I was going to begin with the line ‘I’m not a tree-hugger’ as if it were some kind of criticism, but actually, I am, and it isn’t! I am not your classic eco-warrior, protesting about trees being destroyed for roads, although sometimes I wish I had a bit more courage! I do have a ‘thing’ about trees though, and I think always have had. I was a tom-boy when I was younger (a lot younger) and climbing trees was one of my favourite things to do, partly because it was viewed as something slightly daring and ill-advised by my parents, but also because I liked the scuff of bark and branches, and the different perspective that height gave.
We had a huge garden at home, but sadly there were no trees. My mum was, and still is, intimidated by large growing things. I’m not quite sure why, but I think it’s partly a control thing. Like our Victorian forebears, she has a need to control nature, to make it conform to what she needs and wants from it, perhaps because there is so little else she controls in her life.
As a species we have a history of exploiting the natural world for our own gain. Scotland’s barren landscape is testament to that. The ancient forests may have been decimated before warfare took its toll, but the desolation is still manmade. There have been moves in recent decades at restoration, and education, and all to the good. I can’t help feeling that having more of a love of our natural world, in general, and trees in particular, might do more good. ‘Project Wild Thing’ is tackling one of the fundamental issues – our lack of connection with the natural world-and is encouraging young people in particular to engage with nature: to get muddy, to climb trees, to look in ponds, to realise that there is much more to life than an illuminated display and keyboard. Simply being outside is good for our health, and conversely, there is a good deal of research that now suggests the disconnect we have with our natural world is actually damaging our health.
I was at a workshop at the weekend, entitled ‘words for health’. Lapidus, the organisation running the event, believes that creative writing promotes mental well-being, and as a writer and artist, I would agree. The weekend workshop was about their new project ‘writing place’ which embraces writing where we are, and has real connections for those of us who live in the stunning scenery of the highlands. A sense of place has always been evident in highland writing, and the landscape informs our creativity in an elemental way. We did a lot of writing this weekend, and much of it was inspired by the stunning venue, Anam Cara, high above Inverness, set on the edge of forest. We were lucky to have a real ‘tree lady’ taking one of the workshops! Mandy Haggith is a writer based in Assynt, in the north-west highlands of Scotland. Her current project is ‘ A-B-Tree’and celebrates the link between trees and writing. It was an interesting and energising day, encouraging us to engage more with ‘outside’ and the words, and health, that being there promotes.
Currently about 13 million hectares of forest are cut down each year 1. Although there is some re-forestation, the net loss is massive, and includes some of the world’s remaining unique and pristine habitats: the five countries with the largest annual net loss of forest area in the period 2000-2005 were Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Myanmar (Burma) and Zambia. These forests cannot be replaced, and the systems they support are likely to be lost.
Even in the UK, the rate of loss is greater than the rate or replanting, and the truth is even we need more trees. We all know intrinsically that trees are good for us. Their leaves improve the air we breathe by trapping particles and releasing oxygen. Their roots help water travel deep into the soil, capturing pollutants and reducing flooding. By planting more trees we can capture more carbon and help species move in response to climate change. The world’s forests have been described as the ‘lungs of the world’, and I think that description aptly conveys their importance to life on earth. Without them we cannot survive long term.
OK, you may not want to go and hug a tree – though personally I would recommend it, it’s a life-affirming experience- but you could certainly plant a tree, or support one of the organisations who are currently engaged in replanting schemes. Wherever you live, your environment will benefit from a tree or two. I would also encourage you to get out there into the outside. Whether you live in a town, city or the countryside, there are green spaces where you can re-engage with your natural environment. Getting out of the office at lunchtime is a lot more beneficial to your well-being than playing Angry Birds, or updating Facebook! If you really can’t spare a few minutes, then make a point of getting out at the weekend with your family and appreciating the natural world. Trees are amazing natural sculptures, and some of them have been around for centuries. I guarantee you will be enriched by your experience.
If you want to be more involved with re-forestry, or need an excuse to get outside, there are lots of organisations who would welcome you as a volunteer. The Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission, and Trees for Life all have schemes you can get involved in.
For more information on Mandy’s project see her website: http://mandyhaggith.worldforests.org/a-b-tree.asp?pageid=336781
If you want to find out more about Lapidus, their website can be found here: http://www.lapidus.org.uk/ look at their ‘regional networks’ section for more information about what’s going on in your local area.
If you want to be inspired by some tree images, take a look at my pinboard: http://www.pinterest.com/drnaturegirl/trees/ and http://onebigphoto.com/worlds-most-beautiful-trees-photography/
Happy Tree hugging!
1 United Nations Environment Programme ‘Forests’ http://www.unep.org/forests/