SAVE THE TREES!
There is a lot of talk about "Global Warming" these days and it gets blamed for the obvious recent changes in the World's climate. Heavier rainstorms, more flooding, higher winds, higher temperatures, droughts, tidal waves - and so on. Global Warming itself gets mostly blamed on the release of chemicals into the air by industrialised nations, but that is not the whole picture. EVERY nation is to blame for the increasingly adverse weather effects of recent years because they are ALL cutting down trees unnecessarily. This upsets the delicate balance of the Earth's "Weather Engine", which is rapidly going out of control. Trees are vital to the operation of this extremely sensitive system.
"Killing" trees can kill animals and humans too. If you just consider the fact that a large mature tree in 24 hours reprocesses large amounts of carbon dioxide gas and then releases back into the atmosphere enough oxygen for 30 adult humans to breathe, the importance of trees is obvious. All animal life (ourselves included) breathes in oxygen and breathes out carbon dioxide. We upset this chemical equation to the peril of the entire planet. Trees left to grow undisturbed have longer life spans than humans. For example, a Beech tree can live 200 to 300 years, an Oak tree up to 500 years, a Yew tree up to 3000 years, a Californian Redwood up to 5000 years. When the continuous cutting down of trees reaches a critical point (and we don't know when that point will be reached), in theory it means that humans and animals will have no oxygen to breathe! The ancient peoples revered and worshipped trees, not just because trees were powerful and lived a long time, but for the advantages they gave to humankind.
As well as life-giving oxygen, trees provide vital shelter. They break the force of chilling winds, and provide shade from the sun's burning rays. Shade is growing ever more important as human activity causes holes to develop in the Earth's protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. Would YOU like it if you had to spend your entire life in buildings and vehicles, and could never venture out of doors onto the "fresh air"? Because that is just what will happen if there are no longer hedgerows, woods, forests or trees in the countryside and city parks. The moderntendency to think of treesa as being "just for decoration" is nonsense. True, the countryside would look very bare and bleak without trees and from an aesthetic point of view the tourist industry of most of the countries of the world would cease to exist if trees and hedges disappeared. But hedges are so much more than mere "landscape decoration".
A hedge with 40% permeability, that is, one which lets 40% of moving air filter through it and deflects the other 60%; is a far more efficient barrier to wind than a solid barrier, such as a wall or fence. Not only do solid barriers tend to break or blow down in high winds conditions, they themselves cause strong disturbances in the airflow at ground level, which can extendupwards todisturb the "surface wind". Meteorologists define the bottom 300 feet of the atmosphere as the region where "surface winds" occur. This is,of course, the region all animals and most humans inhabit. The bottom 30 feet of the atmosphere is an area where the main friction between moving air (wind) and the earth'ssurface is active, causing a "distirbed airflow" ofswirls,eddies and gusts.This is why meterological instruments to measure windspeed are always sited away from buildings and on poles which lift them above the 30-foot level. It isalso the reason why the sails of windmills were placed on high towers,and why modern wind-powered electricity generators have their vanes lifted even higher above the ground. This gets their sails or propeller blades into an area where they can turn more smoothly, reducing wear on their mechanisms and producing a more regulated power supply.
Smooth air is preferable for comfort as well as for convenience. Downwind from a wall, fence or building placed across the path of the wind, eddies, swirls, downdraughts and gusts are created, which at the worst can cause damage or traffic accidents, and at best carry away more heat then necessary from buildings or from people ("the wind-chill effect"). If buildings are in parallel lines along the general path of the wind, the air is forced into these 'tunnels' and moves much faster, creating what is called a "venturi effect". This wind-strengthening effect and the strong gusts and eddies it can produce can be a big problem in city streets, especially where the buildings are high. Have you ever wondered why Chicago is called "The Windy City"? Any city with 'skyscraper' buildings has problems with 'tunnelled airflow'. This effect can also be a problem in valleys which channel the wind,for example, the powerful "Mistral" wind which blows from The Alps southwards down the valley of the River Rhone in France.
Protection from wind might not be a high priority for human beings now that many of them live in strong, heated dwellings, but it is still very important for crops and livestock. Fields of hay and grain can be flattened by wind in minutes, making them impossible to harvest. Livestock living out in fields needs shelter from wind and rain to survive. A hedgerow provides a "shelter belt" on its lee side (downwind) which is many times longer than its height. The sheltered area of "dead air" can extend up to 30 times the height of the hedge or 'shelter belt', depending on the height of the trees, the density of the hedge, and the strength and direction of the wind.
