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A healthy obsession for planting trees

I’ve spent much of the last two days planting a largish area of river bank with native trees on my croft in the north of Scotland, and if it isn’t tipping it down with rain this afternoon then I’ll be back out there planting some more. Since buying our croft a few years ago, planting native trees in areas we don’t use for grazing has become an annual winter job, but for about three and half decades before that I made it my business to plant trees on other people’s land – though always with their permission of course.
The magical appeal of planting trees first become apparent to me when I was about 20 (I’m now 56) and whilst doing a week’s voluntary work at the RSPB’s Minsmere reserve in Suffolk. Along with a few other volunteers and one of the wardens, I spent an afternoon planting tiny oak trees in an area of the reserve close to the road on the way to the visitor centre (if you’ve ever been to MInsmere then you’ll know where I mean). Like most experiences in life that have an emotional aspect as well as a tangible one, I still vividly remember how I felt on that afternoon more than 35 years ago. But even better, on the occasions I’ve been back to Minsmere – especially the time about 6 years back – those once tiny oaks were now looking ever-so-slightly impressive. And that WAS a good feeling.
But actually I could go back even further in my life for a spiritual connection with trees, when growing up in south west London I witnessed the felling of countless elms – in particular those opposite our house and also a magnificent line of no-doubt centuries-old specimens in the grounds of the secondary school I attended. Of course it was Dutch Elm Disease which was to blame, and I now realise that the trees being felled would have been standing in hedgerows on farmland well ahead of the growth of the London suburbs in the pre and post war years.
The photo above shows a small part of my efforts over the last few days, and inside each of those protective tubes there’s either a sessile oak, witch elm, downy birch, rowan, hazel or aspen. Of course it won’t be in my life time that the oak and elm will reach anything like a magnificent status, but the other species will certainly be looking reasonably impressive in less than a decade. But the fact that I’ll never see the oak and elm anything like fully grown doesn’t matter a jot; the fact is that future generations will do and that’s good enough for me.
Planting trees is my obsession, but right now I can’t think of a healthier one to have.

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