A Manifesto for Trees

1. Trees need more protection

Trees stand for nature, and we shall stand or fall with them. Britain is one of the least wooded countries in Europe.  Felling a tree should be the last resort when no other options are open.  In working woodlands, felling should form part of a sustainable cycle accommodating wildlife and local people.

Before considering felling a tree we should ask ourselves:  what wildlife depends on it, how do people value it, will the timber be put to worthwhile use, and can it be coppiced or pollarded instead.

Work for the protection of all trees and be vigilant. Make every tree a wanted tree.

2. Stand up for old trees and ancient woodland

All old trees and ancient woodland are priceless and should be jealously guarded. Old trees are more valuable than young trees, culturally, ecologically and aesthetically. They are a distinguishing characteristic of the British countryside.

Despite years of protest we are still losing irreplaceable tracts of ancient woodland at an alarming rate. About half has been lost to  development and agriculture or damaged by conifer plantation in the past 80 years. We call old trees overmature, geriatric and senile, forgetting that they can happily look and live that way for hundreds of years.

For some trees life begins at 400.

3. Keep the carbon locked up

Trees breathe in carbon and hold it in their very fibres. We can help keep it there for as long as possible.  We should keep trees alive and growing in the first instance, then turn their wood into durable products and finally only burn it as a last resort.

Wood fuel is better than fossil fuel, but it takes decades for the carbon dioxide released to be re-absorbed by new tree growth. If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to lock up the carbon now.

Plant more trees and woods to lock up more carbon. Use sustainable wood products instead of steel, concrete and plastic.

4. Reuse and recycle paper and wood

Each of us consumes more than four trees’ worth of paper products every year.  Over a third of the trees cut down around the world are used by the paper industry.  One third of the paper products we use in this country are not recycled after use..

We should reuse paper more and use recycled paper products.  Collect, reuse and recycle waste paper at home, in your office and in your neighbourhood.

Set up a Wood Recycling Centre. We waste about 4 million tonnes of  wood every year. Much of this comes from the construction industry and could be reused. We all waste a vast amount of wood and paper that goes into landfill using precious land and causing damaging greenhouse gases. Consume wood wisely – has it been sustainably produced?

5. Let trees seed freely

Existing woods should be given the opportunity to expand through natural regeneration by letting trees seed freely. Woodland is an ideal use for low quality farmland. The simplest and cheapest way to extend woodland is to fence off adjacent land, allowing seedlings to grow up protected from browsing animals. It just requires some patience. Farming policy should encourage more woodland creation and help re-instate some of the trees lost due to centuries of agricultural expansion. Allow more trees into our denuded farmland.

6. Get behind the hedge

Hedges and hedgerow trees are historically important in our landscape. Some hedges have marked boundaries for a thousand years and are remnants of ancient woodland. They give shade, serve as windbreaks, sheltering crops and animals, provide habitats and corridors for wildlife and reduce soil erosion. Some hedgerows are protected by laws, but these need simplifying and strengthening. The UK  lost about a quarter of its hedges over the past 60 years, but the loss of hedgerows has been stemmed in recent years and the main threat now is due to neglect or poor care.

Encourage farmers and landowners to carry out traditional hedgelaying. Mark hedgerow saplings to save then from the hedge cutters. Allow some hedges to grow thick and tall, like the French ‘bocage’, then harvest for wood fuel on a coppice rotation.

Plant more hedges, including in towns where they can become beautiful green walls providing habitats for wildlife.

7. Think carefully before you plant a tree

We have an obsession with planting trees yet paradoxically this can be an indication of  shortsightedness. Trees are often planted without thought for what’s already there or the views of local people. It is estimated that one in four newly planted trees in public areas will die due to lack of care.

Look after the trees that are already there and encourage natural regeneration.

Trees that have established themselves naturally will usually grow faster and stronger. If there is no alternative but to plant, choose carefully to reinforce the local mix of trees. Alternatively, you could create a new character for an area by planting unusual trees. We can create new landscapes with trees.

8. Grow your own trees

If you do decide to plant, grow some trees from locally collected seed.   You may think that you are buying an English Oak, a Welsh Yew or a Scot’s Pine but it may well come from Holland or France.

By using seed collected locally you can enhance local distinctiveness and preserve local genetic diversity. The resulting trees are likely to adapt best to local soils and climate.

However, climate change may place some local provenances under increased stress in future, so as a precaution it would be prudent also to include some trees from further afield. Use some local seed, some from the wider region and even some from further south.

9. Grow the right trees in the right place

Different types of tree enjoy particular climatic and soil conditions and have association with different places. Alder and willows like wet places; oak does well in heavy clay soils; birch is a pioneer, clothing coal tips and disturbed ground; pines will grow in exposed situations and beech has become associated with the landscape of chalk downland. The right tree will thrive and endure in the right place.

