A Landscape For Bees


By Kacper Zrabkowski and Pip Howard

The new Quince Honey Farm, (QHF), development in South Molton, North Devon, has developed the first bee-specific designed landscape for bees in the UK, spread across 53 acres.

The decline of insects internationally is an issue which threatens us all as it is a precursor to the collapse of all ecosystems everywhere. To seek solutions towards reversing this trend in a managed landscape is imperative. This project is not merely a case of ‘getting it right for bees equals getting it right for all’ –  but there is also a clear need to do everything to ensure an overall increase in biodiversity, not least in the soil.

In the UK there have been numerous factors which have helped towards the decline in pollinating insects, principally, but not exhaustively pesticide usage, excessive nitrogen in soil (which is not suitable for many wildflower species), decline in beneficial trees (particularly the demise of Elms) and trends in home gardens (the trend of close cut lawns and hard landscaping or ‘maintenance free’ gardens).

There has more recently been considerable attention given towards planting with bees in mind, due to the loss of bees of all species but until the QHF project there has been no single large landscape project where bees come first. The new QHF bee landscape has to be an attractive landscape for humans to wish to visit but the principle aim is to create conditions to ensure the optimal landscape for bees to thrive and to produce honey. Several branches of land management are involved; agriculture, silviculture, and horticulture and it was clear from the outset of the project that the plethora of information available in the UK media was still deficient so that there was no possibility of the project linking to any particular single source of research or guidance.


We have tried not to be too critical of good advice online, but such information  is largely useless in landscaping terms for several reasons and we try to highlight problem factors below. Media led advice gives rise to problems in much of the land industry, particularly in horticulture — where such coverage influences an army of amateurs hoping to achieve what they see on TV or in magazines.

These factors include:

  • localised factors of soil, climate and other edaphic factors make any ‘national’ guidance unsuitable except in certain locations. Media supported sales particularly of seed, promotes homogenised habitats to such an extent that it may threaten the very animals it purports to help ‘save’. The habits of these animals will be in tune with localised factors.
  • The plants cited as bee friendly, (and a little googling will highlight many ‘lists of top ten plants for bees’) have no standard classification to award them the status of bee friendly. In some popular brands of plant and seed sales ‘bee friendly’ logos appear on plants which may be F1 hybrids and other varieties, which are completely unsuitable.
  • A single but critical piece of advice is that it is wrong to remove dandelions and other weeds of high value to pollinators to make way for ‘bee friendly’ plants of considerably less value. The more dandelions and clover in your lawn the better for bees.
  • As with so much in the UK land industry the desire to follow the most innovative has led to destruction of the traditional to the detriment of sustainability of a landscape or garden. To plough up existing headlands or dig out weeds in a garden bed to make way for ‘bee friendly’ plants is bizarre considering the existing vegetation is often far more suitable.
  • Habitat is vitally important; it is simply pointless to just plant flowers without considering whether the wider area is suitable for a bee’s other needs, including water. A good rule of thumb is to consider the surface area of the landscape – a single mature field tree can have as much surface area as several football fields, often more than the field the tree is within. Increasing the surface area within a  landscape allows for an increase in bee and other wildlife.
  • Often cited as an axiom, ‘build it (or ‘plant it’) and they will come’ is only true if more research is done on local factors and should not be used as a ‘get out clause’ – an ‘offset’ of sorts.

The wealth of existing knowledge from an established successful honey producing firm was not only the primary source of information for the QHF project, but the most vital in ensuring that the project was fundamentally successful. Many of the existing areas and landscape features will be maintained and when possible expanded. Much of the core design was based on local anecdotal knowledge. This was then expanded in a manner to enable a huge range of additional plants and habitat types. These we will watch and study.

W D J Kirk & F N Howes’ Plants for Bees ¹, which has a large, comprehensive list of garden plant species and some of the more common native plants and trees, is a good source for those seeking to help bees. This book helped us select many species for the nectar gardens –  the principle horticultural area of the project. The growing conditions, particularly the slightly acidic and heavy clay reduces our choice of species significantly. The book also raises questions as regards land management, and the QHF project hopes to provide answers for this part of North Devon.

The other important factor is how to determine what exactly are the most attractive plants for all species of bees? Is it possible to segregate planting areas to appeal to any single bee species? Any and all information on honey-yield quantities is therefore very useful. On the other hand for Bumblebees and other native (non honey producing) bee species we are reliant on trials of plants recommended through existing research.  We, therefore, have also turned to European sources of information, where much more work towards definitive lists of plants has been produced. In France a comprehensive guide, published by the Government² allows for quick cross referencing against a much wider selection of plant species. Particularly interesting is the list of trees. Good research from Poland, where some of the most comprehensive yield data can be found, has further helped us to add many plant species onto QHF land.

