In praise of shade..

These long hot days are amusing to any foreigner in the UK as the Brits don’t do heat and try and ignore it and carry on regardless. Yet casually watching the world go by, one cannot help but notice we are all heading towards the trees. But it is not just the people, but the very landscape itself which starts to head towards the trees.

The map, doing the rounds on the media, showing the browning rural landscape of the UK from space also highlights where all our trees are and just how few there are left.

Look more closely in the sites where the dry weather continues and for many working with the land there is much to be deeply concerned about. Years of abuse to the soil has led to serious threats to our most basic agricultural and horticultural practice, when we should be able to easily cope following the winter we just had. Our resilience to extreme weather in terms of land management is worryingly poor.

Yet where there is a healthy rhizosphere, (the underground ecosystem attached to the roots of trees), there are fewer problems. This is not just true of our woodlands and despite us not fully understanding, indeed not anywhere close to fully understanding, the importance of the rhizosphere our hedgerows and well planted non woodland and urban trees are coping remarkably well – creating a refuge we all and our animals head to automatically.

The soil beneath a tree has a underground population of microbes and fungi which has through the protection and nourishment provided by the phyllosphere, (the ecosystem of the tree canopy), created a soil that can cope with the dry weather for a significantly longer period, indeed in many of our most naturalised forests and woodlands it can easily survive the worst of predicted heatwaves.

Quite why we see so much spending into climate resilience when the answer is, literally often, tapping on our bedroom windows is not just weird but dangerous.

The use of trees to advance as a civilisation has been forgotten in the 21st century to all our peril. Trees are our greatest tool towards surviving climatic catastrophe to our crops and our way of life in general, and as the sunburnt residents of Sheffield can testify to, we fell them with stupidity.

But without learning how to deal with our soils properly, we cannot truly get to roll out solutions for all. Learning what and how our ancestors constructed and maintained our hedgerows and using skills and knowledge to ensure surface groundwater is fed back into our soils is an absolute necessity.

Handel’s opera commences with an aria sung by King Xerxes in praise of the shade of a Plane tree, clearly a nod towards the large scale remodelling of European cities to incorporate tree lined boulevards for the benefit of all and as huge leap in the progress of civilisation.

We have the trees, tools and knowledge to repair our civilisation – but the fact that this is not on the agenda at all is yet another monumental and perhaps impossible task for our future generations.

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