of the real value in our landscape. Yes, in carbon terms you can just plant more trees, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that harm has been offset. Ancient woodland cannot be replaced.

We’ve played fast and loose with our ecosystems for too long. Anything that we can’t see an immediate use for, we treat as having little or no value.  As we become more carbon aware, this may not improve things. How do you value an ancient oak, an owl or a curlew if you’re just calculating the carbon implications? It leads us to poor choices and to continue failing to understand that ecosystems are complex, delicate things. We treat a species as irrelevant at our peril.

A sustainable future means preserving as much wildness as we can. Sacrificing unique habitats for the sake of projects that claim to be green isn’t going to save us. Offsetting is often nonsense, and proposed offsetting plans seldom get close to recognising the harm done, much less mitigating successfully against it.

Find out more about HS2’s ancient woodland impact here – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/our-campaigns/hs2-rail-link/

Take action here – https://campaigns.woodlandtrust.org.uk/page/46290/action/1


The Juniper Award

A letter came last week. I checked in to make sure it’s ok to talk about the contents, and it is, so here we go…

Those of you who have been sharing my journey for a while will have noticed that I do a fair bit of talking about The Woodland Trust, tree love, tree protection and so forth. I’m a longstanding Woodland Trust supporter and for the last few years I’ve been doing some online volunteering.

The letter that arrived at the weekend says: “I am delighted to inform you that you have been nominated for the Juniper Award in The Woodland Trust Volunteer of the Year Awards 2019.”

This came as a bit of a surprise.

I’ve not been overwhelmed with awards during my adult life. Being nominated in this way means a great deal to me – it’s deeply validating of the work I’ve done, and cheering as well.

One of the things that comes with suffering depression is the ongoing feeling that nothing I do is good enough or makes enough difference. To have something I’ve done recognised in this way makes a lot of odds to me.  It encourages me to think that my love of trees is doing some small good in the world.

I’m going to dedicate this year’s inktober to tree and leaf drawings.


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.


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/