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Extinction Rebellion? Save the Trees!



I am hoping in this time of Extinction Rebellion, that this article might galvanise concerned people to take action with regard to the terrible decimation of trees throughout the land. It is an article about action that I took in Burgess Park in July of this year. It is also an article to provide information on how trees work so that we can understand how our actions or inaction impacts on them.


Trees are vitally important for life on earth. They are the oldest living organisms on earth. Far older than us and they communicate with each other. A good book to read on this subject is ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben.


It surprises me that we are not taught in school about the fascinating planet that we are all born on. To my mind it should be the most important subject. If it was, then I am certain we would not have the destruction that we are seeing. I think that one of the most fascinating facts about how trees work is the way the sap travels up the tree, from the roots to leaves. It travels just under the hard bark on the surface of the trunk. The sap rising each year gives rise to the rings that grow every year and reveal a tree’s age if counted.


England was once a forest.


It is said that a squirrel (in the past the native red squirrel) could travel from Land’s End to John O’ Groats up in the trees without setting foot on the ground. Before humans came and cut everything down for commerce and war. We and past generations have deforested this so called green and pleasant land. As a result wildlife in the UK, as globally, is in massive decline and common animals like hedgehogs, sparrows, bees and butterflies are under threat of extinction.


It was once illegal to pollard once the sap was rising in spring and throughout the summer, all but in exceptional circumstances, it is now legal to remove the entire canopy of mature trees any time of year. Even if the tree does not die straight away it will not live the long life that it would without human interference.


Treegator’s


I don’t know if you have noticed that all newly planted trees have around their trunks, two reinforced rubber straps, attached to two posts with wire fence surrounds and a watering bag. The watering bag is called a ‘treegator’ bag and is made of a double layer of thick green plastic. It holds around 9L of water which is delivered to the roots in one day. Generally, the treegator bag is filled only at the time of planting and never filled again. As a result, because it sits around the trunk and on top of the root ball, it prevents rainwater getting to the roots of the young tree and causes the tree to suffer for lack of water.


These three items, straps, fences and bags once in place are rarely removed. The bags and straps end up being so tight after years in situ that they also cause serious bark damage. Ants, which enjoy the heat under the bags, build their nests under the treegator bags, causing damage and wasps begin stripping the bark off. Once the hard bark is gone the sap cannot travel up the tree and the tree will die.


Taking action


On Friday 26 July evening, I decided to take action to save at least some of the young trees in Burgess Park. The forecast for the weekend was heavy rain and so it seemed a good idea to enable the trees to receive some much-needed water.


When I looked under the straps and the bags, I discovered that the bark was burnt where the sun had been beating down and the sap had boiled under the surface. I took photographs of the trees for the attention of the Director of Burgess Park on the following Monday to inform them of what I had done and to show why.


I went to see the Director of Parks who told me that she was going around the park with the arborist from Southwark Council the following Thursday as a result of my action and communication. That Thursday I had a call and was told that the arborist agreed with me. That 90% of the trees in Burgess Park needed the fences, straps and bags removing and that he had talked to the park workers giving them a better understanding of tree biology. I also hope that in the near future certain groups of volunteers can be given the authority free the trees from their bindings, as it is not just in Burgess Park it is throughout Southwark and in fact the whole of London.

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