Trees of Beeston #6

Last December’s Trees of Beeston (The Beestonian, issue 61), focused its attention on the seasonal staple: the pine. It celebrated the majestic Scots Pine that is well over a century old in the grounds of Beeston Parish Church at the junction of Styring Street and Chilwell Road, and the medicinal, cultural and social benefits Pine trees have gifted humans throughout history. A year on, as I sit in Costa admiring the pink lights on our traditional wonky Christmas tree in The Square, I want to take time to consider the theme of sustainability and how we might consider trees not just at Christmas, but of their sustained importance in our daily lives in Beeston, how they daily enrich our everyday lives and make habitable our community and how we might all be more tree aware in valuing the priceless environmental gems that line our streets and grow in our gardens and parks.

Sustainable Christmas trees

Last year, I discussed how readers might reflect on the festive tree they
purchase: whether cut or potted, how much use can be found for them after the twelve days of Christmas are over. A living potted tree (one with roots) can be kept either by planting them out in the garden (if you have space), potted on to be used again the following year, or else kept in pots on balconies. As they are evergreen, they add to the local ecology, and enable insects to find homes, and enrich our biodiversity. If you purchase a cut tree (no roots), how the pine needles can be mulched and added to compost to make ericaceous soil for plants like Blueberries or Azaleas that like acid-loving soils.

If you have a wood burner and somewhere dry to store it, the trunk of a Christmas tree can be ‘seasoned’ (kept) for a year then cut into burnable chunks as a yule log for the following Christmas. The branches
can be kept in a similar way and make excellent kindling that crackles with pine resin to release the divine smell of pine. If you have space at the end of a garden, allowing a dying cut tree to slowly decompose provides living spaces for the insects and bug life that pollinate flowers and plants as well as providing food for birds, so an ex-Christmas tree as a bug hotel is also another good use.

This year, I wanted to source a sustainable tree: to find out about its life before it takes centre stage in my domestic festivities during Christmas and before it makes its way to enriching my woodpile and garden compost in the new year. Luckily, I went to see Anthony at Hallams at their Christmas tree centre behind Sushi House on Beeston High Street and selected my tree.

It was a bitterly cold morning, and I spent a good while deliberating on which tree I could a) afford and b) how my investment in the tree could be used after the festive season had finished. I’ll admit, the presence of pine cones led to my choice of a Fraser Fir, as much as for its thick pretty dark green pine needles with a natural hue of white at their tips. The pine cones not only make an attractive additional feature to the tree while indoors, but after Christmas will make excellent kindling/firelighters, a bonus addition to my woodstore.

Most of the Christmas trees at Hallams (who are not paying for this promotion, but are an excellent local company and purveyors of top fruit, veg and fish as well as festive trees) are supplied by a specialist ‘needlefresh grower’. Needlefresh, their website states are “The UK’s leading supplier of real, living and fresh-cut Christmas trees direct to trade and to the consumer.” If you go to the website (www.needlefresh.co.uk) and type in the code number on the top of the tag of your chosen tree, you can locate where your tree was grown in the UK.

While the Fraser Fir is a tree native to America and the most popular variety used in the United States (including the type most acquired by the White House), this specially grown Fraser Fir had not been shipped across the Atlantic, and had far fewer carbon miles. The grower of this fine tree is Brian, son of Gordon Hughes who set up Tayside forestry 55 years ago. Today, Brian produces 60,000 trees up in the Angus countryside in Scotland in environmentally friendly ways, employing experienced staff.

It pleases me to know the provenance of my tree. I know that my money isn’t just going to a local business in Beeston, but that its growers and the community in Scotland will also benefit from the sale.

Anthony netted my tree ready for delivery. While the netting itself is not made from recyclable materials, I will be reusing it in a similar vein to how I reuse the nets that my fruit comes in: I will bundle it up and either use it as a large scouring pad to clean my garden pots or else use it for packaging filling when sending fragile items in the post.

I won’t be able to show you the decorations, as my decorating of the tree will happen after I have submitted this article, but for those interested in interior festive design, my humanist Christmas tree takes a different theme each year. Last year, it was scientists and science fiction writers, two of whom (Stephen Hawking and Ursula K Le Guin) has died in 2019 and I wanted to remember them (yes, I went full Blue Peter and made images of them into ‘angels’) along with Alan Turing, Prof Maggie Aderin-Pocock (my son is a big fan of CBeebies Stargazing live), and Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the astro-physicist who discovered quasars and pulsars. This year, it will have a Bronte theme in honour of my favourite of the three Bronte Sisters, Anne, whose bicentenary is marked in 2020. The Midlands author George Eliot will also feature as she also shares a bicentenary with Anne Bronte. Given that pines are used in the making of paper and in the production of books, to have a literary festive tree seems – to me at least – entirely apt.