Most people do not realise that a hedge ALSO creates an area of still air in front of itself, on its upwind side. If you want to verify this fact, justlookat the behaviour of livestock in fields where there is only a hedge on one side! A hedge provides some shelter on BOTH sides, no matter which way the wind is blowing. No wonder cattle and other livestock linger near hedges in bad weather!
If you cut down the trees around your house, the air will flow past it faster, drawing heat away; and your fuel bills will increase dramatically! If you cut down trees around a house "for a better view", be prepared to pay more to keep warm. If you decide to build a new hous on top of a hill instead of just below the skyline, so that you get an "all-round view"; not only will you be blighting the landscape by making your house prominently visible from all directions and ruining the skyline, but you will have a higher heat loss from the building no matter what direction the wind is blowing from, because of its exposed position.
Yet the first thing builders in the Irish countryside do when they build a new bungalow or house, or renovate an existing cottage, is tear down ALL the trees, hedges and bushes around it. Sometimes they even destroy every blade of grass and remove the topsoil as well. This means that the building them becomes situated on a sterile plot of land which has had its drainage severely damaged, and with no shelter around it at all. Even if a new surrounding hedge is planted immediately, it will take at least 15 years to grow high enough and thick enough to provide any useful protection at all, and about 50 years for a the lerger trees to grow tomaturity. Young trees do not thrive to their best advantage unless they have bigger, older trees nearby to shelter THEM ! If anyone wants to verify this fact, they only have to look at lone trees growing in the West of Ireland or other coastal areas with high winds, which are stunted and often have their trunks set at an angle of 45 degrees because of their windy situation.
The small trees and bushes commmonly used as hedging in Europe grow comparitively quickly, compared to the larger tree species. This, of course, is why the hedge builders in ancient times used them. They used to intertwine the growing branches to make a thicker, stock-proof barrier and achieve the optimum protection from wind. That ancient skill of "hedge-laying"was carried on until the first quarter of the Twentieth Century in the British Isles, when the huge losses of men killed in The First World War created a shortage of agricultural labour. Once a hedge of quicker-growing smaller species such as blackthorn(sloe),hawthorn (whitethorn), hazel, crab-apple, willow, elder, alder and rowan becomes established; larger tree-species such as ash, elm, beech, oak, hornbeam, whitebeam, holly can grow in their shelter safe from the effects of weather and grazing animals. You can see that many of the smaller "hedgerow" species have edible fruits or nuts, or have medicinal or practical uses (such as willow "withies" for basket-making") which made them useful for purposes other than forming stock-proof barriers. As hedges create a local "micro-climate", plants and fungi with nutritional or medicinal value can grow beneath their branches and beside their trunks.You could almost call a 'traditional' long-established hedge a "living pharmacy".
The bigger trees were planted at intervals along hedgerows, and once established, had their uses too. Besides providing strengthening for the hedge itself and raising the surface airflow higher (and thus extending the depth of the sheltered area), they provide extra shade in Summer, and their timber can be used for many purposes. It only takes a few minutes to cut down and destroy a big tree, which takes many years to grow to maturity. Think first about its benefits before you cut one down!
Ireland has the LOWEST proportion of trees to land area of any country in Europe. In County Tipperary, where I live, men cut trees and hedges down for seemingly no good reason. The usual excuse given is that it is done "to make things look tidy". Sometimes, the felled wood and branches are burnt, but more often they are just left where they fall. The branches are left in an unsightly jumble around the edges of the fields, or left in ditches where they gather leaves and other debris, blocking the flow of water in them. I ask you, what's TIDY about that?
The other excuse is "to avoid road accidents by trees falling onto traffic". This is reinforced by the County Council telling landowners that they will be legally responsible for any claims by motorists for damage caused to their cars by falling trees and branches. Such occurences are extremely rare, and anyway, what happened to that phase so beloved by the insurance industry "An Act of God"? (That's an excuse they use to get out of paying for certain types of damage claims). Why should landowners be exempted in law from protection from the consequences of " Acts of God" and be liable to be sued for damages, when insurance corporations can use the same excuse to get out of paying out to motorists for damages? That doesn't make sense at all!
