The presence of trees, the presence of change

The presence of trees, the presence of change

A story to celebrate the trees we’ve planted

Field Maple, Norway Maple, Hornbeam, Beech, Whitebeam, Rowan, Wild Service, Yew, English Elm, Alder, Silver Birch, Scots Pine, Douglas Fir....

You say their names to yourself, annunciating the syllables silently as you walk through the woods. Each tree has a genus, a species, a name for the family that it belongs to ~ and yet, each inhabitant of the woods is a being in its own right, with their own distinctive appearance and characteristics. The phrase about not being able to see the wood for the trees comes to mind ~ once you’re in the woods, the focus inevitably shifts to individual trees. Your eyes take note of shapes and natural landmarks, path-making, meaning-making, remembering the route. Not just the route through the woods, but how far you’ve come in your life to get to this point, here and now. A walk in the woods soothes the eye and soothes the mind, and your thoughts spool out in a stream of consciousness that only the open air is capable of encouraging. There is no substitute for the presence of trees.

Autumn is a time for change, a time when trees begin to shed their leaves, just as we may shed baggage from the year so far and reassess, recalibrate, finding our True North once again. Before they shed their leaves, they burn bright in shades of russet red, burnished orange, and golden yellow. A final flare of full life before entering the deep-rooted grounding and rejuvenation of winter. It is said that even on Midsummer’s Day, the longest day of the year, there is a changing of hands as the days get shorter and the nights draw in. The Oak King hands over to the Holly King, who will come into his prime on the Winter Solstice. And so the cycle continues, as Holly gifts life to Oak, which will reach its full glory of greenery at the peak of summer. Even in darkness, there is light.

You walk amongst Beech trees with trunks so wide and thick, your arms barely reach around them. Centuries-old Yew trees with wonderfully winding trunks, waxy evergreen leaves, and red berries that bring colour like lanterns in the depths of winter. The sight of Wild Service, often a sign of ancient woodland, and now quite rare, fills your heart with gladness. Field Maple and Norway Maple ablaze in the light of the low afternoon sun. Silver Birches with beautifully papery bark, like parchment beneath your fingers, and Scot’s Pines with an almost bluish tinge to their foliage, make you feel protected as they tower above. You breathe in the fresh air, noticing the clean scent of the pine needles, rich and resinous with mood-boosting and immune-modulating terpenes. And then you exhale, audibly sighing, releasing tension from your body.

As you stand amongst the trees you think about how they are known to communicate with one another through their roots. How some trees even form family units to support one another. Through their roots they’re able to nourish others, share nutrients with those who may need them more. Their roots intertwine with the mycorrhizal network ~ the vast complex of fungal threads that also help to share information on air temperature and the changing of the seasons. Wisdom is stored over decades, centuries even, so the trees know when the time has come to release new leaf buds and blossom or to shed leaves and store energy. This network, a natural internet, is the wood-wide web, a pattern of communication that proliferated long before humans attempted to replicate the system. Instead of talking, these wise old beings release powerful but invisible pheromones into the air, sending messages to each tree in the woods, keeping one another safe. The intelligence of trees ~ their sentience may be different to ours, but at their heart, they’re not all that different from humans. The thought fills you with awe and wonder.

Just like us, trees have a unique microbiome which is part of a larger tapestry ~ that of a collective consciousness. Standing alone but also together, we are deeply connected.

The names of the trees that open this story, are the names of the species we planted between 2022 and 2023 with the help of GreenTheUK and The Royal Forestry Society. The species of trees were specifically selected to suit the habitat in which they were planted, so they have a greater chance of survival and successfully become part of a biodiverse ecosystem. They have the potential to increase the woodland’s resistance to pests, diseases, and climate change, as well as drawing down carbon from the atmosphere.

520 trees were planted in the South Downs National Park helping to restore the landscape. Over the last 50 years, millions of trees have been lost to Dutch Elm disease, so disease-resistant Elms were part of the mix of native broadleaf trees chosen. Another 520 trees were planted in Northumberland, where woodland was devastated by Storm Arwen in 2021 and has yet to recover.

Planting these trees is not just a gesture, it’s a commitment to change and while we’re supporting more of GreenTheUK’s efforts (including restoring kelp forests off the coast), we’ll keep checking the progress of our trees through the changing seasons.