When it comes to trees, passions can run high. Just think of the outcry last year when Sheffield residents realised that the city council had chopped down more than 5000 street trees in the previous five years, with another 12,000 set to go over the next 20 years.
Many were perfectly healthy with decades still to live but, as part of the Streets Ahead project to maintain roads and pavements, saw themselves replaced by saplings. After vociferous opposition, the scheme was initially put on hold until a new staggered approach was announced, with some of the original street trees shown clemency and retained indefinitely.
Love thy tree
A few years ago, my own neighbourhood was up in arms when a 130-year-old elm tree that had survived the ravages of Dutch elm disease was threatened with the chop. Its roots, said Brighton and Hove council, were damaging the pavement. The community mobilised with a petition swiftly gathering steam, the support of Green MP Caroline Lucas, and an overnight vigil staged up in the branches.
Once again people power prevailed, a stay of execution was granted and Seven Dials celebrated with a party around the elm. It’s a tree that I pass almost daily, have done so for almost 25 years, and simply can’t imagine the area without it.
This year, to mark its 100th anniversary, the Forest Commission of England is calling on people to pay tribute to trees by writing a letter, poem or story about the trees in their life.
I am torn between the much-loved local elm, the veteran yew forest of a childhood spent in Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve, Sheffield Park’s giant redwood with its awesome girth, or the legendary oak at Hatfield House where, in 1558, Lady Elizabeth Tudor learnt of her succession to the throne (and which is now the inspiration for the annual Folk By The Oak festival).
Today is the International Day of Forests so what better day to sign the Charter for Trees, Woods and People which, among its many principles, commits to protecting irreplaceable trees and woods, planting for the future and making trees accessible to all.
In Britain we have just over three million hectares of woodland, a figure that’s doubled since the Second World War, thanks largely to the sterling efforts of the Woodland Trust. But that still translates to just 13% of the country being covered in trees, compared with 38% for the EU as a whole. Meanwhile, pollution, disease and encroaching human activity are all cause for concern.
Last year for example, it was reported that a deadly fungus which causes ash dieback was spreading quickly through the UK’s ash trees and that millions of diseased trees near buildings, roads and railways will have to be cut down.
The importance of trees, both for people and for nature, can’t really be stated enough. Whether you’re an armchair activist or a fully-fledged eco warrior, take inspiration from Richard Powers’ The Overstory, “the best novel ever written about trees, and really just one of the best novels, period” (according to American author Ann Patchett). And then go hug your favourite tree.
keeps different time;
slow hours as long as your life,
so you feel human.
So you feel more human; persuaded what you are
by wordless breath of wood, reason in resin.
From Forest by Carol Ann Duffy
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