Category Archives: Trees and Woodlands

So What is Terroir?

Following feedback (and some unpublishable comments) on my last blog it is all too apparent that I need to explain as best I can what Terroir actually is. It is, of course, a French word, but with no direct translation. Many US sites delve into the wine elements and Wikipedia explain it as a ‘sense of place’.

The best succinct translation is ‘The value of Soil’, but this of course sadly lacking as to the French it means something much more than this – but this is probably because we Anglophones massively undervalue the importance of soil.

Having spoken to many French, from different regions and both urban and rural, there is in fact little variation to what terroir means to them and it is clear that there is much philosophy wrapped up in the word. ‘I taste therefore I am’.

To give it my best shot: Terroir is the marriage of all the sciences in a naturally bordered area, it is the natural and man made elements, it is the flora and fauna, it is the people, it is you and what you are looking at, what you smell and what you taste.

Terroir is a perfect landscape. One which enables the production of a food, drink or another product (for example; pottery, timber and non timber products), which is as perfect as it can be for the landscape in which it is created.

Soil is affected by everything and the more natural the landscape it will contain the greatest variety of nature for that particular climate, elevation etc.,. The greater the variety the better the taste. Cut a tree down it will affect the soil adversely. Plant a tree it will improve the soil.

Most importantly, and maybe why Terroir creates an element of concern for many ecologists and nature conservationists, that it is enables a sustainable (in the true sense of the word) strong local economy.

There are many examples of terroir areas in the UK and there are many areas where terroir does not apply in France or is abused to the extent that it is no longer applicable. Indeed the success of certain terroir produce has led to intensification which destroys the terroir and yet the product is sold as such.

It is the areas where terroir cannot happen, common in the Paris basin region of France, which are ideal for intensification. The UK are very lucky having the widest range of soil and climate zones in a very small area – thus terroir products should be of more worth than competing produce. There are many farmers and smallholders in the UK who have been highly successful at creating the very best from very little much to the chagrin of the wider farming lobby and the multinational pesticide or fertiliser companies – which is a great thing.

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Re-Wilding vs Terroir

Britain cannot feed itself, not even close. Without Scotland (The English are ignoring the Scots’ referendum result at their peril), this lack of land is made worse. To go into ‘trade negotiations’ on the back foot is bad enough, losing its largest trading partner means losing the cheap easy access to some of the best food in the world. Transportation costs will increase, congestion increased and there will be insufficient workers left to pick the food that can be grown or raised in England.

It is all too apparent post Brexit England is not prepared for the immense pressure to be placed on its rural landscape.

Whilst those involved in the management of the rural landscape consider their next move, far too many waiting to hear how where their finances will be coming from, the extremes have started shouting and will continue to, drowning out any and all moderate commentary and with it halting existing and potential good practice. Forestry, Arboriculture and a myriad of other land industry sectors cannot afford, nor should have to, fight for their own path in between a growing misanthropic nature conservation lobby against the more belligerent of the countryside lobby.

There is nonsense spouted on both sides, science twisted, truth substituted for the most spurious of spurious ‘facts’ – a strategy learned from the EU referendum campaigning, and championed by Trump.

And alongside the growth of a far right wing element in UK political commentary, ‘landscape fascism’ is gaining strength in policy discussion regarding all countryside issues. And as with the lengthy media reporting of the rise of the right wing, without hardly a nod towards the moderate, the same charge can be levied at the media reporting on countryside issues. When was the last time moderate countryside commentators were seen on countryfile? Let alone a forester!

And what else is ‘Re-Wilding’ but landscape fascism? As with so much of Monbiots’ commentary it makes for scary reading, particularly for those of us with knowledge of situations in neighbouring countries and whom might bother to read wider research on European landscapes. To merely pay lip service to those that live and work in rural communities by way of suggesting income through wildlife tourism is contrary to what happened in the Drome, Umbria or the Basque country. But as proven by ignoring the damage a healthy Pine Marten population does to pets and livestock in mainland Europe, the restricted access due to the real dangers posed by Boar or the complete lack of knowledge with regards tree planting in consolidated soils, Monbiot is simply trying to sell his writing – and could not care less about the consequences to the landscape by his disciples.