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There are several plants and trees of high value to pollinators, but which are also highly invasive in the UK landscape to the detriment of the wider environment. Just because they are attractive to bees does not make them ‘wildlife friendly’, These include Rosebay Willowherb, Robinia and Impatiens (an abundantly flowering plant one of the balsam family including ‘Bizzy Lizzy’) .

Plants, the food source for the bees, are only a part of the needs of any bee species. The honeybee is of course lucky to have all its nesting requirements, as well as supplementary food, supplied by beekeepers.  For other species the preferred habitat required is not a wild landscape but a managed, traditional landscape. Whilst there is no evidence that a more complex landscape matrix is beneficial to bees, it is true for much other wildlife.

Hedgerows are the most valuable of landscape features for bees that we are lucky to have in abundance in North Devon. Although hedgerows continue to be our most effective element in the farmed landscape, dividing land into use parcels, they continue to be removed and are often at risk. Hedgerows were often planted to separate different qualities of land, and for water management purposes, rather than simply as boundaries. The surface area of a hedgerow can often effectively quadruple the field it surrounds and will enrich the plant species mix by several hundred percent. The range of potential bird nesting sites within a hedgerow is vast with a guarantee of little disturbance. At QHF we have extended the existing hedgerow network and also included a sample of each of the six main hedgerow types found in Devon, from the coastal drystone-faced hedgerows to the Elm based hedgerows of South Devon. Hedgerows are relatively easy to build, although labour intensive – but the rewards are huge.

Woodland There exists on the land a significant amount of riparian woodland, principally Alder, Willow, Hazel (coppiced) and Ash. The ground cover for this woodland has been diminished due to a lack of management in the last 20 years. Selective thinning and coppicing is now allowing a more beneficial native ground flora to thrive. The woodland is to be extended by well over an acre – but planting includes an unusual range of native trees, including much Small Leaved-Lime (Tilia cordata). Lime trees are of significantly high value to bees and in the South Molton vicinity there exist a number of mature lime trees, indeed most of the mature street trees in the town are large leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos). The landscape matrix with plenty of small woodland is clearly of significant benefit to all bee species, but more research is required to understand optimum conditions within a bee’s range.

Woodland trees provide a stable source of nectar and a large and vital source of pollen. The adoption of management techniques which work alongside the bee’s annual cycle has never been deliberately carried out before, neither on existing woodland or new planting. At QHF we are planting all species in clumps to ensure further study of the usefulness of these species for bees.

Farmland & Headland Cropping for bees is rarely considered beyond headland planting, (the buffer zone between the field boundary and principal crop). In order to ensure maximum effectiveness of the crop in the long term flowering crops are a given, together with a sufficient range to encourage a wide range of the species of bees. At QHF the large scale planting will allow for research into the economics of planting solely for honey production in this area of North Devon, to the benefit of all wild flora and fauna.

Riparian Areas It is wrongly believed that riparian areas and watercourses as a whole are of lesser importance to bees, however not only are many water and riparian plant species of high nectar value, bees clearly utilise open sources of water every day using the water not least to make honey the right consistency. The existing watercourse on the estate is a fast flowing stream, of little benefit for bees seeking to collect water. To remedy this, a substantial new lake, with slow flowing stream and an additional shallow ‘wildlife’ pond have been created, which will provide numerous opportunities for water collection as well as increasing the biodiversity of the estate considerably.

Meadow and Parkland The majority of land at the project will planted with crops  high yielding in nectar and pollen for honeybees. A substantial additional area will be grassland sown with a large percentage of perennial plants of high yield for bees, predominantly Dandelion, Vetch, White Clover and Black Medick. A bi-annual cutting regime will need to be timed in order to enable maximum flowering potential. So that the public can access the grass areas, pathways will be mown.

Other Landscape Features Non-woodland trees: our work includes substantial planting of standalone trees of high value to bees. These trees will mature to provide an increase in surface area without affecting any ground flora of high value.They will at the same time enable a wider range of ground flora species because of the shade they cast and how they affect the surrounding soil. We are trialling a quantity of unusual international tree species and these include Mimosa, Eucalyptus species and fruiting trees.

Drystone Walling: much of the construction of hard landscaping has been done using drystone, (quarried from site). These walls are of huge benefit to insects and other beneficial animals, (toads, newts, lizards, slow worms and cavities constructed for hedgehogs). The surface area of a dry stone wall is claimed to be 230 times greater than a mortared wall. Wildlife tends to move in rapidly and the walls will allow us and visitors easily to monitor the biodiversity of the site.

