Saturday, 30 January 2016

More Trees?

There's been a lot of talk about trees lately.
So here's a bit more.

They are, quite naturally, a bit of an ongoing theme in 'green' circles, but as with a lot of issues environmental it's easy to fall into the trap of taking a 'one size fits all' approach. 
Which; as we know with clothes; is usually more a case of 'One size; fits hardly anybody'.

It's another of those tired old tropes; tree planting is always a good thing; wherever and whenever; a panacea for all environmental ills. And has previously, been used as a supposed 'get out of jail free' card to offset the eructations arising from our other activities that inpact the biosphere.
Thankfully; this kind of green wash hogwash is now more usually seen for what it is....

Of course more trees of the right sort, in the right place, for the right reasons...And then given thoughtful aftercare. Who could argue with that?

Even if, they had no other function other than to enhance the landscape.
These old beeches which grace the hedge banks at the top of the sunken lane are a fine example, of appropriate placement; their smooth grey trunks and the slightly 'melted effect' near their bases make me think of elephants legs.

Walking back home under these beauties; through the deep dark Devon lanes from visiting a friend last weekend was a proper treat. I'd almost forgotten just how lovely walking at night can be, it feels just a little bit naughty too... Out after dark; on your own....? Could be up to anything.

It also gives a heightened impression of, and feeling for, the more timeless landscape underneath all that distracting fluffy green vegetation and stuff we see during the day... The shape of the ground as it swells and falls over the bedrock. The bare bones of the older trees silhouetted against the night sky. And through the wet branches of course the light from those very ancient stars. 
Millions of other people could be looking at these very same constellations right now.
 But, no one is seeing them from quite this point of view, through this particular lattice of wood. We all have a subtly unique point of view on so many things; it all depends on our perspective.

I guess that could be what does it for some of us in the mountains, the rocks and crags give a hint of the earths' bone structure. Long views on time; as well as landscape. 

Learning to drive a camera for decent night shots still on the 'to do' list. The trouble is remembering it all, when emerging  fuggle headed from a tent in the middle of the night.

Of course trees perform multiple functions besides feeding the soul. Such as converting CO2 and sunshine into wood via photosynthesis. All those summers of sunshine released from dry wood at this time of year are appreciated in this drizmal weather; and are irresistably mesmerising when fashioned into a outdoor fire, especially with a beer or two to hand.

Encounter with Quercus and Ilex..

Also nipped out for a bit of a seemingly aimless wander on our local Pebblebed Heath last Sunday. No particular route or destination in mind, but I did enjoy a very particular encounter, the tale of which might have to wait for another time to be told.

This gnarly Oak has a lot going on around and about it.
The moss covered bark shows that it grows in a damp hollow close to the stream. It supports one or two epiphitic ferns growing in the crevices of its deeply indented bark, usually a sign of clean enough air. The fern and the tree coexist happily enough, but its not a truly symbiotic relationship as either could do just as well without the other, although i expect the fern appreciates being out of the way of pony hooves. There's also a good bit of dead wood in the form of a broken branch, so that hole boring insects can go about their business.

Hope this wasn't as a result of an injudicious rope swing incident; it's close enough to the path for that to have been a possibility; at least the good self mulching layer of leaves molding; should have given a soft landing...

And in the foreground there sprouts a sapling holly, most likely seeded there by a pigeon generously contributing its own 'starter pack' of fertiliser.

There was an interesting theory posited at a recent talk on 're wilding the uplands'. It was regarding this, and other types of springy groundstorey shrubbery such as hazel and birch. 
These are the kind of trees planted in hedges that are managed by steeping (more commonly know as hedgelaying) Where the main stem is cut nearly all the way through then laid them down so their lateral stems can regrow as an effective stock barrier. 

Our speaker suggested that the trees had developed this particular resilience in the face of onslaught, as a reaction to.....Elephants.
Given that all these woody species would have had to resist the browsing and trampling of those creatures when they were native at these latitudes, sadly* of course now extinct in these parts.
*although I wouldn't fancy having to fence them out of the veg patch.

The rewilding enthusiasts are hoping to reintroduce elk and some of the smaller wildcats and maybe hippos? No not hippos, I think it was beavers. But we've already stolen a march on them with that one..
 Our local river, The Otter, in addition to having cleaned up its act sufficiently to allow it's namesake to thrive; is now home to a beaver colony... Where did they come from? Well, nearly everyone knows, but no one is saying....Curious.

And in the background another use of trees found pretty much all over the planet: telegraph poles.
They can come in handy for all kinds of other purposes; if you can persuade your local replacement team to part with the discards for a few pounds.....Atopped with some wiggly tin they make a damn fine implement shelter.... Now to stock it...

