Our Cultural Heritage is Arboreal.

We in the European arboricultural and forestry world are as guilty of the disenfranchisement of people with their trees as anybody else. Places where there is little interference from the ‘state’, for good intention or more often not, can still be found but are rapidly disappearing, isolated in small pockets of wooded landscape in Europe the ideals of modern sustainable forest management still exist in a pure form.

As the fragility of an obsessive pro growth society is realised, it compels many to return to a subsistence lifestyle and the reawakening and invention of new silviculture and a desire to learn more about the connections our ancestors had also. This tends to leapfrog back several hundred years, concentrating on very ancient stories and practice, which had actually evolved considerably.

The new initiatives to install a globalised sustainable forest management system, leaves me a little cold. As it is evident that any engagement with the indigenous peoples’ reliant on forests tends to be ‘us educating them’ when it should be ‘them educating us’, we are obsessed with the belief that we know what we are talking about even though we just don’t.

Jean Gionos’ fictional ‘The Man Who planted Trees’  contains many morals and the friend of the narrator who happens to be a State Forester, is a rare character in the 20th century. Most will interfere; our modern personality is such that we must seek influence even it is in the face of overwhelming evidence that everything is actually fine.

The huge problem of unsustainable or even illegal logging still arriving as export into Europe is simply unforgiveable. Cultural enrichment is one of the few economically viable but highly profitable ‘markets’ that remain. We should be paying people for their knowledge and arts – their culture not their timber.

Illegal or unsustainable logging cannot be solved by throwing money around. There must be no visible evidence of money and we cannot continue to blithely believe that corruption can be halted and that monitoring will be successful, because it is proven time and time again that the adage ‘money creates power and power corrupts’ is actually an axiom. Only strong legislation and a genuine attempt to promote home grown timber will save our forests and trees.

Back in Europe we must also fully embrace the fact that our intertwined heritage is arboreal. To live alongside trees is not a fringe benefit but defines who we are and the society we live in.

“Great thinkers have always sat under trees. It is an academic thing to do. The word itself derives from the Academia, the grove where Plato taught his pupils. Even the French Lycée is named after the Lyceum garden where Aristotle held his classes. Enlightenment came to Buddha and Newton under trees they say” Stephen Fry.

The measure of skill for the greatest Artists’ was the ability to draw or paint a tree. Handel, described by Beethoven as “The master of us all” composed the aria, arguably his greatest; ‘Ombre Mai Fu’ in homage to the shade of a Plane Tree – “Never was the shade of any plant sweeter, dearer, more agreeable!”

Trees shaped history and created nations: Yew trees made the bows of an English army and Oaks’ its ships; the French culture is defined by its landscape, defined by its trees; Scandinavian design is epitomised by wood, the list is almost endless.

People are not disinterested in trees but they are disinterested in those of us that purport to ‘know’ about trees, because we talk and do without listening. All of us involved with trees (practitioners, policymakers, activists, business representatives and researchers) have thus far failed in fully understanding let alone strengthening the inherent connection between people and trees. It is not our place to question, study or decide on this, it is our job to ensure that there are healthy trees for people to sit under.


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