Clumps: planting in clumps has proven to be better for the longevity of many tree species as well as enabling better resistance to pests and diseases, largely due, it’s believed, to interactions in the rhizosphere. Deadwood: the placement of deadwood and other organic waste material allows for a rich habitat for microfauna instantly. We have buried deadwood in many areas as a form of innoculant to the heavy clay soil. Deadwood will also be left above ground in places, principally as a habitat for microfauna and insects – which in turn will invite in other larger animals to initiate and maintain an ecosystem. This we predict will add to a matrix of ecosystems across the whole project.

There is money in honey and the QHF project aims to promote the financial rewards of apiculture against agriculture in the North Devon landscape. The initial results should be in within 18 months, with significant consequences for the benefit of all and proof that a truly sustainable managed landscape need not be reliant on grant funding.  It will also re-introduce supportive incomes back into this particular farmed area not least as a visitor attraction.


¹ http://www.plantsforbees.org/

² https://www.jardiner-autrement.fr/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/liste-des-plantes-attractives-pour-les-abeilles.pdf



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In praise of shade..

These long hot days are amusing to any foreigner in the UK as the Brits don’t do heat and try and ignore it and carry on regardless. Yet casually watching the world go by, one cannot help but notice we are all heading towards the trees. But it is not just the people, but the very landscape itself which starts to head towards the trees.

The map, doing the rounds on the media, showing the browning rural landscape of the UK from space also highlights where all our trees are and just how few there are left.

Look more closely in the sites where the dry weather continues and for many working with the land there is much to be deeply concerned about. Years of abuse to the soil has led to serious threats to our most basic agricultural and horticultural practice, when we should be able to easily cope following the winter we just had. Our resilience to extreme weather in terms of land management is worryingly poor.

Yet where there is a healthy rhizosphere, (the underground ecosystem attached to the roots of trees), there are fewer problems. This is not just true of our woodlands and despite us not fully understanding, indeed not anywhere close to fully understanding, the importance of the rhizosphere our hedgerows and well planted non woodland and urban trees are coping remarkably well – creating a refuge we all and our animals head to automatically.

The soil beneath a tree has a underground population of microbes and fungi which has through the protection and nourishment provided by the phyllosphere, (the ecosystem of the tree canopy), created a soil that can cope with the dry weather for a significantly longer period, indeed in many of our most naturalised forests and woodlands it can easily survive the worst of predicted heatwaves.

Quite why we see so much spending into climate resilience when the answer is, literally often, tapping on our bedroom windows is not just weird but dangerous.

The use of trees to advance as a civilisation has been forgotten in the 21st century to all our peril. Trees are our greatest tool towards surviving climatic catastrophe to our crops and our way of life in general, and as the sunburnt residents of Sheffield can testify to, we fell them with stupidity.

But without learning how to deal with our soils properly, we cannot truly get to roll out solutions for all. Learning what and how our ancestors constructed and maintained our hedgerows and using skills and knowledge to ensure surface groundwater is fed back into our soils is an absolute necessity.

Handel’s opera commences with an aria sung by King Xerxes in praise of the shade of a Plane tree, clearly a nod towards the large scale remodelling of European cities to incorporate tree lined boulevards for the benefit of all and as huge leap in the progress of civilisation.

We have the trees, tools and knowledge to repair our civilisation – but the fact that this is not on the agenda at all is yet another monumental and perhaps impossible task for our future generations.

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Arboreal Bullsh*t and the Brexit Blues…

Last Friday I did a talk in a Devon seaside town, the evening was beautiful and the door was left open as I ploughed through photos of the arboreal delights of Devon. During a wee intermission I had the misfortune to engage in a conversation with a little old lady who was attending – I was sickened by her comments, which led on from the need to grow local provenance trees into a rascist rant from her, which I cannot bring myself to repeat… The saddest thing is that this is not uncommon – it is what to expect of England now! And this is the direct result of the appallingly crap mainstream media of the UK.

Very belatedly there is talk of finally trying to toughen up border security to prevent the flow of pests and diseases brought in on plants imported from within the EU – with blame firmly attached to UK membership of the EU for a failure to do so up till now! This is pure nonsense! The UK had the right to install suitable measures since 2009. Why it choose not to is probably better answered by the horticultural industry and some of our NGOs! This nonsense was not only spouted on BBC4’s Today programme but also within the RFS journal and is just as much nonsense as the ludicrous claim that there are more ancient trees in Britain than in France and Germany put together.

