Wildlife cham­pion

Ac­tor Brian Blessed tells us why he is a tree lover and what makes yews spe­cial

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents -

You voiced a ‘ talk­ing yew’ at the Wood­land Trust’s Great Knott Wood. What made you get in­volved?

First and fore­most, my pas­sion for trees. Trees are alive, have feel­ings and pro­tect us. To give one a voice af­ter it’s spent hun­dreds of years on Earth was a re­mark­able op­por­tu­nity. I love that there are peo­ple hik­ing in the Lake District who sud­denly have my voice boom­ing out at them – I’ve scared quite a few, or so I’m told! It’s also the spot for a geo­cache box, so I’m even part of a trea­sure hunt.

If you were a tree, would you be a yew or some­thing else?

Yews are bril­liant, but I have to nab our most iconic tree for my­self – so an oak, of course! Ev­ery­one loves an oak, es­pe­cially the more an­cient spec­i­mens. You’d be hard pushed to find some­one who can’t ap­pre­ci­ate their knob­bly bark and broad branches. At the end of the day, all trees are more than just a bit of green­ery. Ev­ery sin­gle one is an in­trigu­ing char­ac­ter that has be­come a beloved part of our land­scape and his­tory. They de­serve to be cel­e­brated and cher­ished the same as celebri­ties are. It re­minds me of a Pamela Ten­nant poem: ‘But at night do you be­lieve they’re trees?

They’re lit­tle old men with twisted knees!’

Bri­tain’s an­cient yews have had lit­tle for­mal pro­tec­tion. What can be done?

We have to make as many peo­ple aware as pos­si­ble, and keep bang­ing the drum. There’s no point be­ing silent on the mat­ter. Thank­fully, plan­ning law has now been changed, so an­cient trees have the same pro­tec­tion as our built na­tional her­itage. It makes sense – why should a vet­eran tree be con­sid­ered less im­por­tant that an old church? What’s mad, though, is that many peo­ple don’t know where these gi­ants are – they’re hid­ing in plain sight.

Do you have a favourite wood?

Tring Park in Hert­ford­shire is a fas­ci­nat­ing place. In the 1970s, it was cut up by a ma­jor road, but once you’ve made it over a con­crete bridge, it’s like step­ping back in time. It was once con­nected to a stately home, so you can wander amongst tree av­enues, and there’s an obelisk ru­moured to be con­nected with ghosts, an aban­doned sum­mer­house and a roundabout for a horse and car­riage.

Ever tried re­lax­ing by ‘ for­est bathing’?

Can you be­lieve I haven’t? I cer­tainly look for­ward to try­ing it, though… any ex­cuse to ven­ture into lush, leafy ter­rains!

As a York­shire­man, does the pro­posed new North­ern For­est ex­cite you?

It’s an ambitious, long-term plan to plant 50 mil­lion trees in and around the cities of Liver­pool, Manch­ester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull and is an area of the coun­try dear to my heart – I am hugely happy that it will take place. My home is set to be­come greener and wilder – with north­ern folk at the heart of the ac­tion. Peo­ple will cre­ate change and take own­er­ship of the land, with all sorts of crea­tures reap­ing the ben­e­fits af­ter­wards. It’s sim­ply fan­tas­tic! Ben Hoare

S Ev­ery tree is an in­trigu­ing char­ac­ter that has be­come a beloved part of his­tory. T

BRIAN BLESSED is an ac­tor and tree lover who has also voiced bac­te­ria for the Mu­seum of Lon­don’s Beasts of Lon­don ex­hi­bi­tion, which runs un­til 2020.

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