If you go down to the woods today
Pinehurst II, Pinehurst Road, Farnborough Business Park, Farnborough, Hampshire GU14 7BF Telephone 01252 555072 www.countrylife.co.uk
IF you do nothing else in 2017, plant a tree. Britain desperately needs more of them, but it’s as clear as a sunlight-dappled glade on a summer’s morning that future responsibility for arboreal enhancement of the landscape, one of the barest in Northern and Central Europe, lies with private citizens.
As we reported last year (Town & Country, July 13), Government targets for new plantings missed by miles in 2015–16—by a lamentable 86% in England, in fact. However, a new and non-commercial enthusiasm by individuals for owning and caring for a few acres of woodland in which to chop wood and safely exercise dogs and children, as well as hang out peacefully listening to nightjars, is burgeoning.
Great landowners of the past knew the value, joy and altruism of planting trees— those glorious oaks, chestnuts, elms, ashes and beech hedges that lend painterly form and relief to the curving skyline—but altruism may not be enough incentive for present-day stewards, especially those whose beloved old friends have been brought low by disease. Environmental stewardship schemes do not encourage the arboriculturally minded and, anyway, indications from Defra are that such grants that do exist could dry up in 2020.
Last year, two small but effective organisations, the Small Woods Association (http:// smallwoods.org.uk) and Woodlands (www. woodlands.co.uk), reported an encouraging awareness of the pleasure that can be had in owning a patch of land, 2–5 acres, say, on which to create something more ambitious than a garden or allotment. These new owners take pride in home-grown firewood, hazelnuts, holly and Christmas trees; they keep bees and pigs, stick up nesting boxes for owls, grow fruit trees, rediscover camping, make charcoal and practise coppicing.
The Woodland Trust has larger, readyplanted areas for sale and offers aid from generous grants to starter packs of saplings.
Trees, a balm in cities, cool temperatures and slow rainfall; they help absorb CO2, store carbon, prevent pesticide drift and enrich and stabilise soil; they mitigate the effects of the run-off of polluted water and sediment into rivers and can help stem flooding; they provide habitat for birds, pollinators and lichens, shade for livestock and shelter from rain, hail and scorching sun.
Trees provide cover for game—the oftmaligned shooting fraternity is a prime custodian of woodland—and floors for snowdrops, bluebells and anemones. They smell of garlic and pine, echo with woodpecker taps and jay calls and rustle with shy creatures.
They provide greater opportunities for solitude than open spaces and promise romance, mystery and the flitterings and chitterings of wildlife.
‘The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn,’ said the ecologist Ralph Waldo Emerson. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a silver birch at the bottom of the garden or a 20-acre forest. ’Tis the season for it: plant a tree today.