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?


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Why we all need to talk about Sheffield’s trees.

There is an increasing amount of prominent and professional ‘Tree people’ following the Sheffield tree campaign and I would keenly advise everyone and anyone in the industry or on the periphery, in the UK or abroad, to do so also . The facebook page for Sheffield Tree Action Group (STAG) has become a fascinating forum with many recognisable names popping up.

Many including myself often discuss the need for those in the Arb’ and Forestry industries to be communicating more. But what is the point if we are subject to a deliberate campaign to ignore all the work done, all the guidance and indeed even the legal framework under which we work?

This is why the Sheffield tree situation is so important to those outside of Sheffield and even outside the UK. It is not so much the trees themselves, indeed a significant proportion of the trees in Sheffield clearly needed attention and some felling was / is inevitable, but the manner it has been handled – particularly recently following an apparent backtrack in order to fulfill consultation requirements, which had been ignored for far too long.

The few statements being made public read like a compiled list of ‘tree myths’ in the urban landscape. Including the fantastic, if it wasn’t so sad, excuse to fell because ‘that tree will become dangerous when it dies?!?’ However these few random statements (and credit must be given to the council staff who have actually joined in on facebook threads), hide a deeply worrying procedure, which may or may not be sinister (again not the point), where a tree panel has been set up, meeting at least once already but which neither the members or the minutes are disclosed.

We can live with trees in built environment and we must. Innovative engineering combined with the traditional has allowed us to successfully live with trees in the most concrete of landscapes to the benefit of us all – not least the industry who depend on this for its very future! To be sidelined solely to the rural landscape is to accept failure – when we should be at the very forefront of sustainable development.

Arboriculture and Forestry are industries which join many, if not all, industries in being dangerously usurped by a system where media are politically obsessed. To speak to those who actually know what they are talking about means that these people have to expose themselves to the trolls, which now worringly and disgracefully includes the politicians themselves.

What is happening in Sheffield is a disgrace. This is not regressive but a whole new vision of how we may have to work in the future. The only positive being that this allows a direct link between the industry and the communities themselves and it is refreshing that local people are hunting the web and further for as much information as possible in regards their trees.



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Hopka – A Forester’s Fare

The Ivano Frankovsk region of the Ukraine (Eastern Carparthians), is well forested and has for centuries bred foresters. These foresters have had to move around the whole of Europe and further due to falling wages, forced down by ever decreasing amounts paid per tree felled. Those that stay have to work harder than we in the west could possibly imagine.

For a region that has such a rich forestry heritage, arguably one of the richest in Europe, it is no surprise that there exists a range of traditions heavily linked to the forest. Including many culinary dishes based on food foraged from the forest (or to use that awful buzz term ‘Non Timber Products’).

And there is one dish that is not made from forest foods – but is foresters food. The cooking of which should take place in the forest to gain the right taste and clearly ‘invented’ to provide the huge calorie intake needed by a forestry practitioner.

Hopka is a potato dish, which despite initial reservations, (as always when faced with unusual ‘traditional regional food’ – so often it is not well known for a good reason), I can’t recommend highly enough. It is a social meal, similar to fondue or raclette – designed to be eaten around the embers of a fire in the forest.


OK – we copped out of eating it in the forest (this first time).

The potato mash is prepared as a dough, just perfect for soaking in a creamy, cheesy, onion sauce (or indeed any favourite sauce you may have), and is scooped out of the cast iron hopka pan by hand, shaped and dipped.

The preparation and recipe is as follows:

Mash a large amount of potato’s in a cast iron pan (No milk or butter).

Light a decent fire using spruce or pine. Wait until enough embers to level out and place the pan on. Spread half a cup of plain flour over top of mash and place on embers.

Wait 5 minutes. Then pound with freashly de-barked hardwood club.

Add more flour and repeat process 3 times.

Next add 3 – 4 eggs and add lard or infused vegetable oil, pound in and then add more flour.

Rest on embers for further 5minutes or so – then final pounding until doughy.

The smoke from the conifer embers enters into the mash, providing a subtle but distinct and unusual taste.

Thanks to Vasile & Sergei.


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To remove street trees is to remove a landscape.

Mature street trees increase the surface area of the immeadiate surroundings by several square kilometres, creating a larger landscape in a smaller place. To remove these trees removes the landscape leaving the street a small element in a much larger urban landscape. This leads to a sense of displacement for local communities.

