Blog - Community use
According to the United Nations, a forest is anywhere that is at least 20% trees. As 21% of our capital city, London, lies under the canopy of trees - it is an urban forest*. It is estimated that there are some 8 million plus trees - nearly as many trees as people. London is not alone, Johannesburg is a densely wooded city with some 6 million trees, planted throughout the streets and private properties. Tree Cities of the World is a programme that recognises cities and towns committed to ensuring that their urban forests and trees are properly maintained and sustainably managed. Urban environments can create difficult conditions for tree growth and development. The trees may be exposed to pollutants, high temperatures (heat island effect), drought and/or flooding, and challenging conditions for growth. . Whilst trees may be planted, their subsequent care / nurturing may be limited due to insufficient resources (money / care etc). There needs to be long term maintenance to sustain not just healthy trees but also to make sure that the trees do not damage pavements / roads etc (for example, through root penetration). Trees for Streets is a new national tree sponsorship scheme that some councils have partnered with, which gives local residents the chance to have a tree near them or in a local park. It is a project run by the charity Trees for Cities which aims to support local communities in revitalising forgotten spaces, planting trees and improving the local environment. [caption id="attachment_39418" align="aligncenter" width="675"] Greenery in SE London. View towards St.Helier's hospital.[/caption] In the past, London was a much smaller city surrounded by countryside and woodland, but there are still areas of ancient woodland within it. Some of this woodland remains such as the Great North Wood in South London (hence Norwood and Forest Hill). Other place names - Wood Green, Forest Gate, Nine Elms and Burnt Oak bear witness to the wooded landscape that was once prevalent across London. In fact, some 8% of London’s area is still woodland, and some of it is even defined as ancient woodland (e.g. Epping Forest). [caption id="attachment_39421" align="aligncenter" width="675"] Dulwich Park[/caption] There are also the many parks of London - Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, Richmond Park, Dulwich Park etc. Add to these the trees found in school fields, private gardens, squares (like Berkeley and Portman Squares), plus the trees that line so many streets (estimated at 900,000). Trees (like sycamore and buddleia) have also colonised areas of the built environment, like railway lines / cuttings. The most common London trees are sycamore (7.8%), oaks (7.3%) and birch (6.2%). However, the urban forest has a wide spectrum of species that includes native species, such as ash, hawthorn, hornbeam, field maple and holly, but there is a wide variety of exotics and cultivars in parks, streets and private gardens. In some parts of the capital, the London Plane is a noticeable presence, due to its resistance to pollution and tolerance of root compaction. It sheds 'large flakes' or sections of its bark exposing new material of a variety of colours (brown, grey, yellow), and is sometimes described as ‘self cleaning’. The London Plane is thought to be a hybrid of the American sycamore and Oriental plane. So the urban forest is quite diverse in terms of species when viewed across the capital, but there are parts of the city where species diversity is poor and the age profile of the trees is sometimes limited. This homogeneity can favour pests and disease. Diversity generally favours to resilience. Currently, trees face diseases such as acute oak decline, Chalara ash dieback, horse chestnut leaf miner, Massaria disease of plane and oak processionary moth. London’s urban forest faces an increasing human population and the challenges of climate change. The latter may bring substantial warming and changing rainfall patterns. Wetter, milder winters and drier, hotter summers may be more common in the coming decades. Some trees will be better able to cope with these changing conditions. Future planting will have to follow the maxim of “right tree, right place”. The value of London’s forest is difficult to quantify or to put a figure on. It is a major part of the ‘green infrastructure’ – that is the matrix of green spaces, parks, recreation grounds, lakes, canals, and rivers plus the street trees , green roofs and allotments that provides a range of economic, environmental, and social benefits. The importance of green, leafy spaces came to the fore during the early days of the Covid pandemic, helping with mental and physical wellbeing of Londoners. [caption id="attachment_27166" align="alignleft" width="300"] Mature oak in park.