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.
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.
Find out more about ancient woodland here – http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/about-us/ancient-woodland-restoration/ancient-woodland/what-is-ancient-woodland/
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.
Trees and woodlands are important in their own right, and important as habitats for other beings. They are also part of our cultural heritage in the UK. When it comes to cultural heritage protection, we seem to be better at protecting things humans have made, than the context in which history has happened. I could get into a long diversion here about what kind of human cultural heritage we protect and what we don’t, but today is all about the trees.
Trees and woods have a huge place in our history and culture. What is Robin Hood without Sherwood forest, or Macbeth without Birnam wood? Consider our green men and jack in the greens. The role of the greenwood, merry or otherwise in our folklore is massive. Our forests are the places we dream of when urban life is too much for us – whether that’s Shakespeare’s As you Like it in the forest of Arden (now gone) or Tolkien’s Mirkwood (aka the forest of Arden) our dreams and stories are full of trees.
The forestry history that produced wood for ships and made our navy possible is worth a thought. I’m no fan of warfare, but there’s no denying the role of wooden ships in our naval history. Look at any historic house, and you’ll be looking in part at wood from historic forests. The house has the better chance of being protected as heritage.
Every wood has its stories.
For more information on tree heritage, visit The Woodland Trust https://treecharter.uk/principles-protection.html
Most of the leaves are off the trees now in the area where I live. One of the more noticeable features of early winter, when there’s no weather drama, comes from this change. Winter is perhaps most easily noticed in terms of cold, storms, frost, snow and so forth, but British winters often aren’t that dramatic. Engaging with the season means noticing what else is going on.
With the leaves down, sky appears where, previously in the year I could not see much sky. The view from the window I sit in when working is dominated by trees. In the summer, my view is mostly leaves. However, I can now see a lot more sky. This can be especially good around sunsets, and sometimes I see the moon through the bare branches.
When I’m walking at this time of year, views become available to me that I just can’t see in summer. Seasonal shifts have a significant impact on my relationship with the land. In some ways, winter can be more expansive, with more sky, bigger horizons, more views into the distance. It’s curious because we tend to associate winter with drawing in, looking inwards and being more interior with spiritual practices. However, it is the time when we might most readily see further, and see more. The bones of the land appear without the leaves to cover them.
The best time for planting trees is when they don’t have any leaves on them – it’s less disturbing to the tree and they’ll likely do better as a consequence. The downside of this is that tree planting is a cold business and the soil may be very wet or very frozen so it can be dirty and hard work. Still, it’s absolutely worth it if you can manage it.
Tree planting used to be part of my seasonal activity, and it was something I did as part of my Pagan practice. I believe in trees – which isn’t a difficult thing to do. Trees take up carbon, clean our air, provide habitats for insects, birds, mammals and reptiles. They’re good for human mental health, and I’ve run into evidence to suggest we’re better people when we have trees around us. We’re less violent in the company of trees. That trees are a force for good doesn’t take much belief at all.
We need more trees. In terms of action against climate change and a way of dealing with flooding, they’re an excellent option. Planting trees is a way of being part of the solution. It’s a real and uncomplicated action you can take to help tackle the problems we face. It makes a difference wherever you do it.
If you’re in the UK, The Woodland Trust has free tree planting packs for schools and communities, there’s other options too for land owners, or you can buy tree packs or single trees. Wander this way to learn more http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees/
I’m hoping to get back to tree planting next year. I have a plan. It pays to start thinking about it well ahead of time because if you don’t have land of your own, you need to find somewhere you can plant, which takes time. You’ll need to talk to people, and you may have to educate them, or persuade them. You may need to do some research about the best kinds of trees to plant in the spaces available to you. You may need more people involved. Start thinking now, and you’ll have a much better shot at planting trees next year.
Photo from The Woodland Trust – Community Tree Pack. Tree Saplings, Tree Tubes and Wooden Stakes on Pallet. Photo by: WTML
The last Saturday of November each year is Tree Charter day. The aim is to get people to celebrate the value the importance of trees and woods.
