Thursday, 30 May 2013

A nation of treehuggers

Treehuggers get a terribly bad press. Grainy images of a grimy, heavily-dreaded Swampy spring to mind. But regardless of what anyone might think of the erstwhile battler against the A30 extension in Fairmile, Devon, it appears we are, in fact, a nation of treehuggers.

For only through the hard work of this dedicated volunteer army could the Woodland Trust have published such an important, and worrying, report today.

For the conservation charity fears thousands of ‘precious’ ancient trees are at risk from a veritable multitude of pests and diseases. A large majority of the 115,000 ancient, veteran or notable trees it has classified - mapped with the assistance of this army - could be killed by diseases such as acute oak decline and needle blight or ravaging insects including the Asian longhorn beetle.

And if those perils were not enough, the government’s High Speed 2 plans envisage dozens of ancient trees being bulldozed.

Examples such as the 11-metre girthed Big Belly Oak in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire – thought to have stood since the time of William the Conqueror – or the ancient oaks of Windsor Great Park - one of the largest collections of ancient oaks in western Europe according to the Ancient Tree Forum - could be lost to the nation unless the monitoring of these specimens is continued, expanded and shouted about. 
As could the two in Calke, Derbyshire, pictured here.

Many are tied into our folklore, to our national identity. The oak tree, for example, is sturdy, secure, wise, resilient. Robin Hood hid in the Major Oak. And the Conservative Party didn't choose a fuzzy picture of one as their logo by accident. Their destruction would be as big a loss to the nation’s heritage as callous destruction of great buildings. Have we forgotten the catastrophic loss of elm trees in the late 1960s and 1970s?

But one thing which occurred to me while working on the story was to ask how trees are designated ancient, veteran or notable? And this is where the glorious, amateur treehugger steps in.

Those helpful people at the Woodland Trust provided me with a few tips. Slightly obviously, ancient are ’old’, veteran are ’middle-aged’ and notable are the ’youngest’. But to know one from the other you need to hug them.

A hug ‘is based on the finger tip finger tip measurement of an adult, which we take to be about 1.5m’. Helpfully, ‘this distance is usually the same as your height, and means you can measure a tree even if you forget your tape measure’.

So to identify whether a particular tree is ancient, this guide can be followed (all 'hugs' are 'adult' sized):

Oak – 3 hugs (or 4 to be ‘truly’ ancient)
Beech – 2 hugs
Scots Pine – 1 hug
Rowan – 1 hug
Birch – a wrist hug
Hawthorn – an elbow hug
Cedar of Lebanon – 4 hugs
Field Maple – 1 hug
Sweet Chestnut – 4 hugs
Ash – 2 hugs

The Woodland Trust has been mapping our ancient trees since 2004 when it launched the Ancient Tree Hunt. This literally involved asking enthusiastic tree lovers across the country to give their nearest grand specimens a cuddle. Stretch out your arms and think of England’s heritage, it almost said.

These rough measurements would be submitted to the trust and an expert would then verify the find.

Since 2004, about 115,000 trees have been recorded; a fairly extraordinary survey of our woodland heritage. So it would seem the preservation of our great woodland heritage is
one of those rare subjects which unites the leftie eco-warrior with the landed shire-dwelling high Tory.

Friday, 24 May 2013

These killers represent no one but themselves

Since the heinous act of savagery on London’s streets on Wednesday afternoon, Muslims and their community leaders could not have been more explicit; the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby just yards from Woolwich Barracks has been condemned in the clearest possible terms. (Metro link)

The Muslim Council of Great Britain called it a ‘truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam’. Paul Salahuddin Armstrong, of The Association of British Muslims, said the attackers’ actions had ‘removed them from Islam, because there is no grounds to justify attacks of terrorism’.
‘If you go back to the Qu’ran,’ he explained, ‘there is no grounds for this kind of behaviour, no grounds for murder.’
And countless individuals have used Twitter to express their disgust and outrage, frequently accompanied by the hashtag #notinmyname.
It is a shame they feel they have to defend themselves at all. It should be obvious that the actions of a couple of mindless, violent individuals owe nothing to any religion. David Cameron was absolutely right when he spoke outside Downing Street, saying this murder was a ‘betrayal of Islam’, its perpetrators were ‘trying to divide us’ and the best response was for everyone to go about their ‘normal lives’.
Yet, the prime minister and leader of the opposition both cut short trips abroad to return to the country; we’ve already had two meetings of the government’s emergency Cobra committee and 1,200 extra police have been deployed on London’s streets to apparently provide a reassuring presence.
Obviously security measures need to be reviewed and the wider context of the crime must be explored. But, it is not a surprise to see significant figures in the defence industry waste no time in calling for the adoption of further, more intrusive, data-monitoring measures, regardless of whether they would have made the slightest difference to the events in Woolwich.
Too often, since 9/11, we have seen our civil liberties eroded, justified by short-term and shallow excuses, when those liberties should have been reinforced and celebrated to demonstrate to the perpetrators of terror they have failed.
‘ Fundamentalist Islam’ is as much a political movement as it is a religious one and like any extremist ideology it appeals to the weak, the disaffected and the vulnerable. It provides them with easy, convenient, excuses for their own failings whilst, at the same time, offering them a scenario through which they can become heroes. Inflicting extreme, mediaeval, violence, is presented as self-sacrificial virtue.
And I fear trying to explain the murder of a British soldier on a suburban street in broad daylight as a terror attack potentially plays into the hands of extremists, too neatly fitting their warped agenda.
Instead, they should be recognised as barbaric killers, pure and simple, not putative martyrs. They may believe they can justify their actions using some twisted ideological theory, but there is no reason why we should give this nonsense such credence.