In Praise Of Trees — Patrick Harding — 15th January 2018.

Patrick Harding.

What is a tree and what is a bush or shrub? Very often we tend to refer to cer­tain shrubs as trees when in actual fact they are not. For a plant to be classed as a tree it must grow to at least 6 metres tall and have one single stem or trunk which is covered in bark. It should also have 1 to 2 metres of clear trunk before any branches are formed and above all it must be per­en­nial.

During the ice age Britain was devoid of any trees and it was only when the ice melted  that trees began to gradu­ally migrate north­ward from the warmer parts of the con­tin­ent. At this time sea levels were much lower and the English Channel did not exist. It was only when the polar ice caps began to melt caus­ing sea levels to rise that the English Channel was formed making Britain an Island. Prior to this  both humans and anim­als could walk across from France to England bring­ing plant life with them. Seeds of trees and other veget­a­tion were also car­ried  on the wind.

About 30 spe­cies of tree came to Britain before the sea level rose about 6,000 BC and we call these our native trees. We also know that 70% of the land mass was covered by trees before the advent of man. We can also tell what sorts of trees were here many thou­sands of years ago by dig­ging up peat and mud samples which con­tain the remains of their pollen grains.

Early man cut down trees to make graz­ing land for cattle, to build shel­ters and to get wood for fires but they did not remove the stumps because that was much too dif­fi­cult with the prim­it­ive tools that they had. The tree stumps sprouted lots of little stems and these were found to be much easier to cut for fire­wood  and to weave into fences etc. and this prac­tice, which dates back to at least 3,800 BC became known as cop­picing.

As man developed wood was used more and more for tools, machines, and fur­niture. Different spe­cies of wood have dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties. Some are springy, some are brittle, some hard, some soft and some are splin­tery. Man learned to use these dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties in com­bin­a­tion and so for instance, a wheel is made up of 3 or 4 dif­fer­ent spe­cies of wood to give max­imum life and per­form­ance. For hun­dreds of years wood has been used in build­ings and ships. In more recent years it has been used in mining and as sleep­ers in rail­way track. The bark of the tree is also used in the tan­ning of leather, which is a pro­cess of turn­ing animal hide into leather.

This of course has had an enorm­ous effect on number of trees in Britain. By the First World War in 1914 only 7% of the coun­try was covered by trees and we ran out of wood. In 1919 the Forestry Commission was set up to grow trees and we now have 14% tree cover made up of many hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent spe­cies.

Patrick’s talk was both edu­ca­tional, inter­est­ing and humor­ous and the vast major­ity of our mem­bers classed it as excel­lent.