Ecosystem services are in the news a lot at the moment. Our latest guest blog is from Peter Leeson, who has been using the power of the moving picture to highlight how trees can bring huge benefits to us in so many ways, particularly in this case when it comes to farming and water. Over to you, Pete!
“When we first mooted the idea of filming some of our work it was soon obvious that we needed two things – good landscape and good stories. My role for the Trust is in the Partnerships team – I work to bring people together to make things happen – and I am lucky enough to live in Cumbria and work in some of the finest landscapes we have in Britain. In nearly 20 years of work for the Trust I have come across a lot of wonderful stories and met quite a few characters en route. Who better to tell a good story than a good character…so we had some favours to pull in!
The story of trees and woodlands is as diverse as the trees and woods themselves. Why have there been periods when trees have meant more to the people working in the landscape, and why at other periods have they meant less? Today we have a patchwork of land forms that include trees and hedgerows in every vista yet sometimes one feels that they are viewed almost as “incidental to” rather than “fundamental to” landscape function. The word “function” is quite cold in its own right but it helps me to think about what the landscape is doing and how it helps us in our daily lives. Some of the big topics of the day such as agriculture/food production and water management/flooding sit within this wider landscape function – the landscape brings us food and water after all.
An assessment of these functions was made in the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UKNEA). What it clearly showed was that trees and woodland in the landscape provides a wide range of ‘ecosystem services’. These include things such as
- Supporting pollination
- Regulation of climate
- Maintenance and regeneration of habitat
- Provision of shade and shelter
- Prevention of soil erosion
- Maintenance of soil fertility
- Maintenance of healthy waterways
- Regulation of river flows
What is clear is that the benefits are both large and critical to our economy and to our survival. Yet many of these services are unpaid for and unsupported by government, making their continued supply vulnerable.
I love trees and this is what gets me up in the morning – to further their cause. So what has been fantastic for me is to see, in only the last half dozen years or so, how much work has gone into understanding the inter-relationship between all the functions of the landscape and how commonly the “tree” has been the answer! Pleasingly, an increasing awareness of how trees can help people in the landscape has, it seems to me, created something of a renaissance for the humble tree. We examine some of this work within the films.
So…. back to my favours. In the films we see several people doing what they do, but thinking about how trees can help their work. In our ‘Living Waters‘ film, Glyn was a complete star and whilst we were filming he nearly landed a salmon in front of our eyes! He showed us a world which has absolute ties with trees as the invertebrates his trout feed on are themselves feeding on the leaves of willow, alder and oak. Ian reminded us how important trees and other vegetation at the side of rivers can help stabilise river channels and keep river water cool enough for successful spawning. In our ‘Holding Ground‘ film, Mike reminded us that flood risk can be mitigated by good river management including tree’d banks. Richard, a local farm manager, helped to show how new planting has helped him capture and stabilise soil on his farm. We are now going back to Richard’s farm in a few day’s time with some volunteers to plant some more hedgerows for him designed to reduce soil loss from an arable field.
Directing the films was a new departure for me and surprisingly hard work. There was so much we could not show even in snapshot and we have plenty to go at in the future. For example, we are working with Lancaster University on a project to look at how agricultural soils can be enhanced through planting trees.
Pulling in a few favours also reminded me of my role. Partnership Working is what it is all about – learning from others and working with them for shared outcomes. If the Trust can do more to influence how people view the use of trees and hedgerows positively in the farmed landscape, we will be getting somewhere. I think we are now maturing as a conservation sector and working across boundaries seems more sensible but also more possible than ever before. And we are all in it together!”
Peter Leeson, Partnerships Manager