[/caption] The components of the forest offer valuable habitats for wildlife and also provide biological corridors / stepping stones that enable birds and various animals to move through the urban environment. The ancient woodlands and veteran trees offer a home to a variety of wildlife such as bats, stag beetles, orchids etc. In recent heatwaves, people have appreciated that trees also provide shade and cooling in streets and parks. Another aspect of extreme weather is very heavy rainfall, trees and green areas can help reduce the risk of flooding, allowing more water to enter the soil rather than running off hard surfaces of tarmac and concrete. Trees also help capture pollutants, improving local air quality by capturing fine particles from the air (much of this is through deposition on leaf surfaces). One source suggest that trees remove some 2241 tonnes of pollutants each year. Trees and shrubs seem particularly effective in removing ozone, and through its photosynthetic capacity the urban forest can take up carbon dioxide into organic form. The amount of carbon taken up by London’s urban forest each year has been estimated at 77,200 tonnes. To maintain and augment this urban forest, it is important in the coming years that the threats of pests and diseases are fully assessed and controlled The threats arising from climate change are recognised / mitigated Woodlands are properly managed (eg. coppicing); this may include the training of personnel. Create opportunities for planting of trees, hedgerows and woodland. [caption id="attachment_39422" align="aligncenter" width="675"] Tree nursery - 'ready for planting'.[/caption] * https://cdn.forestresearch.gov.uk/2022/04/21_0024_Leaflet-CC-factsheet-Urban-forests_wip06_Acc.pdf
Woodism and woodist ideas, which stigmatise woodlands
"We're not out of the woods yet..." said Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in February 2023, warning that the British economy was still in danger. It was widely reported by the BBC in ways that indicated the metaphor was apt and reasonable. Hunt was unconsciously referring to the common idea that woodlands are dangerous and should be avoided, and that when we are out of the woods everything will be okay. This is in the same vein as stories like Little Red Riding Hood where she is warned not to talk to strangers when she has to go through the woods, and "woodist" notions like this are conveyed when the storyteller says "the woodcutter was never seen again after he entered the forest.". This fear of woodlands runs very deep in our culture and creates a genuine barrier to their conservation and enjoyment. Unfortunately Jeremy Hunt reinforced this fear, probably unwittingly. Such prejudicial language is perverse for a government which has just tried to burnish its environmental credentials with the 2023 Environmental Improvement Plan, part of which aims to "Enhance beauty, heritage, and engagement with the natural environment". It's also surprising to hear such woodist language when the Forestry Commission's tree planting grants are over £2,000 per hectare higher where public access is given. More positive language about woodlands will be needed to achieve the Forestry Commission's aim of "boosting the country’s woodlands and timber industry." But Jeremy Hunt's prejudice and woodism is not new - for centuries people have feared the 'big bad wolf' lurking in the woods and the witch who is said to live in the forest. Ideas of enchanted forests with traps and dangers are pervasive throughout literature and across the world. In the past, people feared wild animals in woodlands that could attack and they knew that the forest is home to many dangerous plants and poisonous mushrooms, and in some cultures there are spirits of the forest which can be easily angered. Many others in authority use similar imagery to Jeremy Hunt. A Time magazine article by James Stavridis in January 2023 starts with a woodist stance: "Sadly, in these not-so-United States, we have found our way deep into a dark forest, and the question before us is how do we find the path out of this dangerous thicket into which we have wandered?". Phrases like this which fight against nature are rife such as the expression that a report will be 'kicked into the long grass" implying to a place where no one wants to be. Other anti-nature sayings are, "going feral" or "nipping problems in the bud". Many traditional stories indoctrinate children from a very young age such as the story of Hansel and Grettel who got lost in the woods leading to their being eaten by a witch. And there were the three little pigs who were afraid of the wolf in the woods. Stories make people fear getting lost and trapped in woodlands, having heard of Rapunzel who was trapped in a tower in the middle of the forest. At least they were a place of refuge for Snow White who hid in the woods to escape the evil queen, or for Robin Hood and his band of outlaws who lived in Sherwood Forest. And it's not just older stories that convey that impression - Maurice Sendak's 1963 