Judging by the numerous window displays, few of us can imagine Christmas without a tree. Even just a spray-painted picture, for which I had to settle due to lack of space, seemed better than no tree (although the faint smell of paint wasn’t particularly festive). According to ITV news, 8 million Christmas trees are sold in the UK during the Christmas season. If we like trees so much, why is it that at around 12% forest cover, the UK is one of the least densely forested countries in Europe? This compares with 37% for the EU as a whole and 31% worldwide.
Apparently Admiral Collingwood used to carry acorns in his pockets and plant them on his walks to help replace wood used in naval ships. He wasn’t the only one gripped by the ‘oak mania‘ in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Colonel Johnes is reputed to have planted over 3 million trees on his estate in Herefordshire. At the time it was the patriotic thing to do.
Compared to this pair, I have a long way to go in my tree planting efforts – although Johnes employed others to do the actual planting. Both of these notable men must have known that they wouldn’t see their acorns and other seeds grow into mature trees. They were able to look ahead for the benefit of future generations and their country.
While I’m certainly not advocating the building of warships, the UK has a massive tree debt from centuries of grazing, mining and other human activities, including Christmas celebrations. There are certainly plenty of other uses and benefits of trees – from fuel to food, building materials to flood defences, climate and temperature regulation to oxygen generation (and being great hugging companions for hippies like me).
Possibly even more importantly than all these free services for us humans, forests are invaluable habitats for a myriad of other species. There are many great organisations devoted to tree planting and forest preservation such as the Woodland Trust which you can support this January by recycling your Christmas cards via M&S shops, or the World Land Trust whose rainforest protection efforts are supported by my personal hero, David Attenborough.
However, there is one inspiring organisation that stands out for me. Trees for Life is a Scottish charity whose 250-year vision aims to “restore a wild forest, which is there for its own sake, as a home for wildlife and to fulfil the ecological functions necessary for the wellbeing of the land itself”. Human activities have been the major cause of the reduction of the Caledonian Forest to just 1% of its original extent. The charity wants to increase the figure to around 10%. Going on one of their tree planting conservation weeks is a wonderful experience, which I can wholeheartedly recommend. It is amazing to see the difference the charity has made so far, having enabled natural regeneration, planted more than 1 million trees and created 4,000 hectares of new Caledonian Forest.
If Scotland is too far to go to plant your Christmas replacement tree, you can have a tree planted on your behalf or get involved in member groups of the local tree planting initiative called Treemendous. St Nicks is supporting the effort to plant 50,000 trees in York. We have an ongoing programme of tree planting and other woodland management tasks, which you can help us carry out by volunteering. Whether you join our monthly Eco-Active Days or volunteer more often, all help will be much appreciated. It’s an opportunity to help repay the tree debt of many previous generations – and Christmases past.
by Ivana Jakubkova, Events Officer