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Opinion piece in The Times on trees - Janice Turner

Opinion piece in The Times on trees - Janice Turner

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Published by rob yorke
'Cutting down a tree is worse than fox hunting' Slightly one sided article on why cutting down trees is bad news all round
uploaded via @blackgull
'Cutting down a tree is worse than fox hunting' Slightly one sided article on why cutting down trees is bad news all round
uploaded via @blackgull

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Published by: rob yorke on Jan 16, 2013
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02/20/2014

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Cutting down a tree is worse than foxhunting
 January 12 2013Road builders and municipal vandals show a special kind of arrogance. They think theyare bigger than historyWatching the tree surgeon from the window, I felt I was witnessing a crime. One I’dauthorised, like a Mafia hit. The holm oak, a dense, virulent, evergreen ball, loomed over the garden like a storm cloud. It had to be cut back. But as the chainsaw whined and branches tumbled, I wondered if I really had the right.I’m a resolute city-dweller, but trees seem ever more precious these days, a rebuke to built-in obsolescence, a steady point in a churning world. My pear and apple are remnantsfrom when South London orchards ran down to meet Kent. The walnut reaches out amammoth limb from my neighbour’s garden to mine like God’s arm on the Sistineceiling.They are our living past, clocking up the years, ring by ring. Trees are calming likecathedrals, reassuring us that they will endure even though we will not. No wonder theancients believed they were gods; there are worse things to worship than a tree.And this week, reading how protesters against the Bexhill to Hastings bypass had beenarrested trying to prevent ancient woodland being destroyed to make way for a three-milelink road, I thought: yes, I’d go to prison for a tree. Indeed, the protesters who are diggingtunnels in the mud and standing before the JCBs are not “crusties” or GreenhamCommon types. Among them are young families, retired folk and ordinary dog-walkers.“Local grandmothers”, it was reported, came to swing in giant hammocks strung betweenthe 400-year-old oaks.But this is their last stand. They can only slow the developers. By March the trees will befelled. Local people have fought for 20 years to save them, but they are on the wrong sideof what the coalition is determined to market as progress, however short-term anddubious the economic benefits. George Osborne in his March Budget gave £56.8 millionof government money for this very road, which will fill up with extra traffic as new roadsdo and lead in time to a spanking industrial estate, although Hastings town already has plenty of boarded-up premises from which to trade.Development v the trees. We will be seeing a new generation of these battles over thehigh-speed rail link and if, as Nick Boles the planning minister proposes, we dig up
 
greenfield sites for housing. Boles tells us that those who want to protect opencountryside and woodland from being turned into endless Lego-brick estates are notconservationists (or Conservatives), they are selfish, privileged Nimbys who, sittingcomfortably in their own cheaply bought piles, have no care for struggling young coupleswho can’t afford a family home. Anyway, what’s a bunch of trees?But people with no respect for trees show a special kind of arrogance: they think they’re bigger than history. I’d argue that cutting down an ancient oak is worse than killing mosttypes of animal. Certainly the more numerous species such as dogs, cows, monkeys or cats. A chainsaw slicing into a 300-year-old trunk is more brutal and grotesque thanhunting 100 foxes.Chopping down a fine old tree is more like shooting an elephant or harpooning a whale:the aching poignancy of an enormous creature whose size and strength nonethelesscannot save it. Except even the mightiest mammal can be bred to maturity in a few years. Not so a tree.Yet it is astonishing, given how much people love them — planting them to mark specialmoments or honour dead loved ones, measuring their lives by their seasonal changes — that officialdom loathes trees. Insurance companies fretting about subsidence wouldrather you took them all down just in case. Councils detest them. You can see that everytime they pollard a street. The tree surgeon who pruned the home-oak worked like VidalSassoon sculpting a flattering new hairstyle.But municipal butchers hack away at whole groves with the sensitivity of warlordsamputating the arms of children. Embarrassed stumps with a couple of twigs are all thatremain.It’s a wonder any tree survives a health and safety audit. Norwich City Council tried toremove a whole row of horsechestnuts because conkers fell on cars and children mightslip on leaves. Our local primary school cut down a fine tree beneath which generationsof children had played, because the new head deemed its twigs and leaves too messy. A posh gardener once suggested we cut down most of our trees and start again with fresh,more groovy varieties. This misunderstood the very point: trees are the antithesis of ficklefashion. But some crass homeowners can’t bear the fluff-balls from plane trees messingup their hall carpet or the lime sap puking down on their shiny car bonnets. Neater toreach for the axe. Maybe Homebase should start selling plastic ones: say goodbye toautumnal hell.And in cases where a tree stands between a view — and impedes a hike in your property price — why not poison the roots as many do or, like Neil Davey in Poole, get a friend tofell your neighbour’s maritime pine so you and your new bride can see the ocean fromyour hot tub. Even his fine of £125,000 does not seem adequate for tree murder in thefirst degree. In Australia, a large fence would be erected with the crime written on it, andnot taken down until another tree had reached the same size.

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