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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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.

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Van Gogh Olive Trees, Saint Paul de Mausole.

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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?

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Chaim Soutien, Ash tree, Vence

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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.

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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!

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Matisse 1948

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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.

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Thomas Girtin. Berry Pomeroy Castle, Totnes

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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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Supporting our subterranean wildlife allies in the fight against all threats to trees.

This is far from a new idea and there is a plethora of information on ancient and modern techniques to use wildlife to help lessen the risk of tree threats.

Managed trees and woodland attracts wildlife, the more wildlife the more chance that the predators; from mammals to the microfauna of the phyllosphere or rhizosphere will help defend their habitat – which is the tree itself.

But as so often too much emphasis on the innovative and usually costly techniques post infection are publicised before trying out basic, very basic, tricks to bolster the health of a forest or non woodland tree.

The problem for many tree professionals is a simple one, if we were to wait around for the research to be done, (as it should be and more, much more is needed), the problem in many locations can easily become much greater very quickly. A fundamental shift in tree management and establishment be it urban or rural locations, a single tree or a forest, has to be made now to protect for the future.

Recent research from the US on Soil Profile Rebuilding to combat against compaction was great to read, whilst similar methods which vary according to the practitioners own preference and the site specific factors are relatively common in Europe to have referenced material and an acronym is incredibly beneficial. What could be better is to start to encourage the use of techniques and materials to help create as rich, and therefore populated with beneficial microbes and fungi, a planting medium as possible.

In the Mediterranean forests and estate gardens of Southern France there have been many informal trails of using soils which have been managed to increase soil microfauna as much as possible towards a supplement when planting. The soil samples are taken from sites of different natural woodland types and whilst we don’t know what the samples contain, nor the mix for planting, the trees (matching natural habitat to tree type) treated appear to respond better to drought conditions, and other stresses, to their neighbours – only time will really tell.

We tend to easily forget just how susceptible soil is to certain contaminants, and some of these contaminants are actually believed to be of assistance (like milk or urine). combined with the all too common mistake that trees always require lots and lots of water, which in consolidated soils in particular can be fatal – any and all techniques to diffuse / disperse contaminants are of benefit and help increase oxygen levels. Tree roots and the rhizosphere micro fauna and fungi need oxygen! Therefore techniques, based on very ancient knowledge, of simply introducing vertidrains or similar help tremendously, any small hole backfilled with pea gravel which are dug through consolidated layers (bearing in mind soil shear zones, clay smearing and other types of sub surface consolidation are as bad as surface compaction), and assist with surface water run off also.

Therefore at the same time as any works to improve soil conditions for the health of the tree, both existing or new, it seems absurd not to incorporate the simple and easy techniques to provide as much homing as we possibly can for invertebrates, from buried bamboo canes to upside down clay pots within a vertidrain core. Ideas on a postcard – as I am hoping to produce a list of all techniques (both for the tree itself and the root system).

instagramcapture_09dfe57d-e5f1-49d6-ab87-2cd0bea26ab8-1   Riparian woodland, River Exe, Exeter

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So What is Terroir?

Following feedback (and some unpublishable comments) on my last blog it is all too apparent that I need to explain as best I can what Terroir actually is. It is, of course, a French word, but with no direct translation. Many US sites delve into the wine elements and Wikipedia explain it as a ‘sense of place’.

The best succinct translation is ‘The value of Soil’, but this is of course sadly lacking as to the French it means something much more than this – but this is probably because we Anglophones massively undervalue the importance of soil.

Having spoken to many French, from different regions and both urban and rural, there is in fact little variation to what terroir means to them and it is clear that there is much philosophy wrapped up in the word. ‘I taste therefore I am’.

To give it my best shot: Terroir is the marriage of all the sciences in a naturally bordered area, it is the natural and man made elements, it is the flora and fauna, it is the people, it is you and what you are looking at, what you smell and what you taste.

Terroir is a perfect landscape. One which enables the production of a food, drink or another product (for example; pottery, timber and non timber products), which is as perfect as it can be for the landscape in which it is created.

Soil is affected by everything and the more natural the landscape it will contain the greatest variety of nature for that particular climate, elevation etc.,. The greater the variety the better the taste. Cut a tree down it will affect the soil adversely. Plant a tree it will improve the soil.

Most importantly, and maybe why Terroir creates an element of concern for many ecologists and nature conservationists, is that it enables a sustainable (in the true sense of the word) strong local economy.

There are many examples of terroir areas in the UK and there are many areas where terroir does not apply in France or is abused to the extent that it is no longer applicable. Indeed the success of certain terroir produce has led to intensification which destroys the terroir and yet the product is sold as such.

It is the areas where terroir cannot happen, common in the Paris basin region of France, which are ideal for intensification. The UK are very lucky having the widest range of soil and climate zones in a very small area – thus terroir products should be of more worth than competing produce. There are many farmers and smallholders in the UK who have been highly successful at creating the very best from very little much to the chagrin of the wider farming lobby and the multinational pesticide or fertiliser companies – which is a great thing.

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Re-Wilding vs Terroir

Britain cannot feed itself, not even close. Without Scotland (The English are ignoring the Scots’ referendum result at their peril), this lack of land is made worse. To go into ‘trade negotiations’ on the back foot is bad enough, losing its largest trading partner means losing the cheap easy access to some of the best food in the world. Transportation costs will increase, congestion increased and there will be insufficient workers left to pick the food that can be grown or raised in England.

It is all too apparent post Brexit England is not prepared for the immense pressure to be placed on its rural landscape.

