Tree Planting and Restoration
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A significant part of our work is the restoration of trees to the landscape.
Trees for Health is about health of the landscape as well as the health of people. We strongly believe that these two are closely connected and that it is important to address these issues together. Humans are reliant on the health of the world’s ecosystems for their health and in turn if we care for our health and well-being, that care should naturally extend to the Earth. Indeed, increasingly findings in science are confirming the convictions of many Eastern religions such as Buddhism, that all of nature including ourselves is connected. This connection, in the context of health, is highlighted by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry in their book ‘The Universe Story’ (p. 237):
"The well being of the ecosystem of the planet is a prior condition for the well being of humans. We cannot have well being on a sick planet, not even with our medical science. So long as we continue to generate more toxins than the planet can absorb and transform, the members of the Earth community will become ill. Human health is derivative. Planetary health is primary."
So why trees for the health of the planet? To put it simply, the Earth was once covered with forests! This was not a continuous cover of trees but a diverse range of habitats as part of a constantly changing forest ecosystem. Today though with 6 billion humans, this is not possible but trees and forests remain essential for human and ecosystem health.
James Lovelock, Originator of the Gaia Theory warns us that the continued replacement of the Earth’s forest ecosystems with destructive agricultural systems may lead to collapse of the Earth’s systems. Both numerical models and the experience of past civilisations indicate that when over 65% of forests are destroyed, these self-regulating ecosystems can no longer control their own climate and chemistry. At the rate we are destroying tropical rainforests, we may reach this state by 2010!!
Here in Britain we have gradually removed our forests over 1000s of years. This has left us with less than 12% woodland cover compared to 36% in the European Union (Woodland Trust 2003). You may ask then, why has our ecosystem not collapsed? Well our landscape indeed bears no resemblance to the forest ecosystem that existed when Neolithic farmers first started to fell trees. Our agricultural landscape today containing fragments of isolated woodland is entirely created by humans. It has lost much of its species and habitat diversity, being dominated by over 80% of pasture for grazing animals. In addition to this we import more livestock feed from poorer countries! The reason our little island has not collapsed is because we rely on the rest of the world for much of our food, wood and other materials. In the long term this is completely unsustainable for the world’s populations and for the survival of the Earth.
So Trees for Health believes it crucial to plant native woodland alongside sustainable food systems such as permaculture, forest gardening (see below) and local community supported farming. Part of our work also involves redressing the loss of plant knowledge that occurred alongside deforestation and to revive the sustainable use of native trees as remedies and foods. This potential in rainforests is widely accepted but we rarely think of our own woodland as a storehouse for tree remedies and foods. Trees for Health is striving to restore some of what has been lost and to make the most of our cultural plant heritage through trees.
The numerous benefits of trees for both the planet’s and our health are well-documented (see diagram). Ecologically and socially, our tree planting work aims to:
We work with landowners and projects, either rural or urban, to integrate trees in a way that is appropriate for other site activities and existing land uses and habitats.
Trees for Health is very supportive of forest gardening, which was pioneered in temperate regions by Robert Hart in the early 1960s. Today research continues into plants that are useful and edible as a basis for sustainable and diverse food systems by organisations such as the Agroforestry Research Trust and Plants for a Future.
The work of agroforestry develops the use of species from all over the world. Trees for Health focused initially on the restoration of native trees and woodland in South Devon, to address both the lack of trees in our landscape and the forgotten use of native species as foods and remedies. Alongside this, we are now planting areas of agroforestry and therefore species of non-natives and specific cultivars that will provide food, dyes, weaving materials, medicines and wood.
One of our autumn activities is to collect seeds from the local area and to sow them in tree nurseries. We then plant these by agreement with landowners into the landscape. This can be single trees, planting hedges, planting in urban areas or creating new woodland. We are particularly keen to link up existing areas of fragmented woodland, which enables dispersal and colonisation of otherwise isolated populations of plants and animals.
We will also work with landowners to allow areas of natural regeneration of woodland.
In our first winter season (04/05) we planted 1500 trees and shrubs with 2 landowners. We will be looking after these trees for years to come by carrying out weeding and maintenance.
The species planted include hawthorn, blackthorn, sea buckthorn, holly, gorse, spindle, wych elm, wayfaring tree, rowan, guelder rose and ash. There is a predominance of hawthorn and blackthorn as they are suitable for exposed hedges and these two species already grow on the established hedgebanks together with gorse, holly, ash and the less common spindle tree and wych elm. Hawthorn and blackthorn provide haws and sloes for future harvest. Rowan and guelder rose provides berries and sea buckthorn has fruits that are a very good source of Vitamin C and are loved by birds. All the trees can provide sources of seeds for growing new trees in the future. The stems of the Wayfaring tree can be used for twine but the berries are not very acceptable to our stomachs or palates!
Bordering this meadow will be the new woodland providing in future years a woodland habitat for mammals, birds, insects, mosses, ground cover plants and fungi. The ecological diversity is therefore being increased here. The trees also border existing hedges where trees and shrubs grow thereby linking up hedges and extending the habitat, thereby allowing greater movement of plant and animal species. The site is also the entrance to Beenleigh Meadows and borders the small parking area. The trees will shield the site from vehicle noise and fumes and also provide a beautiful welcoming area to visitors for volunteer activities and events. The trees are being fenced off from grazing stock with gates for access.
The species planted at Beenleigh include oak, ash, birch, rowan, crab apple, wild cherry, spindle, hawthorn, hazel and dog rose. Oak, ash and birch provide the main canopy trees although birch is a quick growing pioneer species that may later give way to the oak and ash. The acorns can be used as a crop for making acorn coffee and for raising news saplings. Rowan, crab apple and wild cherry are smaller trees that will grow alongside and nearby the canopy trees. They all provide berries and fruits for use in autumn recipes such as jams, jellies and chutneys. Spindle is a small tree and although all parts are poisonous, non-food uses include charcoal, seed oil for soaps and the wood, which is very hard and useful for making spindles, knitting needles and toothpicks. The hawthorn, hazel and dog rose are being planted on the exposed edge to provide a thicket of shrubs as shelter for the woodland area. These species will provide us with haws for chutney and rosehips and we hope to harvest some of the hazelnuts before the squirrels.
Most of the species that we are planting have medicinal properties. See Tree Foods and Remedies for more information.
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