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The blithe disregard that a landscape must be worked is a serious danger to all who work in landscapes, (both urban and rural).

I visited a working woodland last week, a fantastic project which is under threat for the simple reason that it is not considered necessary by National Park planners for forestry operations to have the facilities needed to carry out the work to a profitable conclusion. It is like putting a writer in a straight jacket. And my fear, which I know is shared by many, is that the ‘Re-Wilding’ idealism can be all too easily used as an excuse for a list of constraints that prevent any and all progress if it enters the mindset of those in charge of protected landscapes – many of whom have already proven themselves untrustworthy as they happily rehash for their own PR and lobbying the ELC for their own purpose.

British rural landscapes can pay, and can pay well. Terroir enables this and Britain is unique in the world in containing an extraordinary range of soils which can a truly unique range of specialist agricultural produce, which then makes serious money. Terroir is the value of soil and thus has to protect the landscape – most importantly all the natural elements within that landscape.

There are some massive problems ahead, but the UK as a whole has an army of farmers, foresters and others able to prepare the rural economy beyond subsidy without compromising the natural environment in anyway, indeed enhancing it. do not usurp them now.

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Immigrants, Gangmasters’ and Land Industry

Whilst working on a construction site on the Algarve, an ‘illegal’ economic migrant fell to his death. As the foundations were still open, it was easy for all to simply bury the man in concrete and say nothing. An urban myth? Possibly… However similar stories are commonplace among the migrant workforce population, and some sound far too plausible to be merely taken with a pinch of salt when you come to understand the life’s these people live.

The system is not as black and white as the media and subsequently the politicians like to pretend it is. The way the migrants to Europe and from within Europe have been treated is as shameful as anywhere else in the world. The tricks and loopholes used by those society deem to regard as leading enviable or exemplary life’s to secure labour at as little cost as possible have to be exposed. And it is hardly as though it is that well hidden in the first place.

Some ‘English language’ facebook group forums in the South of France included comments discussing the Syrian refugee crisis as a positive as they would be able to profit by the plight of these people by offering them free accommodation and food in exchange for working on their estates. Mention that this is in fact slavery and expect to pounced upon as though this ‘offer’ to the refugees was a great philanthropic act.

In my last post I wrote of the threats to trees in the Cote d’Azur; a region which sets a precedence for many other landscapes due to being heavily influenced by and designed to and for the super rich. As a consequence there is inevitably huge shoals of human vultures chasing as much stray money as possible. The worst of these are the gangmasters’, it is they who prey on the economic migrants, be they legal, illegal or seeking refugee status. And they do so, as with some of the estate owners, in the full belief that they are helping!

They offer accommodation, food and a portion of a ‘salary’ every week, (often ‘looking after’ the remaining money!). Most of all they offer security, but in doing so illegalise some of those who were legal before.

And the authorities can do very little (due to the risk of offending those that governments follow themselves) except establish even more regulations – which equals more costs for legal businesses, and therefore push even more ‘clients’ towards using the highly attractive services of a gangmaster. The stereotype image of gangmaster is not what will be in your heads right now. They are usually well dressed, very amiable, speak many languages and say all the right things.

And because they operate illegally – all they do is illegal. Trees will be felled, pollutants spilled, plastics burned etc., etc.

Gangmasters undermine not only the economy, but any hope of sustainable progress and thus a real threat to trees, forests and the wider landscape.

Whilst the cosy term ‘Expat’ may comfort we Brits, we are simply immigrants to our hosts. And with Brexit comes the uncertainty of what kind of immigrant we are and how our hosts will perceive us. Then what? Do we have to enter this evidently growing world of gangmastery – either as gangmasters ourselves or their prey, as clients or even as one of their ‘charges’.

