Since a return to South West England, I remain more convinced that any and all solutions towards all forms of sustainable land management can only be found landscape by landscape.
It is all too easy to find oneself sunk in the media induced mire, particular to the UK, that the PR world has created that cloaks, with a gooey, smelly, cloudy substance, all press, radio and television coverage of all landscapes, urban and rural. I find myself in a great crowd of people walking up the middle road, subject to periodic sniping by those on the hills left and right of the track (for example Monbiot et al. Vs The NFU), who are constantly fighting each other with larger guns over our heads.
Ignore media and with enough time on your hands it becomes evident that in most, probably all, communities in their landscape there are locals who are walking the same middle road, but it is a ridgeway – dividing the armies below – and just getting on it with it. These locals are not amateurs – they are the experts. Some of the work I have seen recently is not just ‘useful’ local study but actual solutions. I cannot highlight much here, though I’d love to, because those happy in the mire are all too happy far too often to steal this work for their purposes rather than feed into it.
Wild Service Tree, Dart Estuary. I was shown the location of this tree by a local resident.
Is this a problem, so much valuable information, so many solutions locked up in the local landscape? As we see much more flippant policy making, a dramatic and scary increase in threats to the landscape and heavily reduced budgets surely this isn’t a problem – but actually incredibly helpful – but only if locals were actually listened to.
Non woodland trees (NWT) is a useful generic term taken from the French arbres hors forêts, to include all ornamental, amenity, orchard, hedgerow, urban, wood pasture and agrofestry trees etc., – cultural heritage trees. As we see a continued debate as to where interest (and therefore funding) should be concentrated in forestry and arboriculture any means to break down barriers at national (and international) level to talk about trees can only be beneficial. But when it comes to local situations, where the solutions lie, we need to be very prudent indeed.
As such citizen science worries me, it can be brilliant for other natural elements in the landscape – particularly wildlife and the BTO Bird Atlas is a clear example. But NWT and indeed woodland trees to a large extent cannot be so easily ‘boxed’. Most tree species have far too many additional factors related to the landscape they grow in to allow for any national categorisation. And as I was told by the UK’s number one tree hunter, Rob McBride, we are still a long way off simply registering all the ancient and venerable trees in the UK – a worthy project, which has spread abroad and truly helps in highlighting the arboreal wonders which help define a nation itself; a potential catalyst towards helping communities identify all the trees of importance in their landscape.
But I am not an ‘Ancient Tree’ enthusiast (despite having a healthy dose of enthusiasm injected into me by Rob and with a clear appreciation of how important these trees are). I tend to hone in on trees with interesting connections to old construction – particularly terraces and hedgerows. And there is a range of enthusiasts to cover virtually all trees for all circumstances.
Andrew Ormerod is a fruit tree specialist and enthusiast (the majority of people who work with trees tend to be enthusiasts also – check out any social media ‘tree’ group and you will find a host of arborists, arboriculturalists, foresters etc., in the group). A day spent with Andrew unlocks the extraordinary wealth of cultural heritage surrounding fruit trees. As with Rob and many others, Andrew works with people first and foremost – engaging those in the community in order to further their own work and by doing so becoming the hub for all trees in that landscape themselves. Can you possibly transfer such a wealth of knowledge into a national hub? Absolutely not – but the case study remains a vital resource.
Ancient Apple Tree, Fowey Estuary
Therefore the only way to assist communities to value their trees properly and most importantly to re-establish those strong cultural links to their trees, which have in most places virtually disappeared completely, is to use the only decent political boundaries that exist in the UK to determine community by community – the parish. Thus local council involvement is vital.
The work of Christopher Neilan in helping to produce Parish Tree Strategies in Epping Forest District Council is an existing solution that can help to define all trees of all values in any particular community and help towards any decision making within that landscape. Most importantly it helps children to understand their trees in their landscape.
Hen Anderson and Rob Mcbride talking trees