Yes! It’s my favourite day of the week! Philosophy Friday strikes again and this week we’re delving into the wonderful world of trees! We all know about the benefits of green spaces for our mental health, as many studies have shown it to reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, improve cardiovascular health and general mood. But forests and woodland have held a wealth of benefits for many years, some uses you may never have known! Obviously trees give us a fantastic means to fix carbon dioxide. This helps promote the reversal of climate change and global warming, taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and in return, providing oxygen, the very air that we breathe! As well as fixing carbon dioxide, woodland and forest ecosystems are lively hubs of nutrient recycling, taking in decayed biological matter from the soil and turning old material into new, balancing the whole ecosystem literally from the ground up. If it weren’t for trees we would have very poor quality soils and would be unable to enjoy wildflowers, and indeed the abundance of bird and mammal life which nest in their boughs and shelter from the weather. If you grew up around trees you will also know the brilliant fun to be had from collecting their seeds (conkers from horse chestnuts and ‘helicopters’ from sycamores!) as well as the endless hours of fun clambering, swinging and leaping from their branches as a kid. It’s fair to say trees are fantastic to look at on the surface, and make us feel calm when we see a sea of green ahead of us and around us as we walk.
But the secrets of trees lie even deeper rooted than this. Trees can effectively talk to each other by tapping into a subterranean network colloquially referred to as the ‘wood wide web’. In a woodland or forest, trees of the same or different species tap into this network via microscopic fungi associated with their roots, called mycorrhiza. These fungi form long filaments in the soil which may extend to deep inside the root network of trees, allowing chemical signals to be detected and passed on to neighbouring trees. This is incredibly important in woodlands, and an individual tree can signal to surrounding trees if it is under attack from insects, wood boring animals and diseases, which in turn stimulates the surrounding trees to increase their defences. Mother trees can also send extra resources via this network to its sheltered seedlings, which often grow nearby, or in a more insidious manner, for instance trees such as black walnut can spread toxins to out-compete its neighbours. So trees talk to one another! And it’s fair to say they’re one of our best sources of education about our natural world. From them, we’ve developed painkillers, blood thinners, skin treatments, treatments for malaria…the list goes on about their material uses too. So surely they’re the answer to our happiness, health, and climate change prayers? No catch. There are a growing number of people out there re-planting sections of rainforest, growing whole woodlands on their land and buying up acres of land to turn back into woodland and forest systems. What can we do as consumers? Recycling paper, cardboard and tissue will go a long way, as will buying recycled paper kitchen and toilet roll, and paper stationary for the office, as well as recycling books and borrowing books. But most importantly, visiting nature reserves and wooded areas where active preservation is being done to protect them, every penny you spend there goes into the habitat management of our woodland and forested areas in the UK to protect them and help them grow.
I think woodlands are tree-mendous fun to immerse yourself in, and is brilliant for stirring the creative juices too. At Lyndon Visitor Centre this month and next we will be thinking about tree workshops and guided walks around the site…stay tuned!