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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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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