So I look forward to the quality of time spent with my Christmas tree, enjoying the twinkling lights, and taking time to be grateful for the many small blessings in my life, of which the trees of Beeston are one.

Trees of Beeston for 2020

I took a small break from writing this column. Over the summer,
I became despondent and a little down. Most days appeared to bring the screeching sonics of chainsaws, and trees in gardens along my street and surrounding streets in Beeston vanished. We have no street trees on my street, so any trees in the landscape around my home are in the private gardens of neighbours, increasingly absentee owner property ‘investors’ who appear to prioritize profit over planet, tenants over trees. Beloved trees I have enjoyed having as neighbours, have known the entire time of my living in Beeston were felled. I saw mature Holly, Sycamore,
Alder trees removed. I grieved their loss. The skyline changed. The atmosphere of the neighbourhood changed. When the heat of the summer sun shone down, there was no more tree shade as I waited for the bus along Queens Road. When the rains came, there were fewer trees to absorb the surface water and localised flooding occurred. Fewer bats flew past. The owl that used to regularly hoot its nocturnal presence does so no more. The sound of songbirds have audibly diminished. So I have made renewed efforts to encourage wildlife into my garden. I have begun to collect tree seeds. Pot up saplings. When I mark the passing of friends or another job application fails, I plant a tree. When I do this, I feel like I plant some hope. A more hopeful future.

So I mark the return of Trees of Beeston by getting behind initiatives taking place in Beeston that share an appreciation for trees in our landscape. I am encouraged to see the We Dig\NG9 initiative along with the Beeston Civic Society and Broxtowe Borough Council’s to plant a mini woodland habitat as a community forest.

For all interested in taking part, reserve 24th January in your brand new 2020 diaries: 10 am-noon at Beeston FC Pavilion, Cartwright Way. Bring wellies, tree enthusiasm and a sense of renewed purpose for being custodians of the treescape of future Beestonians! As the new year approaches, the very best thing every one of us can commit to is planting a tree. The Woodland Trust campaign #EveryTreeCounts acknowledges that in the face of climate catastrophe, a campaign for planting more trees will help
not just the quality of the everyday lives of people, for the connection they bring to the natural world, but because it makes our world habitable for wildlife and us: trees “lock up carbon, fight flooding, reduce pollution, nurture wildlife and make landscapes more resilient” (www.woodlandtrust.org.uk).

Trees of Beeston is strongly behind #TreesForBeeston and will continue to celebrate the trees in our fab town. It will also celebrate the efforts and capacity we have as fellow inhabitants to live sustainably with the trees we have and the new trees we can plant and grow, to share tree knowledge for future residents – tree and human – in Beeston. Given the multiple benefits of trees for environmental sustainability, I look forward to 2020 marking a renewed focus for Trees of and for Beeston!

Wishing you all a peaceful, sustainable and hopeful Christmas and 2020.

DR JN

Trees of Beeston #5: Springtime

For the love of hedges and “weeds”.

“Spring is here … and they can’t stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can’t. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, Spring is still Spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it”
George Orwell (1946) Some Thoughts On The Common Toad.

Spring. The utter joy of it. Wandering Beeston, there are signs of its hopeful presence everywhere. All you need to do is slow down or stop and get your senses tuned in: look for the first buds, listen for increased birdsong, smell the first blossoms, watch nature return to our gardens and parks, the street trees, in the cracks in the pavement and the near smiles on folks faces when the sky happens to be blue and the sun is out. It is such a glorious season, full of the promise of new life and possibilities.

Along the railway tracks, the Wild Cherry and Hawthorn have begun to blossom, and the Apple, Elder, and Silver Birches have begun to bud. These route-ways offer shelter, sustenance, and respite for diverse animal life that migrate along them including the humans who wend their daily commute, looking out of carriage windows beyond a phone or computer screen.

This Trees Of Beeston piece is a broader reflection on how our ‘green corridors’: the plants in our locality, synergise, connect, and facilitate Spring to, well, spring. It considers how we might, with a little planning, tune into the seasons, tweak our garden maintenance patterns to ensure spring keeps returning, and to value those ‘out of place’ plants that assist Beeston’s flourishing biodiversity.

A huge number of hedgerows have been ‘lost’ across the country in recent years, especially in the back gardens of urban settlements. Recent social media coverage of netted hedges and trees to stop birds nesting and examples of extreme ‘pruning’ is surely a sign of the meanest of human spirits. So this column reminds readers of what to do when rapid growth of vegetation in trees and bushes can make them ‘look’ untidy, and when humans, venturing back out into their gardens wish to ‘tidy things up’ ready for summer socialising and BBQing.

The dandelion should be celebrated: its tender young leaves can be eaten like rocket, and the root was used to make coffee substitute during World War 2.

