'The best time to plant a tree'

You may have noticed  more noise about biodiversity recently, and rightly so.  We human beings are turning out to be our own worst enemies.  We didn’t mean to strip the earth of natural resources, or trap vast quantities of carbon dioxide, methane and other compounds in the atmosphere, altering the temperature of the planet in the process. We didn’t intend the wholesale destruction of vital habitat, nor did we meaningfully set out to decimate countless other species we have co-existed with for thousands of years.  It’s all happening though, and what’s more we’ve managed most of this in my lifetime, and certainly since the industrial revolution.  What’s more the damage is increasing exponentially as the effects compound.

There is, then, plenty of room to improve things, and with some urgency, even in the Yorkshire Dales, which we are fortunate enough to call home.  Some small actions can have far larger consequences.

For example, I was surprised to read recently that Craven (our local district council) is amongst the 10 boroughs with the least trees per hectare in the entire country[i].  It seems counter intuitive, but I guess when we don’t have many streets, we can’t have many tree lined ones either!  Our fields also aren’t that tree lined, as dry stone walls are more the order of the day around here.  Furthermore, in terms of tree coverage per hectare, the UK, at 13%, trails most of the rest of Europe (38%) and even the World (31%)[ii]

So, lovely part of the world and all that, but we have fewer trees per hectare in our borough than most of the rest of the boroughs in the country, which itself is lower than most of the other wealthy countries on the planet.  We can all do something about that!

The government has a target to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year by 2025[iii], and so far it seems to be falling a long way short.  How many trees a year is that you may well ask?  Well, at an average planting density you’d get around two to two and a half thousand trees per hectare, so simple maths tells me that is about 75 million trees p.a.  Last year the stats suggest we managed 33 million.

Why does it matter?  Well, trees are an invaluable resource for all sorts of reasons.  They clean the air of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, fighting climate change and improving local air quality. Their root systems allow rain to more effectively find its way into the ground, reducing flood risk.  They provide food, shelter and habitat for all manner of insects, birds, mammals, invertebrates and micro organisms,  massively contributing to the massive Jenga puzzle which is the game of life.  Just like Jenga if attention isn’t paid to the complex balancing of our amazing eco systems then everything can come crashing down.  As the saying goes those at the top have the longest and hardest fall.

So, if you have room for a tree or two in your garden, or along your boundary, (or a dozen or two in your paddock perhaps?) that would be a good start.  For those with less room, just greening up whatever you do have can help.  Pop a green roof on your shed, make a wildlife pond or grow a climber up that bare wall.  All of these things help fight air pollution, create micro habitats and encourage wildlife. By working together, these small actions can create a network of habitats helping to draw life back into our villages, towns and cities. 

This week we’re taking delivery of the trees we need to start to establish an orchard down on the nursery.  We are also in the process of planting some hedgerows.  More on this I hope in future blogs.  In our own small way we are trying to help.  From acorns mighty oaks grow.  There are, at latest estimates, about 67 million people sharing this island of ours.  If we all contribute an acorn that’s an awful lot of mighty oaks! 

Someone famous once said “the best time to plant a tree is 100 years ago.  The second best time is now.”




[i] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/science-environment-54311593

[ii] https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/statistics/forestry-statistics/forestry-statistics-2018/international-forestry/forest-cover-international-comparisons/

[iii] https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/press-centre/2020/06/government-planting-figures/

January 29, 2021 — Andrew Lay

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