It all plays rather neatly into the hands of the unscrupulous councils, NGOs, businesses and other organisations that see a carte blanche as a very wonderful way of making lots of money. Indeed Sheffield City Council and its’ brazen ignoring of the Aarhus convention are leading the way with their street trees for biomass scheme in partnership with Amey. Brexit will be abused, no matter what promises are made.

I am, despite being trolled and called some of the most offensive names I have ever been called because my twitter hashtag contains ‘European’ in it, actually no big fan of the EU, which clearly needs some serious work to live up to it’s burgeoning reputation in the UK as a symbol of anti-fascism. Having witnessed first hand the influence Syngenta has within its funded research as well as the poor handling of mass tree felling in Poland, Czech and Romania, one cannot but question its stance on human rights easily, even though it is an area I have no experience or information about.

But this doesn’t excuse the UK seemingly choosing Brexit as an excuse to rip up all the rulebooks and continue to chase the ‘Singapore of Europe’ dream, because this will ultimately have disastrous results on the UK landscape.

The UK is in a position to genuinely lead the world; it is the first country to take the plunge into a world where sustainability has to work and it is best placed to do so having been the first to see the agricultural and industrial revolutions through to their inevitable conclusions. It has the geography, geology and range of landscapes to be able to research and further land management sustainably for the benefit of all.

But it is abundantly clear that ‘for the benefit of all’ is a phrase that is simply no longer relevant in this country that has so much to offer but nothing it wants to give.

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The Future of British Trees is Dependent on Those in the Communities in which the Trees Grow.

Our trees are awesome. These incredible, carbon munching, landscape making organisms are much cleverer than we ever thought and much, much older, (proven by 18th century landscape art). Micro- evolution has allowed for site specific growth habits for every possible set of soil and climate variable, indeed trees actually create the soil, stabilise the landscape and can alter the climate.

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Trees are the answer to most of our environmental problems, including in the seas, as trees provide the base material for products that can replace plastic.

However in the UK, despite the existence of the largest tree and woodland NGOs in the world, our non woodland trees are being destroyed at an extraordinary rate and any British advances in tree research are simply ignored. The arb industry have tools which make things worse; like Airspades – which blast the rhizosphere away and are yet used in investigating roots?! We are busy destroying trees in the belief that they destroy our infrastructure and landscape features when actually they were often planted as integral elements to the success of such infrastructure and landscape features.

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6 fully mature roadside hedgerow trees felled within Dartmoor NPA boundary.

The importance of trees is swept aside with the reasoning more can be planted. But this just isn’t true! Mainly because we are not very good at it, losses are huge of the cheap imported, frankly crappy, trees we are planting.

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One, of a whole site, newly planted tree buried, with little chance of survival. Development site within South Hams AONB.



Buried mature trees, at the same development site within South Hams AONB.


We aren’t even planting enough in the first place. Promises of replanting are increasingly rarely carried out.

The Sheffield debacle has exposed, amongst other things, in regards our trees; the lack of legal protection; the weakness of policy and guidance; the dangers of a poorly regulated biomass industry; and, yet again, the extraordinary cost to the taxpayer councils are willing to pay out to prolong protest.

It is all well and good to highlight the ludicrous situation we are in when our Foreign Minister states that there is no tree over the age of 200 in the UK or that elected Councillors are prepared to do ‘Trumpesque’ battles with world renowned tree specialists on social media, but this does little to actually change policy making, but clearly creates even more belligerence from our policy makers.

Meanwhile, people seem to be taking the future into their own hands; hundreds of people will attend a Wassail on a cold January night – numbers that any church, indeed cathedral, or NGO PR event would be ecstatic about.

A child planting dozens of acorns has achieved more in one year than most salaried PR staff of any of our national tree or woodland organisations

And I know of at least three local planting schemes where the trees have been grown, (River where the Oak trees), and planted by schoolchildren, taking more care to do so than many of the underpaid, overworked employees of landscaping firms subcontracted for the plethora of unaffordable housing development schemes. There is strictly no PR, no fuss – just doing it for the sake of realising it is important to do so.

The many hugely successful small, local planting projects or one off events ties in nicely with the wave of new research proving the genetic variation tree by tree in our landscapes is so vital in providing an effective barrier against climate change, pests, pathogens and diseases.

The only solution we have left is education, to tell the truth about trees to future generations and highlight good practice (made easier by the huge amount of bad practice we increasingly see in all our landscapes). I hope my generation will be the last to put up with the flooding of disinformation from a lazy media, the abuse of power by policy makers who have forgotten they are there to serve and the money grabbing by incumbent organisations without care about the real issues at stake – including the most awful fact that we are losing more trees annually than any preceding year.