So what to do? Advice from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) regarding hedgelaw is that between March and August there should be no cutting as this is the prime time period in which birds are making their nests, rearing their young and when their young are fledging. The RSPB website states:

“It is a criminal offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to intentionally take, damage, or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being build, or to intentionally kill, injure or take chicks or adults, or intentionally take or destroy any eggs.  It is an intentional act, for example, if you or your neighbour know there is an active nest in the hedge and still cut the hedge, damaging or destroying the nest or contents in the process”

The RSPB recommend if you know someone is cutting a hedge during this period to:

“… speak to them and politely mention the risk to the birds’ nests, and the laws protecting nests.  If they proceed, and you know there is an active nest at risk, contact the police on 101, and ask for a reference number.  If you are unsure what to do, contact RSPB Wildlife Enquiries on 01767 693690.”

When it comes to dealing jointly with neighbours regarding a boundary hedge or trees, the RSPB advises:

“Disagreements with neighbours often relate to the size and tidiness of the hedge and about cutting the hedge, particularly during the breeding season. A boundary hedge is usually the joint responsibility of both neighbours. Both must agree on major work, including removal, coppicing or laying. In theory, you need your neighbours’ agreement even before trimming the hedge. If the hedge is just inside your neighbours’ garden, they own it. You only have the right to trim any part which encroaches over your boundary line. Your neighbour should ask for your permission for access to trim the hedge on your property. Regardless of ownership, no-one can trim or cut a hedge if the action damages active birds’ nests, and hence violates the Wildlife and Countryside Act. If tall hedges or trees put your garden in the shade, you can cut off branches which overhang your boundary. You can also prune back roots that invade your property, even if this is detrimental to the plant. You do not have the right to cut down vegetation on your neighbours’ property, or apply weedkiller to destroy the plants.”

If door to door ‘tree surgeons’ call between March and August offering to cut down your trees, politely remind them that birds might be nesting. By all means, maintain your trees/border plants. Plan to prune / cut back trees in the winter months when they are dormant and when birds are not nesting (between November and January), but for now, leave the hedges for the nesting birds.

Love Your Weeds.

From hedgerow to cracks in the pavement. I know that many people dislikes “weeds” or the socially maligned wild plants that manage to survive in the harshest of conditions: in the cracks in paving, along verges, in the cracks of buildings (oh Buddleia, how do you manage it?). These plants offer sustenance to pollinating insects and provide the possibility of food for animals and humans alike (look at this lovely wild cabbage growing along Wollaton Road!). The dandelion should be celebrated: its tender young leaves can be eaten like rocket, and the root was used to make coffee substitute during World War 2.  In these stricken ‘austerity’ times, many ‘weeds’ offer food and medicinal possibilities for animals and humans alike (Disclaimer: only ever eat plants you absolutely know are non-poisonous and are in suitable locations to ensure your own health isn’t compromised. Look up foraging and wild foods books in our fabulous Beeston Library.  I would recommend Richard Mabey’s classic Food For Free).  So please consider doing some exercise (or get someone else to do the exercise) and physically weed these plants you want to remove rather than using weedkiller. Ideally remove them once they have flowered so the insects can thrive. Please don’t spray weedkiller. Nothing is sadder than shrivelled plants that were once food for pollinating insects (butterflies, bees) or offered scavenging possibilities for the birdlife of Beeston (you only need to see the joy of the Pied Wagtails near Beeston interchange in the carpark/space where once Beeston Fire Station was to see their collective joys, calling to one another and feeding).

In 2018, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust began a campaign, Nottingham For Nature, focusing attention on valuing wildlife in the city and its importance for keeping cities and urban habitats (Urbitats) habitable for humans, so humans have to do what they can to ensure space is created and maintained for plants and animals to thrive too. Their #WildlifeInTheCity hashtag gives more information on how to get involved.

I started my column with George Orwell’s quote about Spring. Orwell wrote his essay in 1946, post war, after a harsh winter, when austerity was at its most acute. Hope is very much needed, and ‘austerity’ in 2019 is harsh indeed. The plant and animal lives in our neighbourhood offer us so much. In order that spring can keep springing back, please consider doing your bit, where you can, to ensure the green corridors of Beeston thrive.

Dr JN

Refs:

Mabey, R (1972) Food For Free. Collins (also Collins Gem editions for handy pocket-sized guide).

For more details on ‘pests’ in the garden, see Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust https://www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/get-involved/how-you-can-get-involved/wildlife-gardening/pest-or-guest  For more details about their #NottinghamForNature campaign, see https://www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/nottingham-nature

Orwell, G (1946) Some Thoughts On The Common Toad. See https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/some-thoughts-on-the-common-toad/

RSPB: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/plants-for-wildlife/garden-hedges/hedge-law/

 

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