31st October 2019
A Month of Trees and People (or tree people, as Ted Green calls you all)
“The reasons trees grow are both natural and social, but where they grow and are allowed to remain depends not so much on forest ecology as upon processes of political economy”
- Nikolas Heynen (with thanks to John Parker from Arb Association for this quote)
In my first month as CEO of the ATF I have visited beautiful hollow crab-apple veteran trees at Wallington NT, Northumberland; the site of this country’s basis in parliamentary democracy at the Ankerwyke Yew at Runnymede; and I have marvelled at the hunkering-down ancient oaks and beautiful old lime trees at Windsor Great Park.
You probably already know that the ATF seeks to protect ancient trees – yet it doesn’t own any. Working in partnership is how the ATF reaches and influences major landowners across the UK. We all must work together to ensure landowners and those around them, contracted by them, employed by them, have the knowledge, good examples, contacts for ideas and fire in their belly to be the protectors of what is Europe’s greatest collection of ancient trees. I learned this week that the UK has more ancient trees than any other European country for three main reasons, (according to Ted Green): we’ve had no wars on our soil for 400 years; we still have our aristocracy, who have preserved huge tracts of ancient landscapes; and finally, we had coal and railways to transport it – preventing trees from being cut for fuel. Our country is a protector of great swathes of what are aesthetic beauties, biodiversity havens and cultural megaliths.
And what is the work of the CEO of the ATF? Well, this is a brand-new role – there are many views about what needs to happen next for trees, but no blueprint or previous shoes to fill for this role. And I made it clear to the trustees at interview that I would listen, and work in collaboration – and that these things take time. My background is in campaigning (you can find my linked in profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lauraalcockferguson/, yet I like to be very clear about the change any organisation is trying to create, and our best way of contributing to that change.
So, to get that clarity, and to work in collaboration, for a good while to come I will be focused on listening – while asking what you think the main threats to ancient trees are – who can protect those trees and what is currently stopping that protection from happening.
So far, I’ve listened to arborists, ecologists, rangers and managers from the National Trust, RSPB, Woodland Trust, national park authorities and local authorities. And I will be listening well into 2020.
What I’ve learned by listening to you is you’re all passionate about our trees, our wildlife, landscapes, and planet, yet you have pressures from all sides. At a time when biodiversity and our planet is at a critical point, putting planet first is becoming more urgent. But you’ve known this for years. And you’re doing your best: often what is good for trees is not automatically seen as good for visitor numbers, farming profits or building preservation – these other pressing concerns and drivers are all factors the ATF needs to take into account in my conversations with some of the biggest landowners in the country, over the coming months.
I had a marvellous day at Sherwood Forest when I met most of the leads of the local/regional groups, as many of you were at the first networking day held in June.
And what I heard from you was how important it is for the ATF to support our local groups to do their thing, to be led by local passionate, experienced people, be they arbs, or ecologists or one of another specialist group who congregate to venerate and protect these ancient beasts in our local landscape.
And there are many more conversations about trees, under trees, while marvelling at trees, that are still to come. Over the coming months and years, I’d like to meet, listen to and work together with many more of you. If you think your work or organisation should be one I listen to and learn from, get in touch.