Forest cover here seen at elevations well over those found in any part of the UK; with perhaps the exception of the particularly pointy bits of Scotland.....Taken during last Septembers excursing in the Pyrenees... Some sheep and cattle grazing does go on here, but at much lower stocking densities, and livestock are only pastured up here in the summer months, following the traditional transhumance model.

The UK has one of the lowest rate of tree cover of any country in Europe. This might be understandable if we were comparing our relatively crowded lowlands and productive farmland..

And while we're about it; please; no more well intention-ed rows of trees of any flavour planted onto good food producing acreage...  There is plenty of neglected lowland woodland that needs bringing back into a good state rather than planting 'amenity' trees on favourable cropping land, we need that to feed ourselves properly.

In addition carefully managed mixed species pastureland is home to many of the unsung heroes of the wee beastie variety; who may not be quite as glamorous as some of the proposed megafauna 'new kids on the block' but they are equally; if not more valuable in the ecological scheme of things.

 Random sapling insertion is a well meaning; but not necessarily helpful action; so often undertaken as a first move; by many people who have managed to buy themselves a little piece of the countryside, and want to 'do their bit'.

The uplands on the other hand are; as a result of the depredations of too many sheep and deer; pretty much denuded. This has come about as a result of many factors many of which are cultural: large amounts of land being held in relatively few hands; combined with a 'horny handed' son or daughter of tradition; habit of overstocking sheep on our upland areas...
Perhaps a gradual retreat in some areas might be allowed to allow natural regeneration as in the Caledonian Forest regeneration project?       (its worth clicking the link just for the pretty pictures of Scotland)

 Controversial with some; particularly as the hardy weather beaten upland farmer is one of those beloved far gazing creatures; of so much media fantasy deification.

No one likes to mention that he or she is probably making more dosh out of owning the land; than the woolly beasties that wander upon it...
And then there's possibly more than one or two hillwalkers; as might get a bit cross with "all these bleddy trees" getting in the way of our wide, yet unnatural, vistas.

I'm not unsympathetic to that view (or lack of) after our experiences last Summer; but no one is suggesting thick plantations of conifers, more allowing some regeneration of what would be there if the sheep and deer didn't consume every tree seedling that got over two inches high.

There was a bit of rudery opined re the pantalooned buffoons that swarm ( think the word might actually have been 'waddled' ...Ouch!) about the Caledonian uplands in pursuit of what should be a woodland creature; the so called 'Mighty Scottish Stag', that is, in fact, a shadow, sizewise, of what it would be if it was living in its proper sylvan habitat.

I was going to suggest 'Sheep stalking' as an alternative income stream and 'country pursuit' in the Welsh uplands, as a method of thinning out the population (of sheep not Welshfarmers dolt!)

But perhaps that's an idea; the time for which is maybe yet to come.....But; les moutons are pretty easy to sneak up on ...If the wind is in the right direction...

But, meanwhile, this lot have got some sensible, practicable ideas...

A tad moist underfoot.

Another reason that a few more trees might be of use in our landscape. This was the scene on the way home from giving a 'picture show' and talk about the farm this afternoon
 (Financial reward, for talking about stuff you struggle to shut me up about anyway!? Larks!) 
This is the Otter Valley flood plain, the river isn't usually in these fields, but this is fine, the clue, as they say. is in the name.

Riverside watermeadows are a buffer for the natural rise and fall of flood water. In fact these  pastures were once seen as a valuable source of  'early bite' : that is fresh spring sward fertilised and encouraged by flood waters; the new grass shoots emerging just a few weeks earlier and greener than higher grazing. 
Nowadays, that early flush is more usually brought about by bagged pelleted Nitrogen, which you really don't want getting into the river systems. 

There's also a lot of valuable topsoil that ends up in the river; and ultimately finds its way to the sea;  when farmers cultivate these lowlying fields for arable cropping.....Sorry I just don't get it...
 Churn up your most valuable natural commodity; and wave it good bye when the Autumn and Winter rains come. Oh does it rain a lot in Devon then? 
Shorttermism? Shortsightedness? Or stupidity? I couldn't possibly say...

But a few more well maintained hedges and trees in appropriate places, would slow down the water arriving in the river, taking pressure off communities down stream, which can be threatened , even if they have been bright enough not to build on the flood plain..

Getting a foothold, just, on the road to Torla Spanish Pyrenees.

Found this one as I was meandering the byways of the archive just now... It is a tree by a river so qualifies on those grounds... But I think we may have just returned to the theme of
 'trees as soul food'...

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