Trees – what are we afraid of?

It’s not quite Change the World Wednesday (#ctww) but I’ve been busy so I thought today would work just as well. But also I just had to post something that made me so angry and simultaneously laugh out loud:

Anger over plan to remove tree council says is a ‘risk’ – Environment – Market Rasen Mail  http://m.marketrasenmail.co.uk/news/environment/anger-over-plan-to-remove-tree-council-says-is-a-risk-1-5111454#.UZ5jeIOMaJA.twitter

I’m just stunned by the thought anyone in local government believes felling a mature tree ‘in case’ someone fell out of it, is the most viable solution to deal with this situation. Especially when there has been no known accidents for at least 30 years, if you add the benefits of each and every tree on top the sums simply don’t add up.

I read recently something about the value of forests industries and revenue from recreational use of England’s woodland amounting to more than £4bn. Four bil-li-on. I know! In a harsh recession that figure sounds even more appealing to me, and to be fair I don’t know much (maths was never my forte), I’d never be given a job at the Treasury. But even I know the value that one tree has, and that a bit of decent care and attention would allow this tree to thrive and grow up with the children in the neighbourhood, just as it should. And I believe that because I’ve learned at the Trust all about why trees are worth their weight in more than gold. The more I understand about trees the more in awe I am of them, and annoyed at how we still take them for granted.

I’d like to think that if this tree was in my neighbourhood I might have found myself slicing off the offending branch when no-one was looking, but of course I do agree it needs more sensitive expert attention from an arboriculturist. But whyever consider taking out the whole tree? It made me feel angry because there is so much information and great statistics out there about the value of forests, woods and trees be they old, damaged or young, that this ridiculously sad situation surely should not arise. But before I got any further, I burst out laughing because a memory jumped into my mind and I remembered the time when I fell out of a tree, and that it did change my life.

If the council truly believes that the risk outweighs the gains here, then maybe my story will help prove a tree’s worth and maybe it will make them smile too. We used to climb trees and make dens like you might have done, and one afternoon I got almost to the top of one of the handful of trees near my Nana’s house.

I am absolutely inspired every day, and very often amazed by trees and woodland. I notice them all the time. By rights, if we took this article as an example, I ought to be terrified, or at least more than badly bruised by the experience I had when I was twelve, of climbing up to the top of that tree and looking across the rooftops and over to the warren beyond my Nana’s. I was scared, starting to work my way down, as I was pretty high up, but I was terrified when my foot slipped and I grabbed at nothing, and in a flash fell to the ground.

If this council had its way when that happened to me, I guess my tree would have been cut down. Evidence of the terrible risk posed to children everywhere, punished for being ungenerously dangerous for clumsy kids in plimsoles.

I remember landing safely, slowed by the branches, between large root systems onto hard ground. I remember feeling immensely grateful to the tree somehow. After all, I was ok. I remember flexing my legs and being faintly disappointed underneath the pain in my ankle to doubt I’d really broken anything. Brilliantly, I remember too about Nigel, one of the neighbourhood boys who was sort of going out with my friend Lin the way you do when you’re 12, and who was at the slight and lanky stage of his youth. Nonetheless, Nigel bravely stepped forward to catch me – at the time I felt the tips of his fingers brush my side as I fell – only to suddenly change his mind, instinctively he pulled back and I landed beyond him in a lump.

Looking back twenty five years on it’s a hilarious image to me, especially as I then recall that I’d torn ligaments in my ankle (couldn’t manage a proper break), and had hidden embarrassed in the corner of the sofa at Lin’s aunt’s who lived down the road and who had answered the door in a bathtowel, while I waited for my mum. I remember limping dramatically about the house with my swollen ankle for days demanding attention, and hobbling around Guide camp that summer with an unnecessary stick – intended to get me out of chores but which essentially only served to mean I wasn’t allowed to go on the high wire fixed up in the woods, or the makeshift rope swings they’d hung over high branches, or clamber over giant boughs of fat old trees. That was also the year my friend Mindy and I, bored, knocked a wasps nest out of a tree and were chased back to the campsite by a swarm of pissed off wasps. I forgot about my ankle then! And spending the nicest day of camp stuck in a tent smothered in camomile lotion and massive lumps from wasp stings.

And mostly I laughed because I realised that despite falling victim to such nasty old trees, almost exactly twenty years later I joined the Woodland Trust to campaign full time to protect them.

I suppose those trees were dangerous, if we think of them in light of this article. I never felt my fall was the trees’ fault though. And far more dangerous surely, to let today’s kids grow up without curiosity, without feeling the joy of running through woods, without learning a healthy respect for nature and their own boundaries. Without feeling the texture of bark, smelling blossom or watching blackbirds gobble up berries; without kicking through piles of dead leaves or knocking down conkers for school. Already I worry about what my world will look like in 25 years time; that will be today’s kid’s world too – if we chop down trees now in ignorance like this, what memories will they have of what used to be? We learned about the seasons by watching the colours on the trees change, while birds and insects made their homes in interesting holes. Will they have had as much fun not exploring hollow tree trunks or getting dirty following badger tracks? Not to mention they’d be missing all the good things that come with trees like shade, shelter, flood protection, clean air, free areas for exercise and relaxing, green spaces, durable materials for crafts and industry – and oh yes, oxygen!

In the years between my fall and my move to the Trust I’ve never been afraid of a tree even though I had what I suppose would class here as an accident. I’ve never broken any bones, that busted ankle was probably the most pain I had experienced at that point. It’s ironic that mine seems just the story councils might be fearful of, but I’ve never been put off trees and while I was hurt, of course, I recovered and learned several valuable lessons at the same time. Today the way Nigel changed his mind about catching me when I fell out of a tree is rolled out if we’re sharing funny stories at dinner. I bet we all have memories and stories of trees and woods to share (I think l’ll make that my #ctww challenge: share a tree memory to remind each other how important they are!).

I don’t think for a minute that it’s anything less than safety fears which are making this council prevaricate so about whether it’s best to remove the overhanging branch or the whole tree in this situation. An independent survey or two would help and a decent local consultation. The residents might like to ask the district council trees officer to inspect the tree to check that it is not in a dangerous condition.  If it’s not they could also ask the Tree Officer to consider putting a tree preservation order on the tree… this would ensure that the parish council could  not cut it down without permission from the district council (the planning authority). Our blame culture makes people nervous about risk so I can see why the question is being asked about whether it’s worth it to keep the tree ‘in case’. Maintenance is about long term investment, felling a cheaper, in the short term, solution.

But as someone said to me this week, trees are worth more than the paper they produce. I don’t think we can afford not to invest. I hope that’s what happens in Market Rasen, too.

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Local Government and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Trees – what are we afraid of?

  1. Nigel Watson says:

    This comes up as page not found.

    You will lose your audience if this happens!

    Nigel Watson

    • Kay Haw says:

      Hello Nigel, I have tried both links in the text and they seem to be working fine. Which link were you having problems with? Thanks, Kay.

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