Allotments, Soil and Farm Terrace, again.

English politicians, particularly in local politics, have a strong record in blithely ignoring international initiatives towards promoting environmental and landscape issues. And Central Government are happy to ratify many conventions and incorporate the text into national strategies, only to brush it all aside when a political ‘think tank’ suggests otherwise. The Public Forest Estate sell-off during the International Year of the Forests 2011 was a classic example.

2015 is the International Year of the Soil. Do not expect to read much about the concentrated efforts of research and awareness happening across the globe in regards this still relatively unknown, but known to be absolutely vital natural element we are dependent on. Very little has changed since Leonardo Da Vinci claimed “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.” in the 16th Century. And as Britain builds her way out of the economic downturn of recent years it is understandable that many politicians will avoid any focus on the importance of soil.

Healthy soils in the urban and peri-urban landscape are of optimum importance. Allotments, (usually bequeathed to a community through philanthropic channels), tick all the boxes in being the best of the best to the extent that in many places researchers studying solutions to aid all of humanity in achieving sustainability are concentrating on these islands of soil and how they have been managed.

Whilst a national argument in regards development rages between green field and brown field, and a burgeoning realisation of the threats posed by the Infrastructure Act (It is quite unbelievable how so many missed the implications of this bill when the details were published on the day of the Queen’s speech – indeed many NGO PR teams actually stated on social media at the time that all was good!!) allotments are excluded. Allotments should be sacrosanct, surely? But it seems that they are first places to be considered by many councils and even the Church of England seeking to profit from the construction boom.

Those fighting for their allotments have exposed the many loopholes and ambiguity of existing legislation in regards allotments. It is clear that there needs to be clearly defined legislation in place and the Save Farm Terrace campaigners headed up by Sara Jane Trebar are about to launch a campaign for this legislation.

Farm Terrace, for the 3rd time following 2 successful legal challenges against a decision ttodevelop on their allotments, have to fight yet again as the Liberal Democrat Mayor of Watford (Nick Clegg, leader of the Libdems once stated “We have a duty to look after our natural habitat for future generations and our manifesto will show that only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted to deliver a greener and sustainable society.”) champions a new submission to develop on their plots. It is the most bizarre of situations; highly tenuous PR, a severe lack of consultation, internet trolling by councillors, a war of words which make it fairly obvious that the Mayor simply doesn’t like allotments and an absolute ignorance of all modern and historic research in regards the importance of allotments and the community they serve. The belligerence of the Mayor in her determination to concrete over these plots is baffling considering the costs incurred to local taxpayers – some of whom will be donating towards the Farm Terrace cause also.

When done and dusted the whole affair will at least make a great case study for all. In the meantime good luck to Farm Terrace and others in their campaign to finally get proper legislative protection for all allotments in England and Wales, before there are none left.


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All Tree’s Matter

There is a common drive by many involved with trees and woodland to establish a means to register trees. If a tree is recorded somewhere, indeed anywhere it automatically accrues a value and therefore cannot be ignored as is so often the case.

Most trees will have many values, some of which are ambiguous but all are important. If all these values could be registered in a single place, we would have made a major step forward in providing a ‘soft power‘ method of insuring for all trees.

Each and every interest group or specialism, in or outwith the tree and forest industry will have set its own tree values. Most importantly locals living with a tree in their landscape will place a very different valuation (more often the more ambiguous) which should be of equal importance when recording trees. After all if your tree is important to you it has accrued a value which others must accept.

We must always remember a tree is a landscape unto itself for many, certainly the majority of people who live in the urban or peri urban, where the surface area of a tree (which for mature trees can be measured in hectares) means it is by far the greatest natural element in their lives. Therefore we cannot allow trees to fall victim as our landscapes have in being valued and thus managed without our input. The European Landscape Convention states ‘landscape is an important part of the quality of life for people everywhere: in urban areas and in the countryside, in degraded areas as well as in areas of high quality, in areas recognised as being of outstanding beauty as well as everyday areas’ – in so much discussion regarding the landscape do you ever see this statement referred to? Proving also possibly that a European or National Convention on Trees or any other attempt to legislate is unlikely to work.

One major problem is the disjointed approach towards a common register of trees. Before we get bogged down in arguing over which type of tree is more important, we should at least attempt to define all these tree types in the 1st place. Of course Ancient trees must have their own register as should Heritage Trees, very different definitions for which some trees will fall into both registers. But what of the millions of other trees?


