The Fading Glory of British Trees
A good selection of our most loved treesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Our native trees date from the ice age
Recognizing British Trees.
Notes on rainforests.
I was strolling around our local cricket field after bowling out the entire opposition (in my daydreams) the other day. It suddenly occurred to me that I had reached the ripe old age of - me to know and you to mind your own - and I could not identify any of the lovely trees overlooking the pitch that had been on the planet about as long as I had. The exception was the Horse Chestnut, and that was just because I had just gone arse over teakettle on a conker lying under it. Even then I had to be told by the smart-alec, know-all wicket-keeper it wasn’t generally known as the F-----g Conker tree, but the Hawse Chestnut y‘know!
I don’t know why I am so ignorant where botany is concerned; I know lots about birds and small animals; even insects. But show me anything with leaves: house plants, garden flowers or trees, and I clam up so as not to show my ignorance. There is one exception and that is my avocado tree I have grown from a pitt; as it overlooks my office and is sensitive so I thought I’d better give it a mention right away.
Britain still has a lot of trees, despite the fact any useable timber not transplanted, i.e. the old forests, had been denuded hundreds of years ago. Funny to think we were covered in woods when the Romans came, perhaps that was the attraction, it certainly couldn’t have been the weather.
What tree comes to your mind when British or even European trees are mentioned? Perhaps the mighty Oak from which our sturdy galleons were once fashioned, or the sturdy Yew which graces many churchyards and gave its branches to be fashioned into the longbows featured in our early wars. Or the graceful Willow, one of which adorns the other end of our cricket pitch: rightly so, as it’s resilient timber is used to make cricket bats (and aspirin can be found in its bark). Or perhaps the humble Sycamore with its easy-to-climb branches and the whirly-bird seeds kids had so much fun with. Or the many firs or pines, the statuesque (and dangerous) Elms, the elegant Poplars used to line many a rich man’s driveway. The decorative Copper Birch and Silver Beech, the shivery Aspen.
I am writing this, mind, but I still couldn’t take you around and identify more than a couple of them, this is why I’m researching this article for hub pages, it’s time I matured and knew my country.
The economic importance of trees - lumber - has necessarily lessened in Britain since most of the available forests were felled, cut back and culled. What remain are now on private land; part of our all too small national forests; flourishing in local woods, copses and hedgerows. We remain a largely crop-oriented agrarian country which is a good thing for the ecology of the nation as it does ensure we have a huge amount of plant species exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide. The focus on lumbering has swung around to the rain forests on the planet as they are being destroyed in huge swathes to satisfy the maw of the wood chip industry and other large consumers of cut timber. Our pleas from the First World falls on deaf ears among businessmen and native lumberjacks in Brazil, Africa, New Guinea, and other lands still possessing thousands of square miles of marketable timber. After all, with some justification, they could point to us and ask where all our large trees went to, (much went into ships so we could nip over and plunder their gold, land or slaves). We all too often fall back on sanctimony, jingoistic bombast and artifice regarding our own historical foibles as we try to apply rules to which we were never called upon to adhere, to others faced with today‘s problems.
Less than half the trees we commonly see in the British Isles are truly native, if you use as a yard-stick the fact that they date back 10 or 12,000 years to the passing of the last ice age. Of course, trees are a mite older than this, their forefathers arriving about 400 million years ago during the Devonian Period!
Alder, Ash, Birch. (2 varieties), Box, Elm, (3 varieties), Hazel, Hornbeam, Juniper, Linden, Maple, Oak (2 varieties), Scots Pine (all the other firs, pines and larches, etc., have been introduced to this country). Poplar (2), Rowans and Whitebeams, (4) Willow, (4) and last but far from least, the Yew. (Please see in photos in order as I add them). As well as quite a few fruit trees that I have decided to leave out and some that border on being shrubs. Not a lot, is it? We consider trees flourishing here before the ice-age as being extinct in Britain now as the fossil and artefact record is so sketchy where plants are concerned.
All other 23 common trees seen today come from abroad including 9 from the USA and one from Japan. Several of these species have been used in reforestation programs.
Rainforests get from 68 to 78 inches of rain per year, part of the monsoon trough areas.
They contain 40 to 75% of all species present on Earth: animals, insects and plants. Some biologists think if we continue destroying them at the present rate, we will have lost 90% of the species on Earth within 50 years. As it is, estimates have been made that 500,000 species are made extinct each year, many we haven’t even recorded yet.
Rain forests supply about 30% of the world’s oxygen through photosynthesis. There are both tropical and temperate rain forests and cloud forests.
In West Africa, 90% of rain forests are destroyed; Madagascar, 70%. Indonesia will be denuded within 10 years; New Guinea, 15 years. Brazil, possible tired of being put on the spot, has made some considerable effort to halt the destruction, the jury is out at the present.
All countries involved in logging claim they are replanting new trees. The results are outside the scope of this hub: lots on the internet about it.