The Charter for Trees, Woods and People was launched in November 2017. Not only is it a celebration of trees, but also a commitment to protecting them for the future.
You can find out more about the tree charter here – https://treecharter.uk/
You can add your name to the charter here – https://sign.treecharter.uk/page/6023/petition/1
Photo from The Woodland Trust, re-used with permission: Winter conditions in Ledmore & Migdale Woods, Woodland Trust, Spinningdale, Sutherland, Scotland. Photo by: John MacPherson/WTML
In the spring, beach leaves are a pale and delicate green, the sun passes through them easily and there’s something enchanting about a beech wood in direct sunlight. As the year advances, the beech leaves darken to a deep green that doesn’t let very much light through.
However, come the autumn, trees pull what they can back out of leaves, and the dark green fades to a delicate yellow, and then leaves turn a coppery colour before they fall. The impact on light in a beech wood at this point is startling.
A lot of light comes through the pale yellow leaves, but, filtered in this way it comes through as much more golden. If there are also fallen beech leaves, you get the amazing effect of honey tinted light interacting with coppery tones on the woodland floor. It’s a subtle thing, something you could miss if you weren’t looking for it. If you stop and pay attention, it’s quite a remarkable sight.
Beauty is around us. Re-enchantment is an everyday option if you go looking for it.
Ancient trees in fields are wonderful – I found a number of them at the weekend. In a field, an ancient tree has the space to really grow, and as a viewer, you have the luxury of being able to see it well from all sides.
Field trees are not the norm in agricultural landscapes because they make it harder to move big machinery around. In a landscape with the hedges grubbed out to allow the movement of big machines, there will be no ancient trees standing in the middles of fields.
Field trees are more likely to remain where animals are farmed – providing shelter and shade through the year. For an ancient tree to have survived the medieval period of grubbing up everything to plough the land, it likely needs to have been part of an estate. Large trees are often found in the parks of the wealthy – later on they were grown for their picturesque qualities. An estate might also cultivate large trees for building material. Sadly, a tree, or a woodland is most likely to survive when someone considers it useful in some way. If the land owners wanted a hunting preserve to play in, the wood survives.
Sometimes field trees exist because they were part of a farming style that deliberately mixed tree cover with animal husbandry. This might include pollarding the trees to provide food for livestock. A former pollard will have a broad trunk and then a cluster of branches at above head height.
Some field trees are lone survivors of former woods – you can spot them because they tend to be less spread out and taller. Sometimes former field trees can end up surrounded by woods- again, the shape gives them away and the trees around them will all be obviously a lot younger.
Fields of monocultures, devoid of hedge and tree are little more than industrial units. Nothing much lives there that does not directly serve humans. A tree is a sign of diversity, of life, of there being more going on in a landscape than human business.
The horse chestnut near my flat decided to get autumnal some weeks ago. Partly because of the drought I expect, and also partly because it has some sort of tree disease and tends to shed its leaves early. Said horse chestnut has nearly bare branches already and what leaves remain are the kind of brown most other trees won’t develop for more than a month.
Around it, most of the other trees are still green. At this time of year, the green of leaves is dark and tired looking compared to the fresh, bright tones of spring. A few of the trees are also yellowing – ash and elder specifically. These are usually some of the first trees to turn at this time of year. At least here. I have no idea how exactly autumn plays out anywhere else.
I think it’s really important to observe the seasons as they occur for you, not as they are supposed to occur. Far too many pagan books tell us what the eight festivals mean in terms of nature, and are mostly wrong – because of regional variation, shifts from year to year and so forth. No one can tell you how the wheel of the year will turn for you.
It’s also good to think about key seasonal markers and what those are for you, and how they manifest around you. What kind of trees grow where you live will very much affect your experience of the season. If you mostly live with evergreens, you won’t have colourful leaves. Here it’s predominantly beech, so those tend to turn a little later than ash and chestnut, and produce intense and coppery colours. For me, full on autumn is a beech wood, but for my husband who came from Maine, autumn means maples and birch, which we don’t have in the same way. We get the odd birch, but not enough to define the season.