The above crab apple is of significant ecological value, given its position within a housing estate and is a major focal point for 16 homes. Yet this tree is not recorded anywhere (until now), it has no protection at all. The locals who prize this tree have a right to register this and we have to take this into account.

Practitioner based work towards valuation is gaining momentum. For me the idea of incorporating CAVAT £ sterling values with the iTrees system can only be a good thing. Practitioners need values – this isn’t ‘Natural Capital’ stuff – it is for insurance purposes, not just for the tree but the well being & health of the community in which that tree exists, such valuation techniques go a long way in determining the right public have to their trees and preventing costly protest.

Social media has given us a very basic means to record trees by simply taking photos. Several facebook pages exist where hundreds of images are downloaded annually, thus setting a value on all the trees photographed. But this clearly isn’t enough and subject to an imbalance of opinion due to some interests being able to afford better PR.


The above Beech tree is likely to be removed because it “doesn’t fit in this landscape” – I enjoy the fact that taking a photo of it annoyed the person who stated this, a realisation that the tree does have a value to someone.


Above ‘wassailing’ an apple tree. We have a duty to recognise the cultural value attributed to this one tree through this celebration otherwise huge costs are incurred to taxpayers when the tree is threatened.

So what list of values should we work to (community value; family; scientific; cultural; production / commercial; personal; ecological; environmental, for starters?) and how do we ensure that people and communities are able to register their own values without moderation or manipulation?


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Enough of this Contempt for Land Management Practitioners

I am proud to be a land management practitioner, for me and many others there is nothing more rewarding than going home to your family after completing a contract. Leaving behind a newly planted area of land, a landscaped garden, dry stone wall or well laid hedge, a neat tree pruning or any other new feature in the landscape adding value to that landscape for all.

A whole host of varying professions; farmers, foresters, arborists, gardeners and of course the landscaper, very different and with their own languages, combine to keep all landscapes alive.

Hardy’s, even Laurie Lee’s, rich cultural rural landscape has disappeared because the vast majority of land management practitioners have shifted from the rural to the urban and particularly suburban landscape. The proof can be found in any social economic statistics gathered for our most treasured rural landscapes, where land management practitioners register as negligible. Development is where it is at – the ‘it’ being money. There are of course some left in our most beautiful rural landscapes, but it is vastly reduced. It seems the more beautiful, the more protected a landscape is, the population of land management practitioners decreases. It is all too easy to assume that the traditional knowledge of land management practitioners is at huge risk and it is an assumption I myself have made. But following some enforced reflection on the matter I have to agree that it has simply shifted. Should you want to see a new well built dry stone wall, or hedgerow, or well pruned tree – even a new orchard or tree planting, then you need to look in the suburban landscape.

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There are still many land management practitioners about, they won’t call themselves that, but gardeners and landscapers in particular abound – omnipresent in all our villages and towns. It is tough work for little money. It is work that often requires a breadth of knowledge and aptitude, which is belittled by an increasingly dumped down media. There are many local allies to the land management industry; allotmenteers and amateur gardeners. And it is still an axiom that should you require good localised land management knowledge, corner old Bob leaning on his spade rather than visiting the library to find the latest scientific papers or worse – watching TV gardening / countryside shows – which can never take account of the glorious myriad of issues which combine to create our extraordinarily diverse landscapes, which do not stop at the town sign.
The division between the varying professions involved in the management of our landscapes is probably what has caused the greatest problems for land industry as a whole. We are all too easily divided and conquered. Just as landlubbers struggled to understand the language of our seamen, we struggle to understand each land professions language – let alone their techniques. Tap many practitioner words, even the profession title into a search engine and it is underlined in red. For example, from my branch of land management: Snedding, Brashing, and even Arboriculturalist. Add in the huge range of localised terms for the tools and materials we use and it becomes very difficult indeed. Do we need a common glossary? I have often said we do – but we would lose something precious and I also believe that the sheer quantity of land management practitioners out there will blithely ignore it as is their right too.