Whilst those involved in the management of the rural landscape consider their next move, far too many waiting to hear how where their finances will be coming from, the extremes have started shouting and will continue to, drowning out any and all moderate commentary and with it halting existing and potential good practice. Forestry, Arboriculture and a myriad of other land industry sectors cannot afford, nor should have to, fight for their own path in between a growing misanthropic nature conservation lobby against the more belligerent of the countryside lobby.

There is nonsense spouted on both sides, science twisted, truth substituted for the most spurious of spurious ‘facts’ – a strategy learned from the EU referendum campaigning, and championed by Trump.

And alongside the growth of a far right wing element in UK political commentary, ‘landscape fascism’ is gaining strength in policy discussion regarding all countryside issues. And as with the lengthy media reporting of the rise of the right wing, without hardly a nod towards the moderate, the same charge can be levied at the media reporting on countryside issues. When was the last time moderate countryside commentators were seen on countryfile? Let alone a forester!

And what else is ‘Re-Wilding’ but landscape fascism? As with so much of Monbiots’ commentary it makes for scary reading, particularly for those of us with knowledge of situations in neighbouring countries and whom might bother to read wider research on European landscapes. To merely pay lip service to those that live and work in rural communities by way of suggesting income through wildlife tourism is contrary to what happened in the Drome, Umbria or the Basque country. But as proven by ignoring the damage a healthy Pine Marten population does to pets and livestock in mainland Europe, the restricted access due to the real dangers posed by Boar or the complete lack of knowledge with regards tree planting in consolidated soils, Monbiot is simply trying to sell his writing – and could not care less about the consequences to the landscape by his disciples.

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The blithe disregard that a landscape must be worked is a serious danger to all who work in landscapes, (both urban and rural).

I visited a working woodland last week, a fantastic project which is under threat for the simple reason that it is not considered necessary by National Park planners for forestry operations to have the facilities needed to carry out the work to a profitable conclusion. It is like putting a writer in a straight jacket. And my fear, which I know is shared by many, is that the ‘Re-Wilding’ idealism can be all too easily used as an excuse for a list of constraints that prevent any and all progress if it enters the mindset of those in charge of protected landscapes – many of whom have already proven themselves untrustworthy as they happily rehash for their own PR and lobbying the ELC for their own purpose.

British rural landscapes can pay, and can pay well. Terroir enables this and Britain is unique in the world in containing an extraordinary range of soils which can a truly unique range of specialist agricultural produce, which then makes serious money. Terroir is the value of soil and thus has to protect the landscape – most importantly all the natural elements within that landscape.

There are some massive problems ahead, but the UK as a whole has an army of farmers, foresters and others able to prepare the rural economy beyond subsidy without compromising the natural environment in anyway, indeed enhancing it. do not usurp them now.

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Immigrants, Gangmasters’ and Land Industry

Whilst working on a construction site on the Algarve, an ‘illegal’ economic migrant fell to his death. As the foundations were still open, it was easy for all to simply bury the man in concrete and say nothing. An urban myth? Possibly… However similar stories are commonplace among the migrant workforce population, and some sound far too plausible to be merely taken with a pinch of salt when you come to understand the life’s these people live.

The system is not as black and white as the media and subsequently the politicians like to pretend it is. The way the migrants to Europe and from within Europe have been treated is as shameful as anywhere else in the world. The tricks and loopholes used by those society deem to regard as leading enviable or exemplary life’s to secure labour at as little cost as possible have to be exposed. And it is hardly as though it is that well hidden in the first place.

Some ‘English language’ facebook group forums in the South of France included comments discussing the Syrian refugee crisis as a positive as they would be able to profit by the plight of these people by offering them free accommodation and food in exchange for working on their estates. Mention that this is in fact slavery and expect to pounced upon as though this ‘offer’ to the refugees was a great philanthropic act.

In my last post I wrote of the threats to trees in the Cote d’Azur; a region which sets a precedence for many other landscapes due to being heavily influenced by and designed to and for the super rich. As a consequence there is inevitably huge shoals of human vultures chasing as much stray money as possible. The worst of these are the gangmasters’, it is they who prey on the economic migrants, be they legal, illegal or seeking refugee status. And they do so, as with some of the estate owners, in the full belief that they are helping!

They offer accommodation, food and a portion of a ‘salary’ every week, (often ‘looking after’ the remaining money!). Most of all they offer security, but in doing so illegalise some of those who were legal before.

And the authorities can do very little (due to the risk of offending those that governments follow themselves) except establish even more regulations – which equals more costs for legal businesses, and therefore push even more ‘clients’ towards using the highly attractive services of a gangmaster. The stereotype image of gangmaster is not what will be in your heads right now. They are usually well dressed, very amiable, speak many languages and say all the right things.

And because they operate illegally – all they do is illegal. Trees will be felled, pollutants spilled, plastics burned etc., etc.

Gangmasters undermine not only the economy, but any hope of sustainable progress and thus a real threat to trees, forests and the wider landscape.

Whilst the cosy term ‘Expat’ may comfort we Brits, we are simply immigrants to our hosts. And with Brexit comes the uncertainty of what kind of immigrant we are and how our hosts will perceive us. Then what? Do we have to enter this evidently growing world of gangmastery – either as gangmasters ourselves or their prey, as clients or even as one of their ‘charges’.

And this is no alien subject to the UK itself, whilst the problem is not as widespread as it is elsewhere, it still threatens us all. And whilst we can no longer expect any sensible debate about migrants to come out of Britain, it must be shouted more loudly and as often as possible that they are not the problem! And if we had a Europe which had bothered to discuss and put in place a strategy to truly help those seeking help then maybe we would not be pulling the rug up from beneath all of our collective feet and destroying our economy by chasing the lifestyle of people who should not and never be listened to.

 

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