We have failed in regards our trees, it is up to us to provide all the information and tools to enable our children to create the legacy we should have provided for them to provide it for their children. 





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Britain the Best Place in the World for a Non Woodland Tree Safari – but come quick!

For those interested in large land mammals a safari in the Serengeti would be among the top locations in the world to visit, for those interested in sea-life the Great Barrier Reef would appeal and for those interested in trees Britain is assuredly one of the best sites in the world.


And as the animals of the Serengeti and the Coral and associated fauna of the Barrier Reef are under great threats, not least from climate change, the trees of Britain are also. Britain is a managed landscape, honed into great beauty by humans. There can be no where else on Earth with the variety of species, the uniqueness of each specimen, when you include all the urban, garden and parkland landscapes also.


I have often heard the erroneous claim that there are more Ancient Trees in England, indeed in one park, than in France and Germany put together. Such sheer nonsense betrays what can be celebrated. Particularly if we celebrate all trees.

And this variety, which parallels the extraordinary variety in the geography, geology and therefore soils of this island, means that we must surely have below our feet seething populations of micro-fauna that change metre by metre helping to alter the physiology of trees that are actually the same species. The salt soaked Quercus petraea on the edge of the South West’s Ria Estuaries are simply not the same as the Quercus petraea on the hilltops just behind.


And in our Cities we have planted in private and public land the most extraordinary collections of trees. Even on the streets themselves…. however these trees are heavily threatened by Trumpesque politics as in Sheffield, where the Council are guilty of nothing short of landscape fascism by supporting their PFI partners Amey in felling healthy trees with abandon.


Image from the Sheffield Tree Campaign.

How long before many other trees, in all landscapes suffer the same threat as the biomass industry seeks to swallow as much as it can?

I am shocked and saddened that we have lost the ability to get things right, far too many are merrily planting the wrong trees and felling the wrong trees. The arb and forestry industries are forsaken and usurped by frankly anyone who cares to, and many do.

Is it too late? It does seems so as those prepared to campaigned for the rich, enviable arboreal heritage of Britain now get arrested for doing so.


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Sheffield’s Arboricultural Arisings -Green Washing Green Waste

Electricity generated from biomass is spuriously subtitled as ‘green energy’, it emits more carbon than burning coal, yet is sold as ‘renewable’ – so therefore it is the axiom forestry is sustainable = that any and all trees burned can be replaced*.

Visit the Côte d’Azur in October and you will not fail to notice the heavy smog, the result of many hundreds, if not thousands, of large bonfires, burning the garden waste accumulated during the ‘no burn’ season. It is heartbreaking, and lung damaging, to watch so much potential energy wasted. To take the green waste away is a huge cost, particularly galling as the waste, either as compost or chippings, is sold on again. One would think it a no-brainer to have a small local biomass operation which can collect the waste at no cost as it can earn good money from electricity sales. Indeed surely this ‘wooden gold’ should be sold to the biomass plant.

Therefore plans for regional (I have even seen the word community used), biomass plants in the UK doing just this with ‘Arboricultural Arisings‘ makes considerable common sense.

However as with so many landscape issues in the UK there doesn’t appear to be much middle ground. A good idea is something the UK habitually runs away with, investing massively, promoting via government itself, without ever answering several questions – not least ‘how are you going to meet supply demands in the least forested country in Europe?’

But as multi-national companies take increasingly larger chunks of the ‘land management industries’ pie in the UK, operating sometimes with apparent immunity to existing good practice guidance should profit margins dictate, the situation takes a nasty turn for the worse. What should provide a solid base price for all wood waste, from forestry, arboriculture even gardening is lost in a world of corporate dealings which take little consideration of source, if any at all.

I am sure that someone realises’ the fragility of the biomass industry in terms of the current global political situation, post Brexit and shades of orange fascism looming across the Atlantic notwithstanding. 1,000,000,000 tonnes of American forest are required to help supply Drax. So why is the call ‘we need to plant lots of trees quickly’ so quiet?

Perhaps, as it appears from Sheffield’s unjustifiable tree slaughter, the answer is that short term gain from felling mature street trees is enough to see us through the difficult times until we can secure a deal with another tropical or boreal forest rich nation?

The street trees belonging to the people of Sheffield are being supplied as biomass and then sold back to them as energy!