And this is no alien subject to the UK itself, whilst the problem is not as widespread as it is elsewhere, it still threatens us all. And whilst we can no longer expect any sensible debate about migrants to come out of Britain, it must be shouted more loudly and as often as possible that they are not the problem! And if we had a Europe which had bothered to discuss and put in place a strategy to truly help those seeking help then maybe we would not be pulling the rug up from beneath all of our collective feet and destroying our economy by chasing the lifestyle of people who should not and never be listened to.

 

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Are you actually helping your tree (s)? Lessons from the Cote d’Azur.

I am currently working in the sylvan landscape of the Cote d’Azur, a region not particularly celebrated for its trees and forests but one which should be. This is one of the few places globally which have seen a huge increase in tree cover in parallel with large scale farm abandonment – which is still increasing ever further away from the coast.

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The increase in tree cover has led to a rise in native wildlife, including the growth of local wild boar populations and a return of Wolves (albeit occasional somewhat scraggy individuals), despite the fencing to secure the rich villas incongruous with the normal French landscape. Indeed it is difficult to consider this region as ‘France’ in regards landscape terms and more; and there are many problems created by the continued growth of a playground for the rich for its trees and nature.

And as so much of the ‘special’ landscapes of Europe are in the process of, or at risk of also becoming playgrounds for the richer then the importance of studying trees on the Cote d’Azur becomes essential.

Even to the casual observer it is apparent that many of the trees both in the forest and in the parks and gardens of the region are suffering. Travel towards the more rural areas adjacent to the Cote d’Azur and the difference in general tree health is startling.

The area has been and continues to be at the forefront of a battle against all threats to trees. The range of pests and pathogens is enormous and the problems are compounded by the search for the cheapest labour possible – a game played out in most ‘wealthy’ areas these days. Cheap labour = cutting corners, and just one contractor failing to wash their secateurs (and indeed any of their tools, their vehicles and themselves) can pass on pathogens more rapidly than any natural vector.

Every October sees almost a month of continual smog hanging heavy across the region as the ban for burning (due to forest fire risk) is lifted. The wastage of quality timber and firewood is unbelievable and the potential energy wasted is bizarre considering the generic ‘penny pinching’ attitude. At the same time insane amounts of money pass hands for the most basic of tree operations, which could be solved by a spray bottle of crushed garlic in water, or the use of decent mulch.

The money is quite extraordinary, even at the local Castorama (the French B&Q shop), trees are for sale with price tags in excess of €30,000 and the specialist nurseries will have many relocated trees (from Spain, Italy and Romania) with prices in excess of 100,000. The species choice is somewhat lacking and in general for all landscaping works there is an element of ‘but this is how we do it’ despite it often being completely incongruous with the wider landscape and being design and practice of less than 30 years old – and frankly more than a bit dull.

The traditional Restangue landscape has been usurped using retaining walls which are cemented block walls with a false stone façade. This has a major impact on the trees, principally Olives, which require decent drainage as proper dry stone walling provides. Add the obligatory automated irrigation systems and many trees are struggling to survive in what is to them a completely unnatural water saturated soil.

It is the soil, more than anything else, which has been wholly ignored. The shallow Mediterranean soils require a well balanced, healthy population of micro-fauna and mychorrizal fungi in order to provide the growing conditions required for virtually all tree species, be they commercial, ornamental or natural. The extreme water availability combined with all too easily consolidated clayey soils is surprisingly not as much of a constraint as many assume and certainly it is all too common to see excessive soil treatment prior to planting, which is not needed and actually harmful to the tree.

The root systems of Mediterranean trees are truly remarkable, almost every single tree has a unique adaption to its highly localised position. We have to understand this more, and work with it rather than forcing root development as per our ‘false’ image of how it should be.

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Virtually all fertiliser products, organic or not, are far too rich in Nitrogen. And testing the soil of containerised trees produces disturbing results. Many of the gardens are virtually hydroponic systems and a glitch in the maintenance regime leads to instant disastrous results.

