Now that the gyms are all closed, I get my exercise by running, often heading for Whitworth Park, where the trees work their magic on my psyche, soothing and calming me in these troubled times. My special tree – a big old horse chestnut, with a sturdy trunk and innumerable branches – reminds me just how enduring nature is and how we humans should be in awe of it.
Trees can help us with our mental health by imparting a sense of permanence and calm, but they also contribute a myriad of practical benefits to life on earth. These include the bountiful harvests of food, timber and medicinal extracts and, now that we have destroyed so much of the earth’s forests, it is apparent that we have under-appreciated others. The results of our thoughtlessness are catastrophic: loss of habitat for wildlife; erosion of soil; destruction of natural flood protection; and severe reduction in the capacity of our carbon sink.
But it’s not just in the forests that trees work their wonders: in cities, they soften and enhance the built environment; they counter the ‘urban heat island’ effect by cooling the concrete and reducing the need for air-conditioning; and they filter the air by absorbing pollution.
There is so much evidence that trees heal us and the planet, yet only 13% of the UK has tree cover (compared with a 37% average in continental Europe). Knowing this, we should do all we can to improve the situation – perhaps by supporting the work of the Woodland Trust.
Trees play a vital role in supporting life on the planet and, it seems, they do it collectively! Check out this TED talk by Suzanne Simard in which she explains how trees talk to each other through their complex root systems.
Of course, you may be in lockdown, with not a tree in sight but you can still get a sense of their magic through an online visit to the Hayward Gallery’s exhibition Among the Trees, a poetic and adventurous experience.
Finally, I make no apologies for recommending – again – the best novel I’ve read this year so far The Overstory by Richard Powers, whereby ‘Trees bring small lives together into large acts of war, love, loyalty and betrayal’.