Last week I planted my very first tree. Some people assume that we spend all our time at the Woodland Trust tree planting and walking around beautiful woodlands, but unluckily for the Campaigning team we don’t get out as often as some of our other Trust colleagues so it’s taken me until now to get a chance to get my spade out!
And as an experience, what a first it was for me! Not only was I planting my first tree – such a moving experience and so easy to do – but I was doing it on behalf of a range of organisations concerned about airport expansion including RSPB, WWF and World Development Movement. In partnership with Greenpeace, in front of national media. In the pouring rain. With Richard Briers, Alison Steadman, CarolAnn Duffy, plus politicians of every hue and a whole community in tow. Definitely not my usual Friday!
I was at the Airplot - the strip of land right in the middle of Heathrow’s proposed third runway, which was bought last year by Greenpeace and is co-owned by over 60,000 other people around the world. This entire area was once home to orchards and famed for the Cox Orange Pippin apple. Today the ‘market garden’ for London is under tonnes of tarmac and concrete, the constant roar of aircraft in the air.
Why was the Trust there? Our fight against Stansted is well-known and one of our highest profile cases of woods under threat, where 6 ancient woodlands are at risk of being lost forever from proposals for a new runway. But when it comes to Heathrow, it is the very trees themselves which bring us to Sipson and the surrounding villages. You can read more about our concerns for the ancient and historically important trees that remain (for now) in the area.
The Woodland Trust joined Greenpeace as ‘the tree experts’ supporting their planting of a new orchard and providing a good mix of native hedging to encourage biodiversity and improve pollination. On the day, 13 trees of various types of apple species were planted to complement the allotment established on the site earlier in the year.
I spent an amazing day with Greenpeace at Airplot. There was a wonderful feeling of cameraderie throughout the whole event despite the weather. As we all huddled together under a small marquee (did I mention the rain?) sipping hand-squeezed apple juice fresh from local apples, we listened to local historian Philip Sherwood tell stories about the area as it once was. Then we were treated to a reading by Alison Steadman of a new poem by the Poet Laureate, CarolAnn Duffy, before heading out into the mud with our spades.
I realised the full scope of Heathrow’s plans as I talked to some of the locals from Sipson, Harlington and Harmondsworth. Their hopes that the plans can be defeated are tangible. These villages will all be flattened by BAA’s expansion, and their residents fear for their homes and communities in an uncertain future.
As for the trees that could be lost with them; who knows what secrets old masters like the great Sipson Oak hold? History remembers them being planted, generations have watched them grow. Who can imagine the thousands of species of fungi, plants and wildlife these trees can be host to?
The incredibly resilient Harlington Yew has stood firm for perhaps 1,000 years and continues to grow, even after being manipulated and clipped over the centuries; it was once damaged so badly by a gale that it was left as a stump only 12 feet high – yet as you can see in the photo above, it is still awe-inspiring today. The story of these villages can be epitomised by this beautiful old tree. They may be battered but their spirit will take much more to break.
Aviation is one of the world’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases. Government and business plans for unremitting airport expansion threatens our natural world and increases the potential for long-term consequences of climate change.
We believe that trees and woods have a valuable role to play in addressing the issue of climate change, but only as part of the solution. We are backing community action to plant a twin tree in solidarity like local Greenpeace groups have been doing all over the country. You can take action too, and there’s no need to stop at one tree!
Together we can all make the UK – one of the least wooded countries in Europe – a place rich in native trees and woods, and show there are strong roots of resistance to the type of large-scale development the aviation industry has to offer.