Who doesn’t love trees?

Who doesn’t love trees?

So every single one of us wants to see them preserved, protected, respected, permitted the space to thrive, replanted, nurtured, proliferated, cherished, invested in for the sake of future generations. Right?

And none of this is controversial, is it? None of this is contested? It’s a bit like asking, don’t we all want our children properly cared for – find me the person who’s going to answer ‘no’ to that question.

On the other hand construction, development, building, infrastructure works, in other words change in the built environment is also of vital on-going importance in order to keep communities, economies, towns, cities and regions alive and functioning well.

Just reading about Sheffield this morning, I feel I have to ask why, when we all love them, is it so difficult to save a tree, in circumstances where humanity seems to have a desperate, unbalanced need to control a particular environment?

In a nutshell, and slicing through all the other excuses that would come out if we asked this question of a Local Authority intent on large-scale tree removal, it’s because trees can become a hefty inconvenience. In urban spaces, especially next to roads and public amenity locations, you have to keep attending to or tidying up after them. They can easily develop unfortunate growth habits – very broad crowns set to conflict with everything in a 12m radius, dense leaf-rich canopies that shed continuously for a good 2 months of the year, deadwood apt to fall off in the wind, extensive lower branches threatening to hamper traffic and pedestrians, or light-obscuring upper-ones overshadowing windows and rooves. Roots get everywhere, lifting pavements, damaging drains, undermining walls. And as if all that wasn’t enough, the things even attract nesting birds, with all their noisy squawking and mess!

In other words, living trees enhancing our humanity-serving environments require maintenance. And that demands time and money from whoever has ownership of them. Ah yes (depressed sigh). Like everything else lately, this comes down to money. Which is tragic, and very, very short-sighted. Because trees, in almost ANY environment, are terrific givers.

A mature tree, depending on species, can be anything from 60 to 200 years old, and some are significantly older than that. They’re simply not replaceable without investing an equivalent amount of time; way more time than those of us deciding a single tree’s fate have left in terms of life-span. They deliver environmental benefits essential for everything from cleaning our air to preventing flooding. A mature tree is a beautiful thing to look at. It’s fascinating, venerable, quiet, ever-changing but undemonstrative, life-affirming and full of grace. It lends dignity, a sense of establishment, character and uniqueness to the location in which it stands. It supports multiple other forms of life – insects, fungi, lichen, birds and animals – and it signals the changing seasons like no other form of life on earth.

A conversation regarding priorities has to be had then, repeatedly, on a proposal-by-proposal basis whenever mature tree removal is contemplated, and our Local Authorities, with their obligation to keep a watchful eye on quality of life within their jurisdictions, have a vital role to play.

The vastly under-appreciated art of balanced evaluation must dominate decision-making in this sphere. It’s lifeblood is a broad range of data, interpreted soundly, understood holistically and rendered applicable in service to genuinely good outcomes. The people trusted to undertake such evaluation must be experienced agents capable of cutting through the fog. Because there is a lot of fog, and it seeps like poisoned gas out of an unfortunate proliferation of empty arboricultural over-education and brain-numbing ‘chatter’. The salient characteristics of it are over-sophistication, deliberate attempts to obfusticate and the complication of issues to the point of (sometimes wildly expensive) absurdity. It all gives the realm of tree protection a bad name, and it results in poor decision-making. Where there’s fog, and an awful lot of money, the risk is high that everybody’s vision suffers catastrophic impairement.

So Sheffield (and anywhere else for that matter) you can’t say ‘we love trees’ and then decide to fell a vast swathe of your most precious urban forest, no matter what complex justifications the fog of ‘experts’ around you has fabricated. It’s hippocritical and lacks integrity. Tend carefully to what your Victorian ancestors planted for your benefit. Once gone, your environment may well be devalued to a point of souless utility.

No love in that.