Trimming roadside hedgerows with chainsaws or circular saws mounted on tractors is a bad enough thing to do, if no care is taken to seal the cut ends of branches afterwards. Leaving open wounds on a tree often kills it. The stump of a branch is just as vulnerable to attack by bacteria as the stump of a human limb. The tree's limb needs 'bandaging' too, by sealing it with pitch or painting on a sealant to keep out germs amd prevent frost damage. Even worse damage is done to trees by one of the mechanical devices I call "manglers" - mechanical flails which don't even cut the wood cleanly, but slash away at them, leaving badlysplit branches. Such deep wounds are almost certain to kill the trees, as can frequently be seen in the countryside.
Then, with the hedge destroyed, the farmer has to erect a fence composed of ugly fenceposts and strands of barbed wire. The wire of these barriers can damage livestock and provide no shelter whatsoever on either side. With the trees gone, there is no transfer of water from the ground to the air by transpiration through their roots, branches and leaves, so the ditches and the edge of the fields get waterlogged and the roadway is more liable to flooding. The flooding of roads increases damage to the road surface by the process of freeze/thaw, as well as from the effects of running water. Having partly caused the flooding, the farmers then complain to their local council when the road floods, and demand that they spend money to rectify the problem. Money won't stop the rain!
Farmers cause themselves extra expense as well. Once they have destroyed their hedges, the only way they can keep their livestock in for sure is to erect expensive post and rail fencing, or chainlink fences with concrete posts. Of course, they don't want that expense, so they opt for the cheaper option of posts and barbed wire. With soggy field margins due to ditches which are no longer effective because the trees have been removed, it doesn't take much for cattle to push the posts over and escape into the road. The risk of lawsuits arising from the results of cars crashing into straying livestock (given the breakneck speed at which drivers in country areas drive along twisting, pot-holed roads) are far greater than the risk of landowners being sued because of falling tree branches! A landowner erecting an inadequate fence is not an 'Act of God', but a strong tree limb breaking off in a gale is !
So, why not just leave the hedges and the mature trees they contain alone, and just do minimal trimming where necessary? Why not even plant new trees to grow up in the shelter of the hedges? Because trees don't just give shelter and provide drainage, they enable us to breathe as well! Don't forget that you and every other living creature breathe out carbon dioxide and then need to breathe in oxygen. TRes tak in carbon dioxide and then produce oxygen. To replace a mature tree will take at least 50 or 60 years - almost a human lifetime. If you cut down a tree, will you be able to hold your breath for 50 years? No trees equals no oxygen ! Felling trees can mean you deny life to your children and your children's children.
Do people who cut down trees ever think what else they are destroying? Trees & hedgerows provide living habitats for birds, small animals and insects. Many insects and birds destroy pests which attack crops. It does not make any sense to kill them by denying them somewhere to live; and then spending money on chemical pesticides which are harmful to humans, animals and the environment. It is cheaper to leave the trees alone, as well as healthier for the planet. We all enjoy seeing beautiful countryside, but without trees this beauty is altered or disappears altogether. Tourists will not appreciate looking at barbed-wire fences instead of mature trees and hedgerows!
It is no point blaming climate changes on far-away destruction of tropical rain-forest which "we can't control". Everywhere in the world people destroy trees without thinking of the consequences. For instance, Ireland has the LOWEST proportion of any European country of land surface covered by trees - just 7%. This is getting lower all the time, as farmers "improve" their land by cutting down trees and hedges. In former times, farmers would rest in winter-time, content to just do small maintenance jobs around the farmyard. Nowadays, with electric light and machinery at their command, they seem to think they must always be finding something to do, even when it has no beneficial effect. Overgrazing land ruins it. Farmers' idea of "improving" their land nowadays often seems to include destroying trees and hedgerows which have taken years to grow (even when it is not necessary)!
At the same time, the SAME farmers complain that their land is getting waterlogged, ditches get blocked, their crops are battered down by wind, more insect damage occurs, and the milk yield of their cattle reduces. The farmers' income reduces as well! The general population complain of flooded homes, flooded towns and pot-holes in roads caused by water damage. The local authorities complain of increased road maintenance costs, and the national government complains of the cost of flood compensation. Cutting down trees is expensive folly, no matter how you look at it!
Few people seem to make the connection between the increased destruction of trees and the increasing land drainage problems. Not only do trees take up water from the soil and put it back into the atmosphere as water vapour, they actually benefit the soil as well. Some trees have root nodules which can "fix" nitrogen in the soil, acting as a natural fertiliser with no harmful side-effects. The discarded leaves of deciduous trees in Autumn or Fall rot down to form rich humus to enrich the soil. Tree roots actually hold the soil together on slopes, which greatly reduces the possibility of landslips and mudslides.