An FOI request by one of the tree campaigners in Sheffield received this response:

The trees that are being replaced as part of the Streets Ahead project are either dead, diseased, dying, causing disruption/damage to their surroundings including carriageway and footway surfacing and third party structures or are potentially hazardous/a threat to health and safety.
Trees removed are generally used in the biomass industry. Amey, however, work with local community enterprises, charities and community groups to ensure maximum benefit to the local community.
*Replaced. The word ‘Replacement’, enshrined in planning requirements for trees, is something we surely need the forestry and arboricultural industries to define better. The difference between the volume of a mature tree and its’ replacement (increasingly in urban areas the sickliest of saplings) discount its purpose in providing longevity for biomass supply let alone the supply of all the myriad of other benefits a mature tree provides.
The volume and surface area of trees are being ignored too readily by too many.
Meanwhile the forestry industry, 10 times that of fishing and with a really strong future is all but completely forsaken – lost in the bottom of ministers in trays, whilst investment opportunities in biomass are found towards the top.
The UK’s obsession with large scale biomass allows the energy industry and politicians to sit amongst real champions of renewable energy in the false believe they are their peers. In order to cut loose from this deception – pay serious attention to the forestry and arboriculture industries instead, who are the only people who can deliver into perpetuity and with real green credentials.



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Secrets and Lies in the English Landscape

England’s green and pleasant landscape is the most expensive in the world. The money paid into it for the protection of it per hectare is more than anywhere else on the globe. The land values themselves, even for a patch of consolidated wasteland, would make anyone from anywhere else in the world gasp.

So it should, surely be an exemplar for the world. The range of rich soil, the climate, the abundant sources of knowledge of how to maintain land for the benefit of all and a large customer base of financially secure people, should mean that the English landscape is thriving socially, economically and environmentally. It is far from such.

Why do we see so many hectares of land which can only be maintained into perpetuity by volunteers and charity funding? Land management industries are on their knees, poorly paid, with little investment. And there is still a rapid and scary decline in wildlife – forecast to only get worse!

The polarisation between the conservationists and the shooting, farming lobbyists and / or developers (all as right wing as each other) is extreme and widening day by day. In the middle the media roam wild taking sniper shots at different interest groups to keep this long running war going.

Combine this polarisation with the disparity of wealth between protected landscapes and everyday landscapes and it is obvious that with Brexit thrown in also the perfect storm looms large on the horizon.

At this crucial moment therefore, it is absolutely vital to stop the continuation of lies that have layered the landscape and guide so many commentators towards making statements that risk actually being listened to, or worse – acted on. Although I fear that much damage has already been done – landscapes have clearly been divided up, resulting in a disparity that sees the landscapes of the wealthy also receiving the majority of available funding.


When, and lets be frank here, dangerous ideas such as Biodiversity Offsetting, Re-Wilding and a plethora of other anti social at best, deeply misanthropic at worse, actually become goals of many national NGOs, even Quangos, on top of having dismantled and redesigned the European Landscape Convention into ‘The Landscape Declaration’ , we are looking at straightforward fascism.

Community simply means Volunteers to many, if not most, commentators, PR teams and others linked to NGOs and Quangos seeking grants, publicity and writing policy briefs.

The monopolisation of sectors by the NGOs furthers this fascism. How can an National organisation pretend to be helping campaign for community woodland or street trees, by way of inviting stories, celebrating trees etc., when at the end of the day it has centralised policy, which cannot reflect the plethora of local interests of any particular tree or even woodland. If they are offered cash to provide suitable replacement trees (and you cannot replace a tree! it accrues value, it is not a car!) – they will take it and in doing so usurp the right for a local person to campaign for their tree.


There is a growing amount of commentary highlighting the problems, it cannot continue to be hidden by the PR teams, but they will try. Social media accounts are ‘blocked and spammed’, trolling and payments made to google advertising to affect search listings. It is all very similar to the campaign pre EU referendum or the US election. I know because I have had it done to me!

Our landscapes have long been in the ‘post truth’ era, fake news is rife. It is those, the majority of people and the majority of our natural features and wildlife, in everyday landscapes who are forsaken in favour of ensuring the protected landscapes win all.

The everyday landscape is not under threat – it is being destroyed. Look no further than the slaughter against advice of Sheffields’ trees – which are then supplied as biomass for power to be sold back to those who have had their trees stolen from them. With fracking, the poor positioning of solar farms, wind farms etc., non protected landscapes really are nothing else but a potential energy source.




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The ‘Trees in Between’ Can Help Empower Communities.

We now all live in the most tumultuous of times since WWII. The very scary move far right in England and the US hides, but is also an effect of, a plethora of other problems in virtually all economic, environmental and social issues in all landscapes.

All these issues are interconnected by one very strong hub – your home. And as we all struggle with the direction our politicians and media have taken us it is inevitable we turn to our immeadiate surroundings, our community for security.

And of course this means we rediscover or notice for the first time the real beauty of our place.