We should grow trees around us that enhance the identity of places and add to local distinctiveness. London is famous for its magnificent planes; Derbyshire its ashwoods; Brighton its elms; and Bournemouth its pines. In suitable places, planting trees from around the world can reflect the rich cultural mix and make everyone feel at home.

10. Grow trees to make places

An individual tree can create a place, with beauty, atmosphere and myriad cultural and historical associations. Groves of trees were endowed with spiritual significance by the Celts and almost every culture venerates trees in some way. Grow trees which will help to give meaning to a place: for people to congregate, places to muse, avenues to stroll along, landmarks and boundary markers.

11. Welcome wildness

Welcome wildness and discourage overtidiness. Deadwood should be left for wildlife and to add beauty. A fallen tree is not a dead tree: even with only a quarter of its roots left in the ground a ‘lateral’ tree may survive to produce many new vertical stems.

The shapes of trees tell stories of their lives: odd-shaped trees are fascinating characters, they excite our imaginations and are full of cultural and historical interest.

12. Design new buildings around trees

Thousands of trees are felled to make way for new development each year. Many more are debilitated and die later due to soil compaction, roots severance and damage to trunk and branch. By retaining existing trees when constructing new buildings, we can add maturity and richness as well as value to houses, offices, supermarkets, and carparks.

Any new development should take care of the existing trees and add more where possible.

13. Don’t axe garden trees

Garden trees are very important, accounting for about a quarter of our non-forest woodland trees. A mature tree brings shade, privacy and birdsong into your garden, as well as raising property value. Yet the first thing some of us do when we move into a new home is cut down the trees, without a thought for the neighbours or previous owners. Remember, you are buying a tree with a house in the garden!

Don’t always blame trees for structural damage, the reason could be underlying clay and drought. Removing the tree suddenly may well aggravate the problem.

See if you can get  special trees protected by covenant or Tree Preservation Order if you move on.  Tell your neighbours how much you appreciate their trees.

14. Find new uses for old woodland

We need to find new uses for small, deciduous woods, to expand our native hardwood industry and the market for wood products. Working woodlands are more likely to endure. We use imports to supply 81% of our timber needs.

Encourage good traditional practices and search for new ones. Working woodlands are a joy to walk in too. Make friends with woodland owners, seek rights to use and enjoy local woods. Perhaps the wood could provide a home for new activities and learning.

Buy products made by local greenwood workers – coppiced hazel for bean poles rather than imported bamboo, hazel wattle fencing, willow baskets and trugs.

15. Save old fruit trees, plant Community Orchards.

England has lost more than two thirds of its orchards since 1950. Yet in traditional tall-tree orchards we and nature together have created a treasury of genetic diversity, beautiful landscapes and a repository of culture. Nearly 3,000 varieties of eating, cooking and cider apples have been grown here, many originating from particular places. Wild cherries enrich the Wye valley in Herefordshire, damsons march along the walls of the Lythe valley in Westmoreland, apricots were grown to pay the rent in Aynho in Northants, ‘Kentish’ cobnuts have found an amenable home on the ragstone of Kent. 

Save old orchards, plant new ones together in city and country. Community Orchards are a wise way of sharing the land and are a fruitful gift to those who follow.

16.  Feel the benefit of trees

Simply looking at trees or walking in woods makes us feel better. Trees shield us from pollution and summer heat. They improve the quality of the air we breathe, trapping dust particles and other pollutants. They also reduce noise pollution.

Grow trees as shelterbelts next to busy roads, around towns and industrial areas and especially in car parks. Get involved in helping to look after local woodlands. This can be a great way of keeping fit, getting to know your place and making new friends.

17. Act locally

The destruction of rainforests might seem a distant problem which is beyond our influence and unconnected with what happens in our own localities. It is not. Unless we take more care about where our timber comes from and look after our own trees, how can we honestly urge others to protect theirs? Every tree is important. Help the trees in your own place.

Give street trees a bucket of water a day during droughts, tell the council Tree Officer about damaged trees quickly, adopt a tree in the street, or become a Tree Warden and work with  your neighbours to look after your street trees.

Look out for signs of disease in your local trees and tell your Tree Officer.

18. Celebrate your trees

For Tree Dressing Day (1st weekend in December), share your stories and traditions to invent a festival in which young and old, professional and amateur, all cultures can share. Create a social celebration for the trees in your street or on the green. This cross-cultural community expression for everyday nature could include storytelling, dance, processions, music, hanging ribbons and shining lights, anything which draws attention to the trees we take for granted, an enjoyable first step towards taking more care of them.

19. Make friends with a tree

Trees are not fragile ornaments, but tough, enduring, dependable creatures, if we treat them well. They are our friends and we can learn a tremendous amount from them.

Observe a tree from day to day, through the seasons, from decade to decade. Climb a tree, feel its strength, stability, gentle flexing and quietness.

Learn about your local wood, its history and use, its wildlife, how it is being managed, what you can do to help.

Trees have no voice, we must speak up for them.