bestseller, "Where the Wild Things Are", tells an allegorical story of a boy who misbehaves and is sent to his bedroom without his supper. But the tale is also about mood and behaviour: the woodlands which appear to grow in Max's bedroom are associated with him going onto a dark place. Although it's sold as a children's book, it's just as much an adult's story, and it reinforces that strong link between woodlands and bad things. Much of the recent work to reduce people's prejudices around race and sexual orientation are fighting long-held and widespread stereotypes. Ideally "woodist" language like Hunt's should be called out in the same way that racist and sexist language is - and despite woodist language showing a prejudice against nature rather than groups of people, it still affects how we view our world and how we behave towards others. Perhaps we need a new lexicon of more positive language around woodlands, encouraging terms like "rewilding" and "greening". Even the more jargony terms like 'eco-services' and 'biodiversity' are positive although it's more than better language which we need as an antidote to the woodist expressions of Jeremy Hunt. What is needed is to make politicians ashamed of using woodist expressions and ask them to spend more time, well, in the woods.
Community tree planting.
There are many reasons to plant trees, but lots of us may not have the resources (experience, time, money or land) we need to get involved with tree planting, even if the desire is very much there. Fear not! Getting involved, a little or a lot, is easier than you might think. There are countless reputable tree planting organisations across the UK which provide opportunities and information to those who are keen to get involved, but may not know where to start. It may be that you don’t have the space (or resources) to plant your own trees, or are a little tight on time but want to contribute where you can. You may be considering buying land to plant a family woodland and are on the lookout for some guidance and experience beforehand. Wherever you are coming from, volunteering for a local tree planting project or charity could be a good way to kickstart your tree planting journey. It’s also a wonderful way to meet like-minded people and make new friends. Community tree planting is both cost effective and efficient. Planting up large areas of bare land is not a quick job. Although people are utilising innovative methods for planting trees (such as dropping saplings from helicopters in remote regions), tree planting is generally speaking a labour intensive activity. Lots of man hours can mean hefty costs too. But as the saying goes, many willing hands make light work, and so is the case with creating new woodland. Volunteering bodies can take care of the organisational and logistical elements of a planting project, allowing individuals to step in and learn new skills, connect with their communities and make a positive contribution to our climate. Fifty members of a local community could comfortably achieve the same as a far smaller team of professional foresters. Of course the spacings may not be quite as consistent, or the stakes quite as straight in the ground, but in the grand scheme of things this doesn’t matter! The process of planting a young tree can be learned by anyone, of (almost) any age, from any background! Forest For Peterborough, a tree planting organisation in the UK, began with the aim of planting one tree per person in Peterborough, but has now planted over 100,000 trees to date and aims to plant 230,000 by 2030. They also offer education for young people so that they can learn how to make sustainable decisions and attempt to give people ‘opportunities to learn skills and connect with others.’ As well as the opportunities for socialising and meeting others, it is a great way to acquire new skills, confidence and a sense of fulfilment from engaging practically with the environment in which you live. For those who may not have the time, will or resources to take on their own tree planting project, volunteering alongside others offers could be just the answer. Getting outdoors and connected with nature is especially important since many of us have been working from home since the pandemic began, which has taken a toll on our essential need as humans to connect with other people and the natural world. [caption id="attachment_38532" align="alignleft" width="300"] redwood seedling[/caption] As well as the social aspect of tree planting, there are a host of benefits associated with increasing the numbers of trees and green in spaces in the communities in which we live. It has been shown that people who interact more with nature are more likely to have a higher sense of self-esteem and be more resilient to stress, whilst reducing other mental health issues such as depression and dementia. For children, contact with nature can positively impact their affective, cognitive and moral development. Children who have views of trees are also more likely to succeed in school, meaning tree planting has both individual and communal benefits. Communities with more well-maintained trees have an involved social capital, too, whilst also reducing ‘violence and aggression in households, and limiting criminal activity in neighborhoods.’ Imperial College found that having high-quality green spaces in an area leads to its residents having a greater attachment to and sense of pride in their community. These all contribute to the overall cohesion of a community, something that we all want for the areas we live in. Whether you want to meet new people, get more exercise, contribute to your community or be a part of a lasting legacy to help combat a changing climate, finding local tree planting groups could be an excellent step in improving your health, as well as the health of your community and our planet. There are a huge number of volunteering opportunities across the UK, far too many to list exhaustively here, but please see a selection below which may be of interest: Future Forests Networks: https://futureforestsnetwork.org/ Trees for Cities: https://www.treesforcities.org/get-involved Avon Needs Trees: https://www.avonneedstrees.org.uk/volunteering/ Forestry England: https://www.forestryengland.uk/volunteering Trees for Life: https://treesforlife.org.uk/support/volunteer/ Trees for Shropshire: https://treesforshropshire.org.uk/volunteer/ The Northern Forest: https://thenorthernforest.org.uk/get-involved/ The Heart of England Forest: https://heartofenglandforest.org/volunteer Parks for London: https://parksforlondon.org.uk/community-tree-planting/
Woman’s sheds – changing lives
"Jenny was a very timid woman with very low self-esteem and confidence when she came to our Woman's Shed," explained Karen Little, the organiser of March Wood's "Woman's Shed" Project. Karen got Jenny started on some whittling which she engaged with total concentration during some of the sessions. She seemed to shut out everything, she became mindful of the task and was able to shift her focus to the here and now. Jenny was transfixed by it but it also transformed her and she has since bought her own whittling knife and is pursuing a hobby that she's really good at and it's given her more confidence in every area of her life. As Karen says, "she takes time for herself, has learnt a new skill and is making new friends." Read more...
Woodland Vandalism and … the kindness of strangers at March Wood
Last November vandalism and fire devastated the March Wood Project which is a therapeutic and educational project based in Kent, and the story of how the project was brought back to life is extraordinarily encouraging. The project, set in woodlands near Ashford works with young people and adults affected by mental health and social issues, and it's a not-for-profit organisation. The attack last year meant that we lost equipment and use of an outdoor barn classroom. Read more...
A band of ten wild women in the wood
Despite suffering insect bites, scratched legs, and a general lack of washing, this was an expedition which brought together ten women who shared their concerns - Jo had recently lost a baby, Charlene's mother had died of lung cancer, one was anxious about getting pregnant, another was a full-time carer and one woman had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Despite personal issues, or perhaps because of them, the whole experience of this survival challenge and sleeping under the stars left the group "mentally and emotionally on a real high". Read more...
Volunteering for health and wellbeing at Tortworth arboretum
The arboretum at Tortworth is a very special place. It has a long and interesting history and boasts some incredible exotic trees. The trees are a living history of the woodland and the family that planted it, but a few years ago the collection was at risk of decline through lack of management. That is, until 3 years ago when woodlands.co.uk purchased the woodland and the trees were given a new lease of life - while also changing lives. The 20 acre site is now managed by a community woodland group who are gently restoring the trees and at the same time, making a difference to people, as we hear from one of their regular volunteers. Read more...
The national forest revisited
The National Forest scheme has celebrated its 25th anniversary. It was and is a bold project, focusing on some 500 square kilometers of central England (parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire). Whilst the area included farmland and some pockets of ancient woodland, e.g. Charnwood Forest to the east and Needwood Forest to the west, it also included many abandoned industrial workings such as opencast mines, quarries, clay pits and spoil heaps. Some 8.5 million trees have been planted to date and now the area generates income through tourism Read more...