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.


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.


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”


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:

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.


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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The Man Who Saves Trees

Ever since my involvement with Save Our Woods, there is one fixed axiom as to how campaigning for trees can work: It has to come from the heart and this, of course, requires initial action from the people who live where the trees are threatened. This is as true for those campaigning in the Amazon to those fighting for their street trees in Sheffield.

And since closely following tree and forest related issues – particularly protests from around the world, there is another factor that always seems to appear: Whenever many organisations, governmental or NGO, get ‘involved’ things start to go awry – the wheel gets reinvented, renamed and it all just flows away at considerable cost.

‘Top down’ just doesn’t work. It has to be ‘bottom up’. People have to be listened to – not merely seeking the best quotes for a forthcoming glossy publication, that is so rapidly forgotten about.

I have had the privilege of meeting many ‘tree professionals and campaigners’ who help considerably by understanding the above and then working with the communities affected, wherever in the world, by simply heading them in the right direction as and when needed.

With social media it is increasingly easy to meet these people and it always amazes just how many positive local projects and initiatives there are going on. But so, so often these projects are usurped – amalgamated – and then lost.

The facts speak for themselves: Despite all the calls for tree planting, there are less trees being planted and more being cut down – year after year we are losing more trees than the previous year. And not only are we planting less and UK tree nurseries are faced with increasingly reduced orders, but the trees planted are failing in vast numbers. All in complete contrast to the increasingly spurious claims of many organisations’ PR teams ‘tweets’.

I paint a bleak picture, but I remain convinced that trees are a (if not THE) ‘basic’ answer to so many environmental issues, including of course climate change. If we cannot get the basics sorted out, what hope is there for anything else? Of course soil is the biggy – but who cares about this at all? Who realised that 2015 was the Year of Soil? Not many at all, regrettably!

But there has been some great success’s and just this year in the UK, the moratorium on Sheffield’s tree fiasco imposed by the High Court and the route of the Newtown bypass being bent to avoid the Brimmon Oak are both instances which prove that well organised local protest can work. In the background (and frankly quite often in the forefront also) there was Rob Mcbride (aka The Treehunter), who is rapidly and quite rightly becoming the face for trees in the UK and of all Europe. Simply there to help and pulling every string he can to do so.


Most, if not all of us in the tree ‘world’ know Rob. His networking skills are second to none and he can pull in any number of expert, specialist or someone with relevant anecdotal evidence, to help others.

When working for Save our Woods and it’s eventual successful conclusion there was the realisation that one person had become the very necessary hub, that without them it would not have succeeded – that was Hen Anderson.

The same is / has become true of Rob. And to many there is now the welcome relief that there is someone who can and will help. Who is the hub to achieving success  –  which no website, project or initiative could ever achieve – because it is they themselves that make it work in saving your trees.


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EU referendum – What about our trees? Does it really matter?

The name of this blogsite is not ‘Pro-Europe’, the rather silly media term to categorise someone who would vote for continuing UK membership of the European Union. It is because I am European and work abroad, (an immigrant in France so an exit from the EU would adversely affect me), and thus the name is simply geographical. Bizarrely I have over the years received, in comments and via twitter, abuse for being ‘European’! A clear illustration of just how polarised the British have become, mainly as a result of the really very poor journalism and general media as a whole that pervades in my home country. But maybe it is time to come clean.

The very important British voice in the EU has been sadly far too quiet for far too long, easily allowing the British, particularly English general media to misconstrue and often blatantly lie about the realities of the EU. It is sad that British children and most adults also just don’t know the basics of what happens, let alone why. The difference between the European Parliament, Council of Europe and European Commission, (all different organisations), is blurred beyond confusion and thus now easily ignored in favour of celebrity news from America.

But what of all European trees and what affects all European trees? Has the EU been a good or a bad thing for trees?

Trees are not featured much, hardly at all in fact, within the considerable amount of bumf that has been generated by the EU since conception. It is true that a considerable sum of money has been allocated towards research into trees, particularly in regards their benefits to agriculture, but this is mostly peripheral research.


Most member states have been allowed to draw up their own guidance and / or legislation in regards trees and even forests, which varies dramatically. Illustrating the diversity of trees and forests and their importance or relevance to the many cultures of the European continent.

Whilst ‘Ancient Woodland’ is explicitly mentioned within the habitats directive, this does not appear to alleviate the concerns of NGOs in both the UK and across Europe, fighting to save such habitat from development or industry. So clearly there is need to tighten this up.

The Soils Directive, had it ever been introduced rather than blocked by many member states including the UK, would have certainly turned more attention to trees within particular member states whilst attempting to introduce into the directive into their own particular legislative process, due to cost savings that trees would provide in safeguarding soil.

One issue that was initially poorly handled and which has certainly led to many avoidable tree deaths has been the free market itself; inadvertently allowing the transfer of trees and plants affected with disease across the whole of the continent and onto islands, such as the British Isles, which had an effective natural barrier. I have heard this used as a ‘pro’ argument for leaving the EU, but I find this a little fatuous as the UK arb, forest and landscaping industries have suffered greatly from this, particularly nurseries, and fought hard, without success, towards gaining media attention – which continues to publicise, hypocritically, the cost benefits of cheap plants for all, meanwhile the EU have helped to fund guidance to avoid this situation, widely ignored in the UK, but which has led to centralised checkpoints for all plant imports in some member states to a great deal of success.

What should be the crowning achievement for European forestry and arboriculture was the EUTR. A phenomenal amount of work went into this, which was ultimately more popular in non-European press than within its boundaries. It is been an uphill struggle and certainly the UK is as guilty as other countries in not enforcing the law as well as it could be. But the EUTR should be recognised for what it is – ‘the most progressive legislation to curb deforestation internationally’.

As the threats to trees in Europe are common threats, it is vital that research and developments are shared between all countries irrespective of EU membership or not and this will surely continue no matter what the outcome of the referendum is.

And one has to wonder what does it matter when, as seen in Sheffield recently, any and all EU, Council of Europe and other international guidance, directives or convention can be blatantly ignored, despite ratification. This is something seen in other countries too. The French all too often simply ignore the rights of other EU citizens, leading myself and other immigrants to carry EU legislation French text in order to gain any progress when meeting a Fonctionnaire.


The EU does need reform, it does need people to question it and continual monitoring. I was at an EU funded meeting as a ‘partner’ not long ago, when trying to question what ‘partner’ actually meant in terms of the contract, I made the joke “So basically some partners are more equal than others”, the response to this was, “Yes, exactly”, without any sense of irony! To me this sums up much of what is happening in Brussels and what has to stop.

And to this end I would state to any and all considering voting to leave the EU, that you are weak! The EU needs we Brits to question it – not to threaten it. We do not need Pro or Anti Europe MEPS, but those actually fighting for their constituents, with the simple basic platform at all times of ensuring peace throughout Europe.

As a parent I want to ensure the very best spread of possibilities for my son. To leave Europe is to limit this considerably and given that a significant proportion of those voting are past middle aged and shaped into armchair fascists by a media who think it is perfectly ok to publish the scrawlings of Katie Hopkins, it is not just the vote itself that is important but how or why it ever came to be.





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Just How Old are These French Mountain Beech Trees?


Stage 1. 


Stage 2.


Stage 3.


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