Tag Archives: urban 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


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.


Urban trees for magical transformation

Like many Pagans, I do not in fact live in the wilderness. Most of us are urban, which makes the idea of nature as something away from humans rather awkward. How can you celebrate nature, commune with it and base your spirituality around it if nature is somewhere else? There can be a temptation to work with ideas about nature rather than direct experience. For me, one of the things that makes Paganism so good is that we don’t have to rely on what we can imagine, but can instead have that direct, first hand experience of the living world.

Urban trees can be a great way of experiencing non-human entities on a daily basis. It helps that they tend to stay put so can be visited reliably. Trees are good for people in all kinds of ways. I’ve just been sent some really interesting stuff from The Woodland Trust about how urban trees impact on us, so I thought I’d share some of that. I think there’s a lot to take on here about what it means to be in contact with trees, even in apparently unpromising environments.

I think it’s widely known that trees reduce air and noise pollution, and that a single mature tree can release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support two people. Access to any kind of green space encourages good mental health and physical activity. Urban trees help slow rainfall, and also reduce temperatures in hot weather – overheating can be a killer. Some of the impacts The Woodland Trust are reporting were more surprising, though.

Public housing residents with nearby trees and natural landscapes reported 25% fewer acts of domestic aggression and violence. I think this is a staggering figure. Humans without trees are not as functional. Further, children exposed to nature score higher on concentration and self-discipline; improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills, doing better in reading, writing, maths, science and social studies, are better at working in teams, and show improved behaviour overall. We are better people when we have trees.

One piece of tree data I found surprising is that street trees may improve driving safety. One study found a 46% decrease in crash rates across urban arterial and highway sites after landscape improvements were made and street trees were planted. Clearly, trees do not improve visibility for drivers, but they do break up the monotony, perhaps encouraging drivers to be more aware of what’s changing around them. Perhaps trees alongside roads are just calming in the way trees are other places.

I started supporting The Woodland Trust years ago because it seemed like a good expression of being a Druid, and a good way to contribute to the wellbeing of landscape and that which dwells in it. The challenges facing humans are so vast right now, so overwhelming that it can feel impossible to know where to start responding. It can feel like one person’s small difference is hardly worth making, and that can render us powerless.

We are better and healthier people when we have trees. We are less likely to kill each other. If children have better reasoning and observational skills when exposed to nature, it seems reasonable to assume that adults will too. Which means that if we want to change the people around us, helping them to be kinder, more reflective and able to make better choices, one of the ways we can do that is with tree planting. It’s a lot less emotionally exhausting than trying to reason with the unreasonable as well. Working to develop urban green spaces might move us towards answers to far more complicated problems. Trees have a magic of their own, and when people experience trees, they can change simply because of that.

Some sources –

Kuo, F.E., and W.C. Sullivan. 2001. Aggression and Violence in the Inner City: Effects of Environment Via Mental Fatigue. Environment and Behavior 33, 4:543-571. Facts reported by the University of Washington http://depts.washington.edu/hhwb/Thm_Crime.html

Sigman, A. (2007) Agricultural Literacy: Giving concrete children food for thought www.face-online.org.uk/resources/news/Agricultural%20Literacy.pdf

Donovan et al, 2013, The Relationship Between Trees and Human Health: Evidence from the Spread of the Emerald Ash Borer https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379712008045

3 Naderi, J.R. 2003. Landscape Design in the Clear Zone: Effect of Landscape Variables on Pedestrian Health and Driver Safety. Transportation Research Record 1851:119-130.

 


The power of street trees

Nothing humanises a human space like a tree. There’s an irony! When we make spaces that have nothing green in them, all we can make is cold, barren, and inhuman. We aren’t meant to live in pristine spaces devoid of other life. One of the best ways to bring life and colour to human landscapes, is by adding plants, because the plants allow so many other life forms to move in too. Being a big vertical space, trees are especially good at this.

Many years ago, visiting a friend I noticed that they were living in a place with almost no birds. It felt like a cold, drab place to me as a consequence. The reason there were no birds was obvious – small gardens boundaried by fences and not a tree in sight. The birds had nowhere to be, nowhere to feed, or shelter. I recall in contrast an otherwise rather empty public space, where there was a tree, and at night that tree filled with sparrows, and the space filled with the chattering songs of sparrows.

There is plenty of evidence out there that green spaces help with mental health. We know tree time is good for us. We know trees can help cut down noise pollution and that trees are good for air quality. We know that trees add beauty. Why isn’t every urban space planned so that it includes trees? It should be a no-brainer.

There’s a Woodland Trust Campaign to protect street trees – which are too often undervalued and as we’ve seen in Sheffield, can be cut down for really questionable reasons as things stand. http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blogs/woodland-trust/2017/04/street-trees/