Rainwater is helped to penetrate into the sub-soil by passing down the sides of tree-roots. Without these easy downward channels to follow deep into the lower soil levels, rainfall tends to flow only as "surface run-off". Where there are no tree leaves and branches for protection, heavy rain can batter the surface if the soil into a hard "pan" which does not let water through it. This means that rainfall just travels across the soil's surface into the nearest ditch, rivulet or stream; then into a river and rapidly back to the sea. A mature tree can re-circulate as much as a thousand gallons of water in 24 hours back into the atmosphere, drawing it up through its roots and releasing it from its leaves through the process known as transpiration. Each mature tree felled means another 1000 gallons of water in a valley system which has to find somewhere else to go (and 1000 gallons LESS to percolate down into underground reservoirs, making shortages of CLEAN water worse).
How many trees have been cut down in the catchment area of YOUR local river system in the past five years? Have you ever thought about the connection between the felled trees and the increasing incidence of floods in your area? Floods not only mean excess water which causes damage, but it is dirty water not fit to use. You should think about this!
Water channels which cannot cope with increased water-flow will naturally overflow when trees have been cut down EVEN IF THE LOCAL RAINFALL STAYS THE SAME. If the rainfall increases, then the problem of flooding gets much worse, much quicker.
Where there are no trees, heavy rainfall results in floods, mud-flows and landslides. If water does not purify itself by passing down through soil and rock and into underground reservoirs called "aquifers", it becomes impossible to pump up as much clean water for humans to use for themselves, their animals and their industry. The purification of water by percolation through soil and rock takes months or years. As the world population grows and nations become more industrialised, the demand for water (and especially for clean, drinkable water), continues to grow very rapidly. Yet, at the same time, the demand for wood to be used as fuel , for building materials and raw material for industry also increases world-wide. Forests are cleared to provide land for agriculture and to erect buildings. This reduces further the amount of clean water available, even as the demand for it increases.
Where land is covered with trees, the rainfall naturally increases, but the maximum amount of that rain can go down into the reservoirs of "ground-water" through the "root channels". Where all, or almost all, the trees are removed, droughts result. Most people think it rains a lot in England, and yet water there is now rationed in many areas!
Trees are plants with a hierarchy all their own. Seedling trees need shelter as they grow, and so grow best with bigger trees nearby. In a woodland or forest, all sizes of trees grow together, providing mutual shelter. Eventually, the largest trees fall through decay or gales, giving those next down in size a chance to grow up towards the light. If farmers cut hedges very low and just leave a few larger trees, there will be no new hedge-trees grown up to take their place when they fall. Standing crops such as grain need high hedges around their fields to prevent gusts of wind blowing them flat before they can be harvested.
Trees provide medicines. The well-known aspirin is made from salicylic acid, a chemical found in the bark of willow trees. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Celtic Druids used an infusion of willow bark to give a solution of this acid for use as a soothing medicinal drink. They were also strongly rumoured to have discovered a cure for cancer from mistletoe, but the details of this were lost when Roman legions destroyed the last great Druidic centre of learning on the Isle of Mona (now called Anglesey), off the coast of Wales. Scientists have only recently (re)discovered a cure for breast cancer using an extract manufactured from the leaves of the Yew Tree. How many other possible cures for illness will be lost if we continue to destroy trees indiscriminately?
FARMER, SPARE THAT TREE! You'll save money by not needing unnecessary fertilisers, insecticides, drainage and replacement fencing. Your livestock and your home will benefit from the shelter of trees and hedges (and the oxygen they provide). The countryside will retain its beauty, and you will be helping to protect the tourist industry. Don't forget that tourism can provide a valuable extra income to farming families as farm profits continue to decline.
Why did the generations of farmers since pre-historic times take care to plant hedgerows, coppices and woods? Did you never wonder WHY the ancient pagans worshipped trees? It was not just a quaint, crazy notion of theirs. They knew how vital trees were to the continued existence of mammals on this planet, and they appreciated the many benefits trees gave to humankind. We should remember this too.
If you care about the continuance of Life on Planet Earth, want to keep farming costs as low as possible and encourage the tourist industry- plant trees, don't destroy them!
© Jay Rufus 1997.
Jay is a Celtic Wiccan Druid, writer and meteorologist who appreciates trees.
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