Mature street trees are becoming increasingly rare. The majority of new street trees will never reach maturity. This is largely due to mechanisation (digging the tree pit by excavator often leads to soil smearing, the more clay, the worse the smear), combined with the many myths as to what a tree requires upon planting. Far too many trees are over fertilised and over watered, causing a slow death as the roots cannot expand out of a soil smeared hole, made worse by the huge quantity of urine and other pollutants which build up as they cannot disperse through the impermeable smear.

Tree roots need oxygen and in seeking out this oxygen quickly discover the loose material, backfill, around our drains and other subsurface infrastructure, which they take advantage of, inadvertently causing damage and thus helping towards the demonisation of all trees. As does clay shrinkage and a host of other spurious excuses insurance companies and developers have at their disposal in order to avoid tree planting as a requirement. Providing pockets of loose material, vertidrains filled with pea gravel, can allow us to manipulate root growth. It is far from rocket science and hardly expensive. But rarely done.

When all trees face unprecedented threats from pests and diseases, vandalism and often, simply neglect, it is a wonder that any trees planted in the technosols of our urban and suburban landscapes ever make it at all. And certainly any council seeking to save on future infrastructure expenses by felling mature trees, rather than implementing any of the excellent techniques which allow the tree to remain without compromising infrastructure requirements, is certainly not going to bother too much about a long term management regime for any replacement trees!

So when councils and others speak of planting a replacement landscape to the one just removed from you, it is vital to question whether this will actually work? And the need for community tree groups and strategies becomes vital.



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It is not trees that help alleviate flooding – it is how we use the trees.

The recent flooding in Northern England, Scotland and Wales was heartbreaking to watch. I am sure that the last thing those affected need right now is to listen to the rhetoric of pointscoring commentators as to who’s to blame. Sadly trying to hold one’s tongue is difficult as increasingly spurious information is widely touted across social media.

The role of trees and forests in flood mitigation is highly complex. Simply planting lots of trees, (on the uplands, riparian zones and urban areas), does not help at all, without traditional land management and innovative engineering also.

I am in the South of France at the moment helping following a catastrophic flood, it is impossible not to draw comparisons between the two events, particularly when UK work (FC Forest and Water guidelines etc.,) is being used as exemplary examples to follow. This area has seen a massive increase in tree cover since the 1960’s. With almost 70% closed canopy forest outside of towns, where once scrubby maquis on the slopes and intensive horticultural production took place elsewhere, (principally flower growing for the perfume market). This ‘forest’, rich in wild boars and much other wildlife despite the many fences, did not help prevent the catastrophic flooding because of the soil.

Post farm abandonment the natural regeneration and planting did not take account of sub surface consolidation. Such consolidation can be found in ALL human influenced landscapes. Unless tree roots can penetrate this then a severe flooding event would actually be made worse. To try and attempt to encourage every tree root to do so is frankly impossible. What isn’t impossible are plantations with 3 degree drainage, new stone walling following contours, vertidrains and best of all: The dry stone hedgerow, planted with fruiting natives.

Here in Cote d’Azur the dry stone retaining terrace walls had been left unmanaged or replaced with concrete structures (or often cement pointed themselves), which failed dramatically when the rains fell. Whilst these were highly effective slow drainage structures previously, which helped dramatically.

It is a long process to start to repair the landscape features which aided, even longer to build new to compensate for the huge increase in population and resulting infrastructure. But this process can only be made more difficult by politics. To work it has to be community driven, as it was in the past so successfully. And with proper joined up thinking – not the PR tainted point scoring we see now which muddies the water as much as the flooding itself, it is possible to gain through this process with more, much needed, sustainable forestry and opportunities for renewable energy, whilst taking into account insurance and liability which so many commentators; political, academic or NGO rarely take any notice of.

But sadly, we do have to accept that we cannot and never should relax in the believe that we can completely hold back the waters and that any commentator preaching seemingly easy solutions such as ‘Rewilding’ are just a modern Canute with an ego to match.

I went to a meeting recently with only foresters, planners, engineers and the public. Solutions were proferred, budgets tabled and everyone left to get on with it. I can’t see this happening in the UK anymore, only selected ‘stakeholders’ whose only purpose is to continue to be funded as such – but hope I am wrong?



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