The suggestion of new woodland to help towards tackling flooding is not new. But the risk in pushing policy solely towards increased ‘native woodland’ creation turns heads away from the more important role our non woodland trees have in flood prevention; trees which in the main have been planted or retained by humans to help maintain a sustainable landscape for humans to live, work and profit from.
The British media are always far too keen to publish anything that polarises a debate. Whilst it is true that modern agriculture has helped to accelerate run off and thus add to flooding, to suggest to ‘go back to basics’ and simply plant more woodland, or even further re-wild areas, merely creates division. So stakeholders are divided – and at risk of being conquered. Resulting policy making does not automatically follow a middle road, as one would assume, but instead takes elements of the two extremes – resulting in a stalemate and the continuation of power to those who shout loudest, who rarely represent the industries concerned and certainly not the local voice.
Riparian hybrid Ash
All trees outside of woodlands and forests, be they on a hedgerow or planted in an suburban garden, help to reduce flooding risk. Of course they cannot replace the need for flood prevention infrastructure as the pressure to utilise what little land is available is too great. But many ignore the fact that many historic landscape features, particularly those with trees were created with water management very much in mind.
The British landscape is a man made landscape, the majority, if not all, non woodland trees in that landscape were planted or retained by humans. They may not be working as well as they did – but that is because so much has been lost.
Riparian woodlands doing what they do best, filtering and slowing down floodwater.
It is also fair to say that attention to soil and tree roots when planting trees are, and have been for many years, blithely ignored in favour of design for design sake.
Research into trees is still very limited, there is so much to research. Our scientific and practitioner knowledge are yet to level up let alone progress. I would guesstimate we are well short of 10% of the knowledge we really need to truly value the importance of trees. But it has to be accepted that practitioners know more than other group.
And we have lost a huge amount of knowledge. Prior to the Industrial revolution it is clear our forebears had the knowledge and the skills far beyond those of us today in being able to manipulate trees to provide services well beyond the limited functions we ‘sell’ trees for nowadays.
The new ‘hedgerows’ we see are rarely anything more than just strips of tree planting. Many new woodlands, particularly those planted in good faith by volunteers, will take many, many years to resemble woodland aesthetically and a lot, lot longer before they match biodiversity of true woodland – if ever. We should be maximising planting in areas where the transition into woodland is easier, such as the Caledonian Pinewoods. But we should be accepting that most other tree planting is much more for us than it is for nature. After all the public don’t hold the view we in industry have of a clear distinction between plantation and native woodland, as was demonstrated so clearly during the campaign against the PFE disposal. Neither do the public hold a distinction between the trees and patches of ‘scrub’ in the urban or peri-urban landscape against those in protected landscapes. Policy makers can ignore this easily, but the costs involved when protest occurs is something no one should ignore as it costs all taxpayers, particularly those in the local landscape concerned.
The only solution is to accept that the only people knowledgeable enough to plant the right tree in the right soil for the right purpose in the right landscape are the arboriculturalists who live in that landscape. They are the ones capable of not just understanding why their forebears planted trees, but also of engaging with the communities concerned.
Sadly far too often such knowledge is sidelined, indeed stolen from them. And the arboriculturalist is left doing the only task deemed worthy of their skills – felling and not even allowed to explain the reasons for doing so.
We see increasingly on social media the practitioner base campaign as much for the protection of trees, if not more, than the public they serve in their own landscapes. The image of a chainsaw wielding arborist is simply not realistic, as any true professional understands that the sustainable management of trees = a sustained income. In general media the arboricultural community are under a glass ceiling above which commentators are happy to say whatever they wish and it is frankly disgraceful that on occasion images are used of the UK practitioner base to highlight deforestation issues?! It is not a case of bad PR by the arb industry it is just a case of stronger PR by others, content in reinventing the wheel, over and over again to sustain a ‘story’ and thus an income.
As the arb and forestry industry, again partly due to the shake up of the sector due to the campaign against PFE disposal, take to twitter, facebook and elsewhere their voice is slowly being heard. Their questioning of judgements made by other’s who, quite wrongly, use ‘landscape’ to justify their actions will eventually win over.
And as finally academics and others recognise that the protection and maintenance of landscapes not only has to be bottom up, but fully acknowledges the need for qualified practitioners we may yet see a reversal in the general disenfranchisement of arboriculture and finally watch the sector take its lead at the head of realising a resilient landscape through the management of its greatest natural feature – trees.