On the radio today I was gratified to hear Oliver Rackham talk about the dangers of the globalization of the tree business, as I blogged about here nearly a month ago. It was also interesting to hear him talk about some other less than positive aspects of the recent fashion in the UK for tree planting, which has meant we now have as many trees as there were in the Middle Ages. Isn’t this a good thing? Well – er – not necessarily, as I’ve increasingly thought too.
1. There is always a tremendous hurry and lack of adequate cash about grant aided planting which means trees are often imported, increasing the danger of spreading pathogens and parasites and reducing the genetic variation of the plant population.
2. Inappropriate tree species are routinely introduced. There’s a “one size fits all” mentality about native tree selection, which seems very odd. In the world of wildflower plants, which shares many of the same problems, we always try to supply seed mixes appropriate to the sites where they will be sown, for example.
3. The groups of trees which are planted do not constitute woods. In particular, no-one bothers to establish an understory, which means they have less value for biodiversity than they should do. Demand for woodland bulbs is amazingly small and their purchase is never covered by woodland planting grants, for example.
4. This issue is compounded by planting densities being too high, which blocks out any light reaching the plants on the ground.
5. We sometimes establish these plantations, with limited ecological value, where more interesting habitat previously existed.
I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that the Ash tree crisis throws up an opportunity to discuss some of these issues. I’m sure tree planting IS a good thing, but we need to review how we’re doing it.