Thus any amount of new terminology proffered to us is unlikely to be taken on board. Many recent terms developed by academics then absorbed and twisted by policy makers describe what is little more than common sense – and trying to sell common sense to an industry largely made up of small independent businesses who work long hours for little money and still survive is like selling coals to Newcastle. But surprisingly and scarily often these terms or ideas are simply nonsense having taken little account, indeed ignoring, many localised factors and the reality of the economics involved – Biodiversity Offsetting being a classic example.
Having been invited to help look into methods of bridging the chasms between those with interests in landscapes has been an eye opener in regards just how wide and deep these chasms are – however maybe this is a good thing. A practitioner friend stated ‘Be careful in building bridges as some may use it as a lowered drawbridge’. And this is a very apparent risk, particularly in rural ‘beautiful’ landscapes, where the Quango, NGO, accreditation staff now surely out number the practitioners themselves, certainly they believe they outrank them. And one wonders how many miles of dry stone wall are getting built in comparison with the amount of time, money and effort taken in discussing the ‘value’ of such immensely important landscape features.

It is very important to remember that it is private clients who are paying for the vast majority of good, sustainable land management and an ever increasing range of innovative land management solutions – designed at first for their own personal needs. If they profit, as they can, from ongoing benefits from the landscape they help to create and / or maintain either by way of aesthetics or from high quality produce then everyone wins.
And it is due to the influence of private clients that we practitioners have to have rigid insurance and operate under strict legal constraints. This should enable us to lead from the front in regards sustainable land management goals, so why are we at the rear? The answer is that others with ‘landscape’ interests, who have the time to shout more loudly also, are able to operate without such constraint and recently I was told this these constraints were a ‘problem’ by an academic. Really! – Imagine if such insurance and legal constraints were placed on bankers and estate agents – surely we would not have had the mess we are still all paying for. The ‘problem’ is that those others with an interest in land management do not have the same constraints – asides from the public, where it should always remain as free as it can be.

The land management practitioner base is disenfranchised, very widely ignored – but it is where the solutions lie and still strong enough to create more solutions. And with all this talk of communication it is far past the time to realise this doesn’t just mean asking but listening also, however hard it may be to understand. The result will inevitably highlight just how localised things really are when considering everything that creates a landscape – and where are the practitioners? Slap bang in the middle of each local landscape. And ultimately we need to learn to trust our land management practitioners, which we can do now in the vast majority of our landscapes, who have largely carried on regardless and continue to maintain the landscapes we value so highly.

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The Plane Tree – The Most Valued, Literally, European Tree

The Plane Tree would find little competition if we were to choose a tree for Europe – a tree which helps define a common heritage and culture for the majority of European citizens. It is also a tree whose current threatened circumstances are the result of the Second World War, a reminder in these days when we can so easily forget the circumstances of war, that it continues to affect our landscapes and therefore us.


Its presence in our urban environment allow Plane’s to be the most readily recognisable tree to the majority, this also means it is a tree that few celebrate – it is common. And indeed WWI soldiers would surely have associated the landscape of the Plane lined roads of Northern Europe with the awfulness of the war itself.


It remains a tree that evokes so many memories for so many Europeans. Its dominance as a ‘landscaping’ tree, THE landscaping tree, has meant it has been subject to homage from the greatest artists and musicians of Europe.


Vincent Van Gogh ‘The Large Plane Trees’

Including Handel’s Ombra Mai Fu – In praise of the shade of a Plane tree. Arguably one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed.


The Plane tree is under huge threat from Plane Tree Canker (Ceratocystis fimbriata) and Massaria (Splonchonema platani) as well as a host of other problems. Plane Tree Canker it is assumed was introduced to Europe by American packing crates during the later stages of WWII.

The impact of the potential loss of these trees in so many important European sites – including the World Heritage Site; Canal du Midi, in France – has led to some rapid research towards protecting the Plane Tree.


Photo from SubtiTree

But also towards valuing these trees and trees as a whole. The cost of replacing the estimated 42000 Plane trees of the Canal du Midi is set at €200,000,000.00 (thus €4762 / per tree). But these trees are not to be replaced with Plane’s but a mix including Oaks and Hickory.

The value of a standing Urban Plane tree is considerably more than this. As described here in this speech by Christopher Neilan, author of the CAVAT tree valuation system: Award Ceremony of the European Tree of the Year 2014.

One hopes that the threat and subsequent costs for Europe’s Plane trees allows for much better discussion and policies using realistic finances, which can only help in illustrating just how dangerous the current flippant and often knee jerk attitude of policy makers towards decision making re trees as a whole is.

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Every tree I’ve climbed

I remember every tree I’ve climbed, given trees are my passion since I can remember (apparently at the age of eight I stated I wanted to become a forester), this is a lot of trees.

I am not a climbing arborist, and one would guess climbing arborists would be less attached to each tree due to the quantity they have to climb, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

I cannot list each tree, but the smell, the feel and sometimes fear of each climbing experience is still a much more powerful memory than many holidays and certainly many important life milestones (although alcohol may have played a part here).

