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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
William Gilpin 1791