During the stormy winter of 2013/14 the UK’s coasts were battered, infrastructure was destroyed and geological features disappeared. Storm upon storm dumped huge quantities of salt water unto the land. On average the western coastal counties get up to 80kg of salt per hectare per annum. Last year this figure was closer to 200kg. So how did our coastal trees fare? Surprisingly well it seems, although the respite this winter is clearly welcome.
There were some victims, particularly conifers where the salty winds resulted in discolouration, which proved too ugly for some and thus were felled for ‘aesthetic’ reasons.
The resilience of our coastal trees, both native and non-native, is quite extraordinary and as a Devon based forester stated to me ‘We are missing a trick in not studying these trees more closely’. These trees put up with more than we should expect of them – hugely fluctuating soil microbe populations, extreme climate conditions, unstable soils etc,. And the greatest problem with studying coastal trees is ‘which tree or woodland type do you choose from?’. The choices are as eclectic as the multitude of factors which affect coastal trees.
And there is an image problem also – what tree do we have in our heads when we think of coastal trees?
There is no ‘common’ tree, no one type for the British to expect when they flock in millions to the coast. Unlike other countries, for example in France where Pine trees are the habitual both on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.
Throughout the period that the coast has attracted all classes of British, attempt after attempt has been made to try and establish a standard surrounding our coastal towns and cities. From mimicking the Greek olive groves with Ilex aquifolium, or the French scattered Pines, through to that most emblematic tree of the perceived modern beach landscape; Palms.
The vast range of site specific factors conspire against nationwide ‘advice’ on suggested amenity coastal species, and it is wonderful that this matches the rich variety of native coastal trees and woodland.
Human intervention, for whatever purpose, largely fails as the costs for management are so high. Whatever anyone wishes to achieve, be it a specific habitat for selected wildlife conservation or to create the ‘golf course’ landscape, some feel is best appropriate for this unique in every mile stretch of land that frames Britain, nature will make things difficult.
So instead of continuing this costly to all ‘King Canute’ stance, can we not instead accept these coastal trees and woodland at face value and as extraordinary assets in understanding our trees and woodland everywhere. An exemplar of the in-between trees and woodland that many malign so much yet hold many secrets towards the use of trees in sustaining the places that we choose to live in.