At the launch of Living With Trees we had lots of great questions, only some of which I had time to answer on the night. You will find more on all the topics below in the book, which also puts things in context. Thank you all for attending and for your interest in trees!
We have a transcript of the Q&A page, so I have answered as best I can below in red:
DAVID SIMMONDS 07:28 PM
Many thanks to Robin for a really lovely book which covers such a wide range of topics. I'm sure that it will greatly benefit the cause of trees! Delighted to see the references to Rackham, Vera and especially Thomas Hardy. His book The Woodlanders referred to on page 228 is really well worth reading. It's a good story, but is full of woodland techniques - Yes it's one of my favourites, especially the care taken in planting trees.
Paul Wood 07:30 PM
Trees have been having ‘a moment’ as Robin and Neil have acknowledged, which is great, but is it sustainable? How does Robin think we can build on the current tree moment and ensure that they remain in our consciousness? Yes trees have certainly been in the news in recent years. I think they will stay there and even broaden their presence. All the talk at present is just about plans to plant or rewild; imagine the public discussion once these epic plans begin to take shape on the ground! They will be amazingly inspiring - and probably some will be controversial as well. We need an informed debate throughout.
Charles Innes 07:31 PM
Interspecies communication. Are there people who do that with trees? Yes at the Royal Forestry Society conference last year I did a session on communicating with trees. Sorry to say I did not get on that well! But a scientist friend of mine said it was the best part of the weekend for him.
Sean Lysaght 07:31 PM
What place might there be in future forests for lodgepole and sitka in the UK and Ireland, in your view? As I said on the night, Sitka spruce is the most common tree in UK and the backbone of the forestry industry, making up about half of commercial forests. That makes it vulnerable to pest or disease. As it is so highly productive, it will certainly be around for a while, but we are in a new age of experimentation with species new to plantation forestry, though many have been here in arboreta for decades.
DAVID SIMMONDS 07:32 PM
Another recent book about trees is The Oak Papers by James Canton, about his relationship with an ancient oak at Marks Hall in Essex. It's a good read. Can also recommend The Overstory by Richard Powers - an excellent book. Thanks for the recommendations. I don't know the Oak Papers, but The Overstorey is a brilliant book.
Ed Bersey 07:32 PM
Question for Robin: On your various travels as a woodland consultant, have you seen any change in attitude over the past 2 years in particular, of those who have stewardship of large Forests in the UK around the climate Emergency. I’d like to think it is preaching to the converted, but is it really? I’m interested in the last 2 years because of the recent surge in understanding of the issue around Climate Change. As I said on the night, foresters have a 50 - 100 year time horizon anyway, so we have been taking climate breakdown into account for a long time already. Glad to see the rest of society catching up! And very glad to see greater understanding and urgency.
tom stallard 07:33 PM
how do you think is the best way to replace london trees? Meaning, how do you plant a tree in the city, it's so crowded...20 years ago is always a good answer. There is certainly great competition for space, light and resources in a city, but the benefits of trees will be felt here all the more. I was lucky enough to plant trees for Westminster City Council in the 1990s, some around the West End. I revisited an Olive in Sussex Gardens recently. Trees should be the default option for cities, and Highways have to work with Environment, Health, the utilities etc to find the best locations.
Suzi Martineau 07:34 PM
what do you see as the greatest threat to tree health and what could we do to address it? The issue of plant health has escalated in recent years with far more pests and diseases arriving on our shores. Certainly international trade and movements of people and goods is a problem and the UK does not do enough to ban, check or quarantine potential threats, even though as an island we are ideally placed to do so. I believe New Zealand is much more rigorous, for example. Governments seem to have been more interested in 'protecting free trade' than protecting our ecology.
Miranda Walter 07:38 PM
Should we be thinking of introducing and planting more species that usually grow in the mediterrannean which might be more resilient to what our climate is predicted to be like in 50-100 years? See above! I didn't think the olive would survive in London, and it is not a great specimen, but it is growing. The Forestry Commission recommendation for replanting now is to include 1/3 of plants from 2 degrees south, so that's central France, ie. we are still planting 'English Oak' (Quercus robur), but the seed provenance is french. We are also planting species new to UK forests, like the Cryptomeria japonica I mentioned. As for ornamental trees, we have planted trees from around the world for centuries and as climate changes, the options are growing ever wider.
Frances Lynch 07:38 PM
We are planting 2 trees in our small urban garden in a few weeks time - should biodiversity and the eco systems these could create be our priority (obvs other than the soil etc and other things you point out) or are there other important ecological considerations we should take into account. Trees in a small urban garden can be quite a challenge, depending on the soil, space, light, underground and overground utilities, neighbours. Trees contribute hugely to the local ecosystem, being so large and interconnected above and below ground, and offering so many niches for food and shelter. Trees with blossom, fruit and autumn colour will also bring delight to everyone looking out of their window.
Jonathan Walter 07:39 PM
How can trees help UK deliver on its targets under the Paris climate change agreement - how many trees and what kinds of trees do we need to plant to absorb the most CO2 emissions? Trees can be part of our low carbon strategy, alongside stringent cuts in fossil fuels and a raft of other measures. Good summary here: https://www.carbonbrief.org/in-depth-qa-how-will-tree-planting-help-the-uk-meet-its-climate-goals To give some idea, the Committee for Climate Change envisage sequestration by trees of 22MtCC2e in 2050, whilst current emissions are 452MtCC2e. As for species, generally the more wood fibre, the greater the carbon uptake, though it does depend on the time scale. Birch, sycamore and willow are early sprinters, Sitka spruce and Douglas fir perform well over 50-100 years, but oak and beech live the longest. Also bear in mind that the models often look at sequestration in the forest, not what happens to harvested timber. If this is locked up in buildings (and books!) for decades, that all counts too.
EWALD SCHRODER 07:39 PM
Regarding Ash dieback, rather than assuming all ash trees will die, do you recommend letting self-sown ash trees to rewild parks and woods with the hope that at least a few individuals will demonstrate genetic resistance, allowing their offspring to then proliferate and establish? The current estimate is for 95% of ash to die back. Natural regeneration will produce genetic diversity which can then be selected for fitness against the disease - that is the long-term process. Ash is a prolific seeder and this will happen of its own accord, if given sufficient space and time. The Tree Council publish a good guide here https://treecouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Tree-Council-Ash-Dieback-Toolkit-2.0.pdf
Anonymous Attendee 07:40 PM
Sounds like a beautiful book. How do you worry about trees whilst simultaneously printing books in relation to climate change? Yes I do worry about the impact of printing paper books in a time of climate emergency, and I have started reading my first books on a tablet this year for that very reason (it was better than I had feared). Rest assured that the paper used is FSC certified 'from responsible sources'. I am one of the auditors who checks this, so I know it is a force for good.
Deborah Walter 07:45 PM
Some councils are better than others - how can we encourage them all to plant more trees? Yes some councils are doing great work, others quite the opposite (see Sheffield and more recently Doncaster). Remember the council are there to work for the constituents, to serve and protect them, so it is our job to let them know what we want. The Tree Council have some good advice here https://treecouncil.org.uk/take-action/protect-your-local-trees/#protectinglocaltrees
tom stallard 07:45 PM
Tree of the year, the happy man tree in Hackney is due to be felled. how do we save it? :) Yes it is shocking that such a local icon can be destroyed in this way. Support the campaign, donate to a legal fund, protest in the street, tell your friends, write to your councillor and MP. https://www.thehappymantree.org/