‘Be still my heart these great trees are prayers’
At Tangled Bank, there is an ancient woodland clustered around the Colley Lake stream, squat willows and gnarly blackthorn, witchy Elder, and hoary old oaks. We nurture our little woodland, clearing and coppicing to ensure little patches of dappled sunlight penetrate the canopy and filter down to the ground where bluebells and violets grow and butterflies lay their eggs. In the spring we harvest elderflowers, and in the autumn we forage for berries. Sometimes we steal away just to sit quietly, immersing ourselves in the wonder of the great trees.
There is a magic to trees which is hard to define.
The oldest living organism in the world is a tree; the Jurupa Oak, in California, is thirteen-thousand years old, and sprouted during the last ice age when much of the world was covered in glaciers. The largest living organism is also a tree – Pando – the trembling giant – a vast clonal colony of aspen trees, interconnected via a single, massive intricate root system, stretching for one hundred and six acres. Trees have the ability to repeatedly renew themselves through cloning, ensuring survival and achieving immortality.
And the trees are aware. Oh yes. Connected via a network of fungi, trees share resources, and scientists now have evidence of older trees actively channelling food to younger saplings to help them thrive. Furthermore, trees are known to send chemical messages to one another, ‘shouting’ out warnings when they come under attack. They grow densely together in forests, but are sure to never touch one another, a phenomenon known as Crown Shyness, which is still not fully understood, but is thought to be an adaptive behaviour which may inhibit the spread of leaf eating insects. Some trees, like the black walnut, maliciously spread toxic chemicals in order to kill off the competition.
Since the dawn of time, trees have provided us with two of life’s essentials; food and oxygen. As time went on, we learned that trees could give us additional necessities; shelter, medicine, and tools. Unfortunately, in modern times, our insatiable appetite for development has meant that much of our ancient woodlands and forests have been relentlessly obliterated to make way for farming and property, too often with little thought or care for the impact we are having on the world which we inhabit.
Trees do far more for us than we realise; they are vital to our health and wellbeing. Trees provide oxygen, they improve air quality, conserve water, preserve the soil and support wildlife. According to the US Department of Agriculture one acre of forest can absorb six tonnes of carbon dioxide and produce four tonnes of oxygen – that’s enough to meet the annual needs of eighteen people! By locking in carbon, trees can help us combat climate change, and they filter the air by absorbing pollutants. Trees are able to moderate the effects of the sun, wind and rain, absorbing heat to keep things cooler in the summer, and providing shelter from the elements in the winter. They intercept rain and floodwater, filtering it of toxic chemicals and slowing its journey, and helping the groundwater levels recharge. Their far reaching roots help hold soil in place, reducing erosion, and fallen leaves make excellent compost, enriching the nutrients in the earth. Trees create important habitats for wildlife; the crown canopy from a single oak tree can measure over two hundred and fifty square meters, a massive three-dimensional multi-storey home for thousands of creatures. They provide food for insects, bacteria, fungi, other plants and animals, providing a cornerstone for many complex and unique ecosystems.
The strength, beauty, immortality and regal stature of trees give them a majestic, monument-like quality, and inspire emotion and peacefulness in us.
At Tangled Bank, we are lucky to have a small unspoilt woodland clustered around the babbling brook which runs through the heart of our valley. Over the coming years, we plan to plant over one thousand saplings, extending the woodland by two acres. It’s our way of making sure we give back to the land, and preserve this beautiful landscape for generations to come.