French construction regulations are far from helpful also; the requirements to construct intensive underground systems for water and services greatly disturbs existing tree root systems.

Towards a solution for the trees of the Cote d’Azur requires collaboration, difficult in a region where many of the population are rich migrants. Trees belong to everyone due to their dominance in the landscape, but site specific management is vital. Working to produce growing mediums which help to restore and balance soil micro populations is showing some brilliant results, particularly in regards resilience to pests, pathogens as well as drought and is cheap – but together with other solutions including the use of highly effective garlic treatments – how can you take on those that have profited so much from trees’ misery?

As always, promoting good practice not just to the wider public but to practitioners as well is perhaps a hurdle too high to jump?

 

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Keep Calm and Carry On towards a better Europe.

The aftermath of the UKs’ referendum on leaving the EU has highlighted a considerable amount of problems, not just for the UK but the rest of Europe. Certainly, writing from France, the power of the baby boomers (and older) to completely and wantonly destroy things for younger generations has been a topic for many years. The referendum proved this to be the case in England also.

Will the results be turned around? A second referendum or indeed any other action to try and reverse the decision (although I signed the petition) may not be a good idea and further prolong the very visible and hateful split in the nation. It is also clear that both in the UK, save Scotland, and across Europe and within the corridors of the EU itself those in ‘power’ are all useless. The media is useless and other PR machines, NGOs, lobbyists etc., also. The money is disappearing, a huge power void has opened up and there is serious danger of the fascists attempting to conquer after dividing so easily.

“We look to Scotland for all ideas of civilisation”

Voltaire

But the axiom remains that the British are still European! There are still several European institutions that the UK remains committed to – not least that immensely powerful, successful, yet in many ways humble, organisation the Council of Europe. The COE was created after calls from Sir Winston Churchill as early as 1943 for such an organisation to be set up.

It has in many ways been over shadowed by the EU – whilst the EU is actually a member. In searching for routes to keep positive and seek to maintain a strong voice in Europe should those of the 48%, so dismayed at present not grab the opportunity to get behind the COE and start to actually use the ratified and highly progressive conventions so readily ignored by the ‘useless’ above?

One thing is clear; the younger generations of the UK and across Europe need protection from their elders and those they listen to. A convention which cannot be usurped, thwarted, twisted or lied about is needed. A convention for the future, for future generations. Something positive to arise from the mess of last week and the dreadful untruths and fascist vitriol of the campaign itself.

And, for me most importantly, the focus should be much more on the environment; perhaps taking many lessons from the simple, beautiful fact that the natural world does not share the same boundaries we do. The forest surrounding me here is a riparian woodland, with Ash, Alders and Hazel dominating – exactly the same as in the valleys of Dartmoor or Yorkshire and facing the same threats, hiding the same mysteries and of a common heritage also.

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Is the UK set to be the deforestation haven for the World?

A recent return visit to the UK proved to be deeply disturbing, the forthcoming referendum is, frankly, a nasty mess spreading out from under many sofas into the streets. The downright lies published as ‘facts’ one would have thought would be challengeable by legal channels – and the British public have been used, well really more abused in a campaign which is much more about the control of power for those in politics and the media. The nastiness and downright open rascism unleashed not just by the rhetoric of Farage but by Boris ‘Spode’ Johnson and the one who looks like Pob is just one element of how destructive to all, in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world this new England will bring to bear on us and particularly our children.

One thing for me that is of huge importance is deforestation. We are losing so many trees and forests worldwide that our doom is ascertained if it is to continue at the pace it has been. The importance of the worlds’ forests is to all, irrefutable. Yet far too little has been done.

However, in 2013, one of the most positive, whilst belated, steps towards curbing deforestation was taken when the European Union Timber Regulation became law in all EU member states.

The EUTR has proven to be not just a real barrier against the trade in illegal felling worldwide, but also a huge boost for most EU countries home industries, including the UK.

For the UK to simply dismiss this legislation for the sake of sticking two fingers up to Johnny foreigner is to also stick two fingers up at our children.