The first tree I truly climbed, to the top, was a young Sequoia (planted the year of my birth) and I remember distinctly the extraordinary sensation of holding on tight as it swayed in the breeze. Exhilarating yet scary. Certainly addictive. And set me on a course to become fascinated by trees, a fascination accelerated by the fact that we hardly know anything about them, particularly their extraordinary relationship with soil, other trees and of course their relationship with us. A relationship which we treat with dangerous flippancy.

This first tree, now a handsome specimen, I heard yesterday may be cut down as development is proposed on the brownfield site it occupies.

There may be genuine reasons, as there often is and thus I can’t get angry, but it made me very sad indeed.

In this last year it is looking very likely that more trees have been felled across the world than any other previous year.

It is clear that many politicians across the world have simply given up on any attempt towards a sustainable agenda. Trees and forests are either in the way or a resource to be abused. Both those who work with trees and those who have engaged with them in their own way are clearly losing the battle at the moment. So we desperately need every initiative possible in order to keep the message clear, that if we continue to keep felling as we are now it is quite possible we threaten the lives of our children and certainly their children.

Therefore I applaud any initiative that encourages children to climb trees and therefore set off in their life with a respect generally lacking in our generation. Education is great and necessary – but fun is better and leads to backdoor, self driven education. Wouldn’t it be great if tree climbing became as popular an after school (or even in school) sport as karate or even football? It is just as exhilarating probably more so. It isn’t easy either and there is a huge range of techniques and manoeuvres which would make an arbolmypics possible and a damn sight more watchable – although perhaps I am biased a wee bit.

I met a chap recently who is planning to do just this in an urban setting. I am amazed there are not more.



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A War on our Landscapes – but where the soldiers?

The fact is that England is a human landscape, it’s rural landscape is a cultural one. The British have a wonderful obsession with the natural world, and this obsession has been catered for by a huge choice of literature, TV shows and magazines which portray the English countryside as a leisure playground shared with a fragile, threatened wildlife. It is now not the farmers and foresters who are the wealthy elite of our rural scapes, but environmental and nature conservation NGOs, who have gained considerably from this obsession allowing their hierarchies the greatest salaries in land management and, if including volunteers, the largest workforces by far.

In the past couple of months I have been stomping about the landscape of South Devon and the range of landscape features, which define this landscape, cannot fail to impress. At closer inspection it doesn’t take much time to see how much degradation there is leading to a slow decline of many of these features; dry stone hedgerows, hedgerows, waterways and non woodland trees are all suffering from a lack of management, which has arguably already changed the landscape.

It is immeasurably sad that landscapes are threatened not just by development or industry seeking resources but by an almost complete lack of those capable of building and maintaining our most valuable landscape features because there is no money.

There is still plenty of examples of attempts to protect these features and farmers should be applauded for their efforts when they face so many other pressures and have little time.


It is not a case of too little too late, it is not a case of not caring or a belligerence against a strong environmental lobby. It is not a case of a lack of ‘good practice’ guidance, (although it is evident that much of this guidance is written, post dissemination by those who don’t know land industry).

It is because those actually earning from land management in the most iconic rural landscapes of England, including South Devon, are such a small % in regional economics that they are marked as negligible in official statistics!

There is simply hardly anyone actively working the land anymore, despite enormous pressures to deliver more from their land for less money.

Instead we see war. The badger cull a classic example. There is clearly a need to investigate, based on science and with all interests involved towards a potential solution. But one cannot help think that a ‘war’ is much more advantageous to government, NGOs and even the farming lobby as it avoids having to consider the much bigger issues which could affect the landscape more like fracking and windfarms, which are increasingly attractive to an impoverished agricultural community. Continue reading


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Terroir – why we need to understand it.

I remain convinced that the true French concept of ‘Terroir’ remains the answer to the majority of issues in regards the past, present and future of European land management.

The fact that Anglophones just don’t get it, indeed even second language English Europeans, is not just sad but potentially very damaging.

Combined with the increasing amount of frankly obtuse buzzwords, easily twistable, easily confused, it is easy to understand why we are left in a literary desert where the oasis’s are real to a few, but a mirage to the majority – to those that matter.

Terroir may be a French word and thus ‘unsuitable’ for adoption in the increasingly anti European mindset of many English speakers (it’d be interesting to see a word count of how many words of French derivative appear in the Daily Mail!). But it really does remain the very best word to cross all political boundaries and all chasms between those that work in all our landscapes that exists.

