trees are the answer

21st Nov 2019

Trees are the answer

 

Back in the 1980s (yes, there was such a time), I spent 5 years working on moorland waders, and how to recognise good areas for birds such as dunlin greenshank, golden plover and the like. A lot of miles covered by foot, and some pretty amazing places were turned up.

 

Why? Because the peatlands they favoured were also home to the aspirations of tax-avoidance companies and their high profile clients. Under the then tax-break systems, if timing the buying and selling of planted areas correctly, along with farming of tax scheme incentives, it was perfectly acceptable to turn eons-old peat bog into dried out lines of peat topped with tiny, often dead skeletons of seedlings- boosting the atmospheric CO2 levels as the peat oxidised- and to accept money in the name of trees. That internationally important areas for birds were being trashed was a side issue. We were growing trees. Only we weren't growing as many as claimed, because survival rates were poor. What was growing was the wealth of the management companies, the financial advisers, and those wishing to diminish their tax burdens.

 

What was at risk was thousands of hectares of uplands, blanket bog and other areas of 'waste'. The positivist call was that in place of waste they were creating diversity and habitats. None of this is possible: you don't create any of these- you just change diversity or habitat types, replacing often the patchy and uncommon with the the widespread and commonplace. That worm has turned, and large areas are now under threat again.

 

Why this query now? Climate change is the call. Trees are the answer. They lock up carbon (yes, if they aren't cut down). Each of the political campaigns seems bent on planting millions of trees. A bit short on species types , or where, and the consequences for pre-existing areas, but hey-ho it is trees and we all love trees, don't we. Yes, up to a point.

 

A small piece of me feels that we may be on the same treadmill: lots of unsuitable trees in the wrong places, employing seasonal out-of-area workers at the expense of locals, and changes to the overall carrying capacity of both valued biodiversity and people. We may have carbon, but we may not have so many people. Birds/ butterflies - but different ones.

 

Before we rush to plant trees, we need to have a nuanced discussion. Precedent shows it may not be as simple as politicians think. Perhaps now is the time to buy shares in timber planting and management companies?