Our Knowledge of Trees is Still Minimal

Whilst we can now use the meaning of our landscapes to progress land management using the strength of integration between all involved, we need to remember that a tree represents far more. The intrinsic link trees have to us as people, their role in governing the most important factors for our survival as a human species one would assume is unquestionable.

A tree may well be a simplistic image in landscape terms, one of a number of answers a child may give having been asked what is contained within a landscape. But a tree is both finite and infinite to us as humans when considering our own lifetime and it is thus arguably the most fragile and important elements of a landscape.

To many from the policy makers and practitioners through to those who inhabit the most remote of forest scapes the idea behind having an ‘International Year of the Forest’ is a scary reminder of a lost connection – Have people really reached the stage where they need reminding of the importance of our trees and forests?

To this the answer is clearly yes, the void of knowledge between the majority of the human race, particularly its ever growing urban populace and the progression of sustainable forest management as a necessary goal for the survival of mankind has been spreading for over 2000 years.

It is a fact that historians have ignored trees, thus leading to general ignorance in terms of their significance and thus is renewed in each new generation of those destined to govern us. The ignorance of the importance of trees for previous generations is clearly evident through dendrological studies. There is also certainly an axiom that some religions have deliberately obliterated trees and forests from being celebrated in fear of the strength of trees significance to pre religious peoples and their power to disturb human influence over other humans.

Despite this trees have always transcended all human boundaries placed between them and the people they provide life for. But this importance is habitually reinvented by generation after generation upon the discovery of facts within particular lifetimes.

They are omnipresent features in the course of complete civilisations and can be the reason for their failure as on Easter Island. They are a primary study for new periods in the history of our own civilisation; the first great works of art, music and literature have embraced the form or attributes of trees as a necessity to prove the worth of the first wary steps in the progression of our cultures.

Recent wars and subsequent economic process have resulted in huge losses to our forests, the rapidity of the economic growth as a result of the population growth have meant that the losses were simply too rapid to counter.

Trees remain a vital non political and non religious entity, an antidote to changes in policy and governance. This has been persistently tested and the most recent PFE disposal furore in England was a simply yet another example of this and each time (yet to be seen through to its conclusion in the present situation in the UK), it is doomed to failure, relying instead on the taxation of veiled commerce to hide the realities of a global mistreatment of our trees internationally.

We are now at a time when we see the various strands of land management and natural heritage starting to talk the same rhetoric, a time when the most ‘out there’ hippies can stand alongside the most scientifically minded academics in terms of what is needed for the preservation of both the landscape, the ecosystems contained within it, us and how we manage it, a time for sustainable land and forest management to take the stage easily. This new future is aided by the recent addition of international communication by way of social media. We can now celebrate the attributes of trees with likeminded people across the world instantly; sharing all new facts and information and governance requirements to rapidly our knowledge with regards trees.

The void of knowledge is lessening rapidly.

However it is important to never forget that at present our knowledge about trees is still minimal. Trees certainly evolve with us. Their adaption to human influenced landscapes has altered their family, species and individual characteristics in such a way as to render them in many minds to be impervious to the worst we can do as humans. However in the last 20 years we have started to realise this is not true as the damage to our soils and climate change equals too much stress on many of our trees.

The complexity of a tree has led some of the greatest minds to believe there is intelligence within a tree. It is likely to be a collective intelligence formed by the myriad of organisms who share its fate. Underground the complexities increase and the first revelations of the role of fungi and their symbiosis’ with trees have simply led to the need for further research.

There has never yet existed a person who understands trees completely.

Given the enormity of what is at stake, the implications of climate change amongst other pressing needs, we as a generation cannot be the ones who halt the continued research into what is at present the tip of the iceberg of research into trees.

The current situation in England is still under worldwide scrutiny and thus the pressure on the forestry panel is immense. Questions posed by the panel to gain the public opinion so needed are simplistic and perhaps they have to be when presented to a nation that have been forcibly distanced from their connection with trees. As stated in previous blogs the media is culpable for this disconnection and is now freely aided by a government who seem to believe that sustainable development is truly achievable because a complete society has been so greenwashed as to accept the most ridiculous of oxymorons, including sustainable tourism, sustainable fashion, sustainable cosmetics.

There exist many statements expressing the urgent need for restoring ancient woodland & establishing new woodland from the self acclaimed ‘largest tree and woodland conservation’ charity in the UK. There is and can be no urgency, it would be dangerous. There are pressing threats and we cannot allow our eyes and wallets to stray from them. These threats are global; pests, diseases and invasive non natives threaten the complex ecosystems of all our existing trees. Any urgent work to restore ancient woodland or plant new woodlands en masse could be as catastrophic to the delicate systems we do not fully understand as the global problems re climate change cited.

Having worked with trees all my life, I am still discovering not just new discoveries with regards their physiology and their ecological relationships, but also new viewpoints every bit as vital. Two weeks ago I was lucky to meet the New Zealand artist Heidi Threlfo in Paris. Her work is a form of tree art, which whilst original harks back to our ancestors’ celebration of trees, connecting elements of their materialism with what they saw themselves as their ancestors.

copyright Heidi Threlfo

Further her guerrilla art, simply painting the stumps of fallen trees, was one of the most powerful yet subtle methods of haunting those responsible, making visible the ghost left behind. This work was most poignant to me in regards to what I hope is wrong and which I wrote about on the SOW site; the trading of trees for planning gains.

The ‘location’ a tree grows in, cannot be replicated by the planting of even a hundred trees if removed. The soil is as vital to the tree as trees are to us. Displaced soil takes a very long time to recover and a huge cost. It simply cannot be traded.

Heidi’s work showed what remained after felling and thus highlighted that the so often referred to scar left after a trees removal has an importance too, a value yet incalculable because we simply do not understand enough yet.

Outside the UK the IYF celebrations have certainly caught many a collective imagination and the discovery of the pleasant repose found when diverting our minds away from politics towards our trees and forests is to many so refreshing as to become a necessary need.

Regrettably in the UK the present generation have to start the process of rediscovery all over. The Forestry Commission are all but silenced and the practitioners have never been so disenfranchised.

The forestry panel can pick and choose from a wealth of research, they can choose to halt certain progressions in favour of others and they are tasked with filtering what is at present over 30,000 public responses without a transparent system to do so. Not only is this unfair on the people, but also all trees in England.

The risk is thus; that England may see policy recommendations based solely on economic principles, not just timber but trading tree planting to offset development also. As long as there is public access included in package it can be safely implemented. And in the apparent urgency to protect, maintain and increase ancient semi natural woodland, it will all be lost because the budget to research a non harmful method to do so was removed.


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