I try to go for a walk every day, it adds a bit of routine which is necessary when writing at home in the winter nearly every day. Sometimes I go along the canal, other times through parks and across the countryside along ancient pathways. Many of these areas are currently partially flooded as much of the rest of the country is and so this week I have been walking through my local wood.
I’ve written before how much I adore trees and woodland so I looked forward to my walks, wondering what birds I will see, the dozens of playful squirrels and maybe the odd fox or deer. This time though I almost got lost in my local wood that I walk through at least 100 hundred times a year. That’s because so many trees have blown over. Pathways are blocked, huge oak trees blown over, bringing down many others as the fall. Shorter more pliable trees have had their trunks or main branches snapped.
Oaks are my favourite trees, long lived, strong, great for wood products with each one home to at least dozens if not hundreds of species. The oak tree is a national symbol of England and the oak leaf is the symbol of the conservation body, The Natural Trust. Many of the famous oaks we see up and down the land were actually deliberately planted centuries ago at the urging of Nelson and the Admiralty to ensure a plentiful supply of wood for use in naval ships. Nelson was a visionary but not quite so far-seeing that he foresaw iron and steel ships that would appear just a few decades later. You can see why he was so concerned though as around 6,000 oak trees were needed to construct HMS Victory, just one of a huge fleet of ships.
Now these oaks have reached maturity and are at the time they give maximum benefit to wildlife and to humans both to look at and to protect from wind, shade from the summer sun as well as removing toxins from the air. Recently it has come to notice of some that some of the current flooding could have been avoided if high altitude woodland hadn’t been removed for poor quality farming. This is because trees and especially oaks require a lot of water and they get that through their roots that suck up vast quantities every day. This is probably the reason that walking through the woods this week was simply muddy and not flooded with water.
Many of the streets around my home have now got uprooted trees and the parks are almost unrecognisable from what they were 5 or 6 years ago with large open spaces where once tall oaks or pines once stood. The parks are all the lesser for it and so is my enjoyment of them. Given that it takes centuries for them to grow, it is high time that more of them were planted, not just in the new forests but also places where people are likely to encounter them in every day life.
The fallen trees are entirely wasted, many turned into park benches, sculptures or borders to car parks but as even a very quick glance shows, we are pretty much all oaked out with barriers and benches but that is fortunate because there are so many less big trees around than just a few years ago.
On my walk I found the first signs of spring, white snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils racing up from the ground. In a few months Bluebells will appear but for how much longer as these flowers need the shade and nutrients that the tall oaks provide.
The nearest town to where I live has had sections flooded on and off for weeks. Many buildings flooded that were once on flood plains. The drainage provided by these drainage fields that were provided by nature, safeguarded by our ancestors but concreted over at an increasing rate since the 1980’s. A name such as “Water Lane” probably gives a clue that it isn’t the best place to build a hotel but not for modern planners.
Even as floods continue, plans are underway to run a large road through a section of park, destroying more greenery and oaks. Hundreds more homes being built on greenfields and allotments. The mayor insists they will create jobs and perhaps they will but who wants to live somewhere that at best has no greenery or trees and at worst is flooded for weeks every winter?
The whole cycle is ever worsening and self-perpetuating. Climate Change brings increased storms and rainfall which is bad enough as sodden soil makes trees more liable to be blown over. Less green space means all the rain concentrates in flooded areas and with less trees and green space to take off the edge of the extremes of the weather.
Last autumn I wrote on how I kept getting hit on the head by falling acorns, this year it won’t be so much of a problem. Lets hope they land somewhere good because as the saying goes, out of little acorns do great oak trees grow. As it is, walking through Albans wood today is like walking through a graveyard of giants after a most bloody battle.