However for far too many of us the political has changed the beauty of our place, leaving scars that are far too deep to ever heal:

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Photographs by Brian Mosley, Sheffield.

Discussing identity and where you belong has started to gather momentum, but with caution. And as I discovered when involved with an EU funded landscape research project, people, very understandably and quite rightly, are cautious of discussing their landscape. Perhaps even more so as the wheels of the political cart come loose.

As I have worked as an outsider coming into a variety of landscapes across Europe for all my life, (unlike many desk bound commentators and researchers, but as with most practitioners in land based industry), I have had to always take time to consider into site specific management, amongst a huge and complex set of factors, that most intangible of factors: Love. Love from those that own or live in a place for that place and what it contains.

Every few months yet another new phrase crops up to describe what is now widely recognised as an essential approach to landscape decision making, particularly in regards consultation; ‘Bottom up’, ‘Community Led’, ‘Place Based’, ‘ Big Society’ etc,. So we know all too well what we need to do, but how to do it properly remains elusive in the text of the majority in the great library of initiatives, strategies etc. The realisation that a landscape and the natural and historic features within it can only be identified and protected accordingly by those that are there, is indisputable, but nearly always ignored in any final decision, in favour of a ‘top down’ or centralised approach.

The problem is, with all the best intentions in the world, anyone trespassing into a community, is actually crossing into another’s territory. In Europe local communities’ strength has been slowly but surely conquered by international or national media. And now issues far removed now dominate and divide resulting in votes being cast that have no real local relevance and ultimately further destroy that community.

The challenge for all those involved in the protection and preservation of working landscapes, urban or rural, and the features natural and man-made is to go small to get very big.

Trees have been essential in creating the world in which we can exist, they are essential in maintaining it for our benefit, for our very existence. It is time we take trees far more seriously and politicians much less.

And trees, in my opinion, are a great starting point, due to the unarguable axiom that they are the largest natural feature in any given landscape, to get back in touch with our place. Every community is as unique as it’s trees and vice versa. Every community I have visited has at least one, usually several, incredible arboreal facts within its boundary.

oldwaychestnut Sweet Chestnut in the grounds of Oldway Manor, Paignton.

On the national or indeed regional level, it is incredibly important to identify the different types of tree, their purpose and values towards installing legislation. But how can the quarter acre garden with over 40 different types of conifer, or the tree avenue planted in memory of a good WI chairwoman and the plum tree that fed children for 3 generations in an allotment threatened by development be recognised and duly protected?

A community must be given it’s own power to identify what is special, what is threatened and only then be given the help it needs to help it’s trees. And ALL trees matter!

The trees in between are those over looked by so many; garden trees, street trees, nationally or internationally uncommon not just ancient or attractive trees, trees painted by artists, trees which have inspired writing, etc, etc, etc,.

Take any given community and it would be a lifetime’s work to compile the necessary information for a comprehensive tree strategy. Therefore it is vital to introduce additional tiers within the community – rather than sit back and allow a nationwide NGO to ‘take charge’. Amateur historians, geographers and artists are amongst those who can help, but they must first be introduced to just how important trees were in the past.

Our ancestors used trees in ways we are only just beginning to understand. Instead of continuing the image of the impoverished, rather stupid and dull peasant highlight their brilliance in establishing flood alleviation schemes and other drainage by way of dry stone walls and hedgerows and the many other uses of trees to benefit all as well as many other site specific ancient arborengineering techniques. 

Better understand how the geography of the landscape lends itself to establishing trees which produce the very best produce possible for that location, knowledge lost post the industrial revolution – but many trees still survive.

In every community art thrives and in many locations it has for many years, providing a record and a value on trees which would otherwise be ignored.


 The tree on the left is quite clearly the same tree as painted by Thomas Walmsley 215 years previously.

Practitioners and those that represent practitioners have a golden opportunity as so many live and work in the same place. It is time for us to engage across disciplines, time for some of us to ignore general media and certainly politics and get behind our people, in our communities to protect our trees, our real way of life – our children and show others how it can be done. Trees are an international symbol of peace, but they are real, they are actually there and they can help us if we recognise them properly – but we have for far too long neglected them.

  I ſhould only obſerve with regard to trees, that nature has been kinder to them in point of variety, than even to its living forms

William Gilpin 1791


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Our Street Trees ARE NOT Your Highway Trees

The long awaited Draft Sheffield Tree and Woodland Strategy is open for consultation until the 1st December.

This 14 year plan could so easily have been something special – progressing the management of all trees in England. Instead it is largely a pooling of sound bites from recent years from a variety of sources together with some slightly tenuous examples of initiatives, I accept this is a document for the public and every and any opportunity to ‘spread the word’, but….

