The Professional's Dichotomy
During National Tree Week 2016, Pauline Buchanan-Black, Director-General of The Tree Council, reflects on the reasons why we all benefit from a view of a tree from our window.
‘Everyone should be able to see a tree from their window’. Thus, Richard Rogers, writing about the quality of urban open spaces. I count myself fortunate, for from where I sit at my desk, I have a clear view of the black poplar across the road from my office window, its teardrop leaves getting ready to perform the annual disrobing that reveals a skeleton both majestic and yet at the same time vulnerable, as it leans gently in towards me. The limes in the courtyard have already obliged and begun shedding a carpet of yellow hearts that are now spreading steadily across the setts outside the door.
The reason that I enjoy these trees so much is nothing to do with their role in taking up air pollution or modifying the local climate. When I look out of the window (as I do, often) I don’t see a carbon sequestration and storage tool, nor do I see a regulator of the urban microclimate that ameliorates adverse effects of weather. I see beauty, growth and renewal. And therein lies a dilemma for those of us who have to spend our professional time justifying and explaining why it is that trees are good for people, whether in urban or rural settings.
Let’s just remind ourselves of the litany that we chant regularly to try and encourage positive responses from the keepers of the purses that fund our faith. We start with reduction of atmospheric CO2 levels and other pollution because they’re central to so many Government policy drives. Similarly, we talk about the urban microclimate impacts – reduced windspeeds on blustery days, shade on hot days, air cooling, reducing heating and air conditioning costs and saving energy, which in turn cuts down air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels. We move on to the effects in moderating rainstorm impact as part of sustainable drainage systems and storm water management, lessening the likelihood of flash floods. What else? Oh, restoration of derelict and degraded land after the ravages of industrial development, waste disposal or other man-made blights, and the need to create a more pleasant environment.
All of this trips off the tongue readily; we drop it into debates, reports, applications, anywhere we think it will make a difference. We add that native trees and woodlands provide great habitats for wildlife and the sustainable cultivation of trees for renewable low-energy construction materials, charcoal, food, and as an alternative energy source. These all add to a set of extremely persuasive arguments. We go on to laud their role in health and wellbeing – tree’d areas are good for the nation’s condition, places for recreation, exercise and education; they have been proven to have positive effects on mental health and as an antidote to stressful lifestyles, even aiding recuperation from illness.
So here’s the dilemma; although we cite all these – very valid – benefits, there appears no gain in simply saying that, well, trees lift my soul and gladden my heart. And that, at bottom, seems to me to be one of the most compelling reasons to argue that everyone should be able to see a tree from their window.