The Healing Power of Trees - Katherine Roberts
When I was recovering from the dreaded lurgy last year, about the only place I could breathe properly was in our local woods beside the stream. I could barely walk up the slightest gradient in town, and cycling was only possible very slowly on the flat. But I'd stagger as far as the woods on my bike, push it a short way off the path, and sit among the bluebells surrounded by green leaves and mossy tree trunks. Before I left, I would hug a tree in thanks for the comfort and healing they'd given me that day. Unintentionally, I was doing what now has an official name in Japan - Shinrin-yoku, or "forest bathing".
During lockdown, it seems many more people discovered the benefits of a woodland walk, and there is now scientific research to back up what we instinctively feel. Being among trees has been shown to lower blood pressure, slow the pulse rate, and help stabilise blood sugar. It can also boost self-esteem, reduce negative emotions, and benefit children with ADHD. More amazing still, the phytochemicals produced by trees and other plants to help them fight infection can actually boost our immune systems when we are exposed to them... so perhaps it is no surprise that I felt better when I ventured into the woods and hugged the trees.
Yet, according to recent estimates, woodland in the UK covers just 13% of our once forested land. We have changed the landscape over just a few generations in our quest for more homes, more farmland, more roads, larger towns and cities, more so-called progress... and it seems we have done this at our peril. But it is not too late to reverse the damage. A single extra tree could remove one tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere in its lifetime, helping to reduce global warming and increase the levels of oxygen that we as human beings need to survive. Two trees would be even better, a whole forest better still.
"The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now." (Chinese proverb).
Happily, there are various initiatives already underway to restore our forests here in the UK.
Tomorrow's autumn equinox marks the start of a month-long Seed Gathering Season. Until October 22nd, you can do your bit to help restore England's ancient forests by getting involved as a gatherer or volunteer with the Tree Council.
If you prefer to donate towards the cost of saplings, you can contribute to the National Trust's Plant a Tree campaign, which aims to plant and establish 20 million trees by 2030.
There's also a government scheme called the Woodland Carbon Guarantee to encourage farmers and landowners to plant more trees, with the aim of planting 11 million trees by 2022. I'm not sure how that is going... anyone know?
Possibly you have a local tree planting initiative in your area? Or know of another national one? If so, please post details in the comments.
The woods near you will soon be turning gold with autumn colour, and among those colourful trees you will find nature's treasures... humble native seeds of many species that will all thrive in your local area. I intend to visit my local park and gather a few different species to plant in my garden, in the hope that one or two might survive unforeseen landscaping projects by future tenants. I doubt I will be here to see any of them grow into mature trees, but the seeds will be planted anyway. Because one thing I know for sure - if they are not in the earth, they cannot grow.