Seeds are planted for Britain's forests of the future

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This year's National Tree Week, to be launched on Wednesday, will celebrate Britain's `landmark trees' and see the planting of a million new trees. Although this may sound like a good idea, Matthew Brace hears from environmentalists who think it could be a dangerous policy.

Nearly half of the nation's trees have been hacked down since the war to make way for housing or farming.

Britain's remaining woodlands, some of the finest in Europe, are neglected and radical replanting is needed to re-stock them, according to the Tree Council. Thus this week's forthcoming celebrations of "landmark trees" - significant either botanically, historically or for purely personal reasons.

Various events are planned for celebrations around the country including tree dressing, an ancient folklore art of decorating trees. The council also hopes a million new trees will be planted during the week - the landmark trees of the future.

"There are many generations of landmark trees all around us," said the Tree Council's director Robert Osborne. "They are an extremely important part of our natural landscape, adding history as well as beauty to the countryside.

"Our aim is to get people to gather seeds from a tree that is significant in their lives, to sow them, grow the seedlings and then to plant a new tree."

However, tree-planting is not always considered the best way of promoting new growth. In the far north of Scotland there was uproar over plans to reforest land with Christmas trees once the potential damage to wildlife was realised.

Elsewhere new strands of trees are not always welcome because of the possible harm to soil qualities or views.

Tony Juniper, campaigns director of Friends of the Earth, while lauding the restocking of woodlands, urged caution.

"The Tree Council is doing a worthy little job here but the important thing to remember is that simply planting a tree is not enough," he said. "You need to know that you are planting the right tree in the right place and in the right soil, otherwise it might damage the environment and the tree might not survive."

Mr Osborne said the fundamental message from the Tree Council was "appropriate and sensitive planting".

"Obviously foresting uplands that are important to wildlife is wholly inappropriate but with current changes in forestry practice we should not in future see this totally indiscriminate planting. If you follow the `right tree-right place' policy I believe there is an enormous amount of scope for planting lots of trees to replace some of those we have lost since the Second World War.

"You don't want to plant a forest in a suburban garden. One popular tree, the Leyland cypress, grows so quickly it will take over your garden... "

Mr Osborne said another problem with tree planting is that some people view new trees in the same way they may a puppy for Christmas.

"Planting a tree is just the first step. We fear a lot of trees planted with great enthusiasm are not looked after and watered and an awful lot of money is wasted and the tree will not survive," he said.

For more information about Esso National Tree Week call 0345 078139.

Five landmark trees

The Tolpuddle Sycamore: In Tolpuddle, Dorset, the six Martyrs (farm labourers who were being exploited by their employers) met in 1834 to establish Britain's first trade union.

The Much Marcle Yew: In a churchyard of this Hereford and Worcester village sits a yew tree said to be one of the oldest yews in Britain. It has a circumference of 32.5ft and could date back 1,000 years.

The Douglas Fir: At Hermitage in Tayside, Scotland, stands Britain's tallest tree, standing 211ft.

Brighton Elms: More than 7,000 elms still stand in Brighton. Because of the town's proximity to the channel ports where the disease entered the country, its devastating effects were seen early enough to implement a protection programme.

Herne's Oak at Windsor Great Park: It is impossible to know for certain if Herne the Hunter's "blasted oak", where Falstaff was shamed and around which the nymphs and spirits danced in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, still stands here today but there are several gargantuan contenders for the title.