Friday, 24 May 2013

Character building

I was sitting at my desk, when I heard a crash and a flock of birds flew past my window. Hurrah I thought, they are chopping trees down in the woods. Now mostly I am against trees getting felled, but in this instance I was very glad.

The trees in question were sycamore, which are rather unloved in the UK, because they are non-native and quite invasive. Behind my house is a small woods, just a copse really. Very small, but still very pleasant to walk through and brimming with life. Small patches of bluebells and snow drops have started to appear the last few years, and there are foxes, badgers, woodpeckers and owls, despite it being over-run with nettles.

Last year I noticed that some of the sycamore were dying. A black dusty mould covered their trunks, the bark fell off and they died. Apparently this is aptly named Sooty Bark Disease. Last summer I spotted 6 dying or dead trees and reported it to the local council. Last week my youngest daughter counted at least 17 trees that are now infected.

The wood is made up of 2 sides. One side has many older trees predominantly oak, with other species mixed in. The side nearest us is almost all Ash with a few sycamore in one corner. Last year we found out that Ash Dieback disease had been found in numerous locations around the UK. Danish experts have said that there is no way of preventing the spread and that over 90% of the Ash trees will get infected and die. There is no sign of this disease yet in this small public woodland, but I fear it will come.

These diseases are strongly linked to climate change. The weather has been abnormally dry, then abnormally wet, then abnormally cold. How are trees that are rooted in the ground to adapt to such rapid changes to the norm? Like us they are stressed, and stress makes things more prone to disease.

So it was relief for me to hear the diseased trees being felled, because it may help stop the spread to healthy trees. By cutting away the dead wood there is now a clearing where the light shines in and something new can grow. I am going to be very sad when Ash dieback reaches our woods, and it will be horrifying to see all the trees cleared, but it isn’t the end of the woods. The other plants and creatures will adapt.

We have failed to mitigate climate change, or address the rapidly approaching resource depletion, so far. Some of the blogs I wander through talk about extinction, game over and the human race as a cancer. I can’t think of it like that, because we are part of the whole and the whole is beautiful. Ok so the future looks a bit bleak, but it has at other times too. Can you imagine how it must have felt to be French in 1940, when your soldiers had been defeated, and the German forces occupied the country? What hope was there for France or the future? How likely would it have seemed that other countries could or would join forces and be able to defeat the invaders? Yet they did.

There is a really remarkable story that I was reminded of again recently. It is called the Coconut Revolution and is the amazing story of how some indigenous people on the Island of Bougainville stood up to the might of the copper mines that were ruining their homes and ecosystems. Cut off from supplies they had to be ingenious and resourceful to survive.


I believe that the future is not set in stone, it is really up to us and the choices we make that will determine the outcome. There are always going to be hard times that we need to work through. I guess the older generation would call it character building J

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