Terroir is, as best as I can interpret; Everything within a landscape that afects the soil (which is pretty much everything!) and thus the taste, (and taste, this is the really important bit, equals money). Thus all supplements, be it new development or pesticide usage, can or could, (explaining why the precautionary principle is so important to the French), affect the taste of a product produced there. Therefore terroir is the marriage of all sciences, social and earth, it is all the elements both natural and man made within a place and you.

If any commentator, academic, practitioner or politician suggests an alternative word or phrase they need to justify this – and they will never be able to do so successfully, (but my goodness they do try with extraordinary and very costly – to us as taxpayers – failure), So why bother?

Terroir is ‘Ecosystem Systems’ + ‘Sustainable Development’. It is the value of everything to value anything. Without everything that value is nothing. This includes monetary value and no non ‘commodity’ product exists that has such a high value than a terroir product. Let us be honest, (even the most deep green of ecologists included!) it is and has to be about money. How much is ‘Whisky’ worth to the Scot’s economy, how much ‘Champagne’ to the French? To continue to copy these products is completely stupid – you may win an award, but this is meaningless if you haven’t protected the landscape from which this product is born! You are simply good at plagiarising! Never something to be proud of and not in the case of terroir something that helps the biodiversity and both the natural elements and historic landscape features of the place that product was born.

Terroir negates ‘Sustainable Tourism’ & ‘Sustainable Intensive Agriculture’. Both of which are oxymorons, which is why many don’t understand the terms and certainly with good reason don’t trust them. Terroir however doesn’t attempt to hide behind language that can be easily labeled as greenwash, it doesn’t need to. Tourism and CAP fuelled agriculture is as strong in France as anywhere else, indeed more so. Terroir products enable a secondary economy, one which provides a much needed stable safety net against all agricultural policy making, whilst at the same time providing a tangible link to the landscape you visit. The reason why the food and drink you experience on holiday tastes better when you are there is because of terroir – the smells and intangible emotions of a place are in those products also, heightening your experience. And when purchasing these products you directly aid the protection of that place, the biodiversity, the cultural heritage etc., without any % paid into the considerable administration budgets of a nature conservation NGO.

Terroir equals good health & wellbeing as well as strengthening communities. The French, and other nationalities with terroir diets, enjoy the healthiest diets in the world. The precise reasons as to why this is so remain elusive, however it is clear that there is a correlation with terroir. Cheeses and meats with a wide range of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks only require a basic carbohydrate addition (often terroir produce also) as the flavours are much more distinct. Communities with a shared terroir are habitually stronger as these products require a communal effort due to the effort required at harvest time as the value of many terroir products does not justify the cost of imported labour.

Terroir is Sustainable Soil Management. It really is all about the soil, which we still know little about yet abuse with abandon, contrary to what many commentators and lobbyists believe. In place of a soils directive and indeed stronger in protective measures to anything the directive could have installed, terroir is based on a fundamental to ensure the soil remains as it is to ensure the produce remains as it is. Thus any and all additions to the soil need to be scrutinised hard, from compost to pesticide, biochar to bullsh#t. The UK obsession that we need to improve our soils by supplements all the time is just wrong! We certainly need to improve our soils by tackling the ludicrous consolidation and counter productive drainage methods. But otherwise we can learn a lot by terroir by doing nothing at all.

Terroir is Traditional Knowledge. Quite why we do not have a suitable English translation for terroir is proof indeed as to how much we have lost traditional knowledge and skills. The UK and elsewhere certainly produced a lot of great terroir products (and still do!), the extraordinary quantity of unique landscapes in such a small country allowed for an extraordinary range of produce, (and still can). Terroir is an appreciation of many processes which are slowly but surely being recognised by modern science. Our predecessors were not all stupid peasants carving out the landscape at the instruction of their liege – but had guessed and worked with the extraordinary interconnectedness of everything.

Terroir is not just a word and maybe we’ll never understand the true meaning as any French can. But in trying to do so we will find many solutions and indeed simply having one word where a thousand are used is incredibly beneficial in itself as it will aid ongoing discussion. But I believe there are too many, (both farming lobbyists, suppliers etc., and environmental NGOs and Quangos) who will fight hard against any doing even that!

In the meantime search some terroir produce out and enjoy, knowing that you are aiding the most sustainable and environmentally friendly method of land management in existence in Europe today.


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