Trees need better PR.
If I invented a machine that cleaned the air, locked carbon from the atmosphere, reduced flooding, and produced food, fuel and the most versatile and beautiful material for construction and craft yet to be discovered, I would expect this to be a hit. There might be sceptical questions about the cost, but these would disappear when I explain that it will build itself from a tiny blueprint if we just give it some space. When I casually add that the machine will add beauty to any landscape into which it is installed, and will provide homes and food for wildlife while it's at it - including the pollinators on which our food supply depends - I suspect that would seal the deal.
Unfortunately trees don't seem to be held in this high esteem, despite the fact that they do all of these things and more. They are treated like a luxury that unfortunately stands in the way of more essential things that society needs, and therefore are too often destroyed in favour of infrastructure, housing or simply to avoid the cost of managing them or working around them on farms or urban streets. Perhaps because they didn't cost anything in the first place they are considered to be without value? I'm more inclined to think of them as a gift, and therefore priceless.
There seems to be a misconception that trees and people are vying for precious space on this Sceptred Isle. The idea that an increasing UK population means that trees and woods have to be sacrificed to make space is a false one. About 13% of the UK is actually built on, and less than 15% is wooded. Just 2% of the UK remains covered by ancient woodland - unique ecosystems built up over hundreds of years. It seems incredible that when looking for sites for roads, housing and infrastructure, woods still seem so often to be the 'only option'. The Woodland Trust has over 500 ancient woods under threat from development projects on their books at the present moment, and this despite the fact that woods verified as ancient theoretically have greater protection in planning policy than other woodland and individual trees.
When trees are woods are valued so little that they can be sacrificed to make shortcuts or cost savings, what hope is there that society will invest the energy and money needed to help those that remain to overcome the threats they face from tree disease and pests, on the rise due to climate change and the international trade in timber, seed and saplings? It is no exaggeration to say that we are at a crisis point for the UK's trees and woods - a perfect storm of threats, changing lifestyles and apathy. Beneath the surface, however, I believe there is a deep-rooted love of trees and woods that just needs to be re-awakened and brought into the light. Only then will it be reflected in decision-making.
If we value the trees in our lives and want them to be a part of our future, and the future we leave for our children, we need to start talking about them. Cut a street tree down, or destroy a local wood, and you will soon hear how important that tree or wood was to those living nearby - often expressed with great passion. If you want an example simply search for news of the current situation with street trees in Sheffield... A beautiful reminder of the changing seasons on a daily commute, a place for reflection, play or adventure, a source of shade and shelter from the elements. A tree or wood can be all of these things and more - touching hundreds of lives - and yet never be mentioned by one of those beneficiaries to another. We need to talk about why trees matter to us before they disappear - it's too late to decide they are valuable when they've gone.
Next time you have an encounter with a tree, or visit a wood, don't keep it to yourself. Trees can't blow their own trumpets, so we need to give them the credit they deserve when they improve our lives.
Share your tree story and tell the world why trees matter to you at treecharter.uk and help more than 50 organisations, led by the Woodland Trust, to build evidence for the true value of trees to people in the UK, and to help create a charter that protects those benefits for future generations.