Country & Garden: A tree is not just for life... ...

...but for several lifetimes. Or it should be, if it isn't murdered in the meantime.

Earlier this summer, my neighbour cut down three trees in his garden. The only three trees. Our birch, a half-dead, dangerously unstable specimen, was reluctantly felled months ago. So now there are no trees (barring the young snowy mespil which replaced the birch) breaking the sightline over low walls that stretch in either direction. As a consequence, the shade is no longer dappled, and no birds sing. The once-numerous tits and sparrows and chaffinches have fled to boskier gardens. The act of vandalism committed next door in the name of tidiness depressed me for days. Another neighbour, plainer- speaking than me, called a spade a spade and, with trembling lower lip, accused the first of arboricide.

And it's true that the axing of trees is as shocking as murder to anyone who stops to consider the time they take to mature, their changing characteristics through seasons and over years, the pleasure they give to generation after generation of climbing children, courting couples, and seventh-agers alike. Trees patiently bear the indignities visited upon them by man: gouged initials, lopped branches, severed roots. Trees have histories, like people. Their roots go deep, like ours. In a slippery world, a tree comes to represent solidity, continuity.

And this is not to mention the life they support. Apart from the visible birds, their creviced trunks are the mountainous home terrain of myriad unseen insects. I once came across a man in Hyde Park crouched beside an oak and acting most curiously. Surrounded by small plastic pots which seemed to contain nothing more than twigs and moss and leaves, he was oh-so-carefully removing with a pair of tweezers something from each pot and replacing it in the trunk of the tree. He was, he explained, returning hundreds of tiny insects to their habitat, insects that had been removed earlier for the edification of schoolchildren visiting the secret classroom in the middle of the park.

Indeed, London parks and streets are classrooms in themselves. Thanks to the foresight of our civic- minded forebears, the capital has a far greater variety of trees than is found anywhere outside an arboretum. (Red) Indian bean trees (no doubt about to be redubbed "Native-American") are now big with flower, when native species have long since been chloro- filled. With Trees of the Royal Parks in hand, the keen arboriphile will find Trees of Heaven, snowdrop trees, ginkos, paulownia (foxglove tree), black walnut, white and red ash, Chinese wing-nut, Indian horse chestnut, redwoods from America and China, delicate maples, rare ash and strange beech, and any number of exotic oaks. In fact, enthusiasm can get the better of the amateur: the streets where I live are lined not with rauli, a Chilean cousin of our beech, as I excitedly reported to an indifferent husband, but with hornbeam `Pyramidalis', introduced from Europe a century ago, a pretty and pleasing shape all the same; worse still, I fear my Pride of India is actually the Hubris of Shepherd's Bush, or an ash tree by any other name.

Nor is the capital short on native woodland. Epping and Dulwich are fine examples, the latter boasting enough hornbeams, once common throughout the south-east, to attract breeding pairs of hawfinch, another occasionally missing piece of our ecological jigsaw. Richmond Park has splendid old oaks in mature or declining years (well into the sixth or seventh century of their lifespan), whose ancient limbs and hollow trunks will still delight the great-great-grandchildren of those who play there now. In Greenwich, the relics of equally old sweet chestnuts seem to have petrified into sculpture. Somewhere in every borough, be they exotic imports or soul- lifting avenues of horse chestnuts, London planes (in fact, a relatively recent - mid-17th century - hybrid of the Oriental and American planes) or of limes buzzing with bees, there are examples of the selflessness with which successful Victorians thought of the future.

To destroy any part of this with chainsaw or axe is an act no less criminal than, say, the stealthy midnight demolition of the Firestone building, or cruelty to animals. You might think that a man with four young children would not be so immersed in the present-day and seasonal irritation of leaf litter, that he might have half an eye to the years to come. Yet my neighbour was only doing what is done all the time by farmers, developers, road- builders, utility companies, local authorities and Rupert Murdoch. Thanks to him and his insistence that we should have an infinite choice of televisual fecal matter, our streets are likely to be badly scarred, perhaps mutilated beyond recognition, in as little as 20 years. Roots have regularly been severed by cable-laying outfits, leaving behind badly destabilised trees.

Even minor damage underground results in weakened immune systems, and a kind of arboreal HIV. Sadly, RM cannot be solely blamed (though it is estimated that 54 per cent of root-damage is caused by cable-laying for television).

In spite of protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Environment Protection Act, and notwithstanding the zeal and commitment of borough Tree Officers and the army of volunteer tree- wardens, urban trees are frighteningly vulnerable, as if the pollution they tolerate and filter on our behalf were not enough. In the building boom of the early Nineties, the leader of a band of cowboy contractors was dubbed "Quick Saw McGraw" in dishonour of the many trees he illegally removed from the path of builders' progress. He no more deserves his comic, Runyon- esque soubriquet than Idi Amin would have "Ah'm in de pink". A tree is not just for life, but for several lifetimes, and all their assassins bear a life sentence of shame.

Illustration taken from `Tree-Talk: memories, myths and timeless customs' by Marie-France Boyer, published by Thames & Hudson, pounds 14.95

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on