Street trees are predominantly dealt with in 3.11, which in my opinion deserves a complete re-write. Not least because they are termed Highway Trees.

‘Street Trees’ in this document are not clearly defined and the value of all the trees in the care of Sheffield City Council have been lumped together, more than hinting towards easily allowing ‘offsetting’ as and when SCC feel like it, which should not be allowed.

Planting a plethora of saplings in the corner of a field does not, can not replace a mature street tree.

There are some worrying statements within the text, which make this neither a progressive strategy or indeed regressive – but sets a new, very low, benchmark, which should be of huge concern to all in the tree care industry. The text more than hints at what is a hard ‘top up’ approach, particularly in regards the community interaction and the consultation processes. It is, very regrettably, another example of the new and disturbing politics of present day Europe and the UK in particular. However, I do understand this is a first draft and sincerely hope this ignorance of modern consultation and community engagement can be rectified.

The lack of any budget or indeed any economics is a glaring omission. As the Sheffield Street Tree situation has highlighted so many flaws with the management of ‘Street Trees’, I, again as many others, thought the opportunity for Sheffield, with its exceptional stock of trees, would and with ease aim towards a platform which would allow Sheffield to become the exemplar. Statements such as “The tree is self set – in an inappropriate location and is likely to cause problems in the near future” are spurious at the very least. Leading to too many questions such as ‘Why is any individual tree in an inappropriate location?’ ‘Who decides this?’ How long is the near future, given the lifespan of a tree?’ etc., etc.

The missed opportunity to install a standardised ‘individual tree report’, understandable to all and registering the qualification of those inspecting the trees, is sad.

Sheffield has highlighted how using the public’s concern about trees could have been of financial reward rather than added costs to taxpayers because of invoking protest.

It is therefore disingenuous to refer to the Independent Panel on Forestry, whose work was based on listening to protest from the professional community as well as local protesters towards their final report. Sheffield have shown little willing in engaging with protesters and indeed the many international tree experts who have commented and even travelled to Sheffield to assist.

I fear this draft comes too late for the ‘Street Trees’ of Sheffield, which regularly published research is showing are of increasing value and importance. And deliberately glosses over the problems a PFI contract is for Street Trees, which will inevitably set a precedent costing everyone even more money as the axiom that ‘trees are the largest natural feature in a landscape and landscapes belong to all – therefore protest is inevitable’ continues to be ignored.



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Trees – The Artists’ Vision

“Well, the day is probably not far off when people will paint the olive tree in every way as they have painted the willow and the Dutch pollarded willow, as they have painted the Norman apple trees since Daubigny and César de Cocq. The effect of daylight, of the sky, means that there is an infinity of motifs to be drawn from the olive tree. I myself looked for some effects of opposition between the changing foliage and the tones of the sky.”

Vincent Van Gogh

In a letter to Joseph Jacob Isaäcson, 25th May 1890.


Van Gogh Olive Trees, Saint Paul de Mausole.


From the same viewpoint, mostly replacements but some trees still the originals painted by Van Gogh.

If art, as it surely is, a reflection on the progressiveness of civilisation, then the fact that trees are as important as landscapes and the human body to artists as a subject matter then surely this should be attributed to all trees as an extra value?

Does the value of a tree which is the subject of the work by a great artist increase? If that tree is still in the landscape can we, should we afford it greater status and protection?


Chaim Soutien, Ash tree, Vence


Still very much alive.

Of the trees clearly identified as the subject of a great work of art, there are varying ideas on how to maintain the trees, if at all.


The above is what remains of Matisse’s fig. The tree was grubbed out, thankfully unsuccessfully by the French government custodians of Matisse’s property!


Matisse 1948


This Pine tree would have been standing in the grounds of Saint-Paul de Mausole at the time Van Gogh was there, it was very likely to have been in one of his paintings. What is the value of this firewood therefore?

In Tolstoy’s estate, Yasnaya Polyana, the birch trees planted by Tolstoy, by hand, have been felled to produce a range of craft products, sold with heavy emphasis on the Tolstoy link in the estate gift shop.


Thomas Girtin. Berry Pomeroy Castle, Totnes


So many people from very different angles are trying to convey the importance and value of trees to humans and all values have to be considered. To further explore the artists vision is surely a valuable addition.

The title of this blog has cheekily been taken from the book Landscapes The Artists’ Vision , the ‘first detailed study’ plotting the landscapes favoured by artists from the mid 18th Century to the 1980’s. This work took several years as compared to my above musings, so my apologies the author Peter Howard, who should forgive me as he is also my father.

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