But then having heard some of vicious commentary I did in the UK, it does appear many ‘really don’t care’, which leads to a question that I don’t think I want to hear the answer to ‘What do you actually care about?’

And given Boris Johnson once stated ‘there is no tree in this country thats more than 200 years old’, the possibility of the UK becoming a safe haven for those involved in deforestation, helping to undermine all other efforts worldwide is very real and very scary.

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The State of European Trees: What happens next in Sheffield must happen everywhere.

The dismissal of the judicial review bid for Sheffield’s trees was somewhat surprising, particularly in my opinion with regards the consultation issues, but the full text of the judgement is essential reading for many of us in the industry and further, across the whole of Europe.

Praise must be given to David Dilner and the rest of the Sheffield tree protesters who brought this to the high court. Not least because it allows valuable insight into the minds of many of whom we in the industry and others who care about trees rarely get to talk with, as well as the legal framework as it is. The final sentence is very pertinent and more than hints at the fact that we who campaign for trees, both in and outwith the industry have to re-evaluate how we sell trees, all trees for all benefits and for all values towards statutory law rather than common law.

“It may be that those who will be disappointed by the terms of this Judgement will want to see a different legislative regime in place. That is a matter for parliament, and not for this Court”.

So what next?

Obviously there will be more coming from Sheffield as an appeal is likely and ongoing support is very much needed. You can help by visiting this site: www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/sheffield-trees

But no matter what the final outcome we clearly have our work cut out if we are to 1) Ensure a healthy proportion of trees available in everyday landscapes for the benefit of all. 2) Ensure secure and vibrant arboricultural / horticultural / landscaping industries, with a principal charge of retaining trees as much as possible.

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In the first instance we have to tackle the frankly ludicrous notion that re-planting, be it as much as 10 for 1, works. It just doesn’t. As the above Judgement highlights all too well there are a myriad of issues surrounding the largest natural element in our unnatural landscapes which only complicates things during discussion. To throw in the habitual and heavily ‘green washed’ PR about re-planting for future generations sake is all too easily soaked up. So we’ve felled everything for our own cost savings or profits but can rest easy about the legacy we have left for our children? This is spurious nonsense that has to stop.

We need to accept a tree for the trees sake. It is the surface area of a tree that counts – the greater the surface area, both above and below ground, the more beneficial it is socially, environmentally and economically.

We need to be better at using valuation systems, regularly. A lot of work has been done re this but the industry as a whole is tiny – so we all need to be getting our heads around this and whilst a standardised system encompassing all the values is difficult to install across the board it is still well worth setting values as and when we can (this can only but help re-establish the professionalism of the industry that has for far too long been the last child to be picked for the school team).

We need to get better at selling arboreal engineering, innovative but particularly traditional techniques; the use of roots to help strengthen retaining walls or banks etc., techniques which worked for centuries, indeed millennia before we got concrete fixation.

We need to promote what we don’t know as much as what we do. There is so much yet to discover that the gloves are off in many regards – surely this is more tantalising to promote to get new generations of arboriculturalists, silviculturalists and others?

We need to get to grips with soil. The survival rate of young trees in everyday landscapes is shocking, yet easily avoidable. Budget cuts and downgrading of the professionalism of tree planting is a considerable factor towards this high mortality rate – easily well over 50%.

The above list is far from exhaustive.

The industry across Europe and maybe further needs to look towards a standardised method of presenting the information to the public and policy makers. This is surely the first hurdle towards a consultation process that is quick, cheap and effective. If the public are more aware of the importance of a tree beyond sharing the many memes and blogs listing ’10 great things trees do for us’ blurb then we start to win over those we need to truly listen and the rights of all trees, everywhere, for their unique list of benefits for any particular locations slowly but surely becomes a given and therefore the money will slowly flow back in.

Sheffield is famous for it’s trees, but not how it once was – however ‘out of the ashes’ comes an opportunity for Sheffield to become the much needed ‘epiphany’ for all those involved with trees across Europe.

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