If you go down to the woods to­day

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

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.

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