Wild Wanstead


The world’s forests are on fire. Maybe we should use our gardens in Wanstead to help, suggests Alex Deverill in the 22nd article of a series charting the Wild Wanstead project

The forests are burning. As global temperatures march upwards and humans seek more land for cattle and crops, woodland is going up in smoke from the north to the south.

The 2019/2020 bushfire season in Australia was unusually intense with an estimated 18.6 million hectares destroyed, and this June, Russia’s forest fire agency reported some one million hectares were actively burning in remote areas of Siberia inaccessible by firefighters.

Deforestation isn’t just being caused by global warming. In the last 30 years, it is estimated 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses. Large-scale commercial agriculture (primarily cattle ranching and cultivation of soya bean and oil palm) accounted for 40% of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010.

What about closer to home? The UK is one of the least forested places in Europe. In England, just 10% of land is wooded. Compare this to the European Union, where 42% of the total land area is forest. Despite the importance of trees for combatting climate change, supporting biodiversity and improving health and wellbeing, data from 2016 suggests that the UK has been in a period of deforestation. The government has committed to more tree planting, but in the year to March 2019, just 1,420 hectares were planted – the target was 5,000. Against that, trees are being cut down for land development. HS2 alone has put 108 ancient woods in England at risk of loss or damage. Young trees are being planted to ‘compensate’ but it isn’t straightforward – thousands died in last summer’s record-breaking heat.

But before we throw up our hands in disgust, maybe we should look at our own backyards. I regularly walk past the van of a local tree surgeon and I can tell you that deforestation is alive and well here in Wanstead too. That’s why I was so pleased to see an article by top UK gardener Joe Swift encouraging people to have a tree in their garden. Here are his top picks for small or medium-sized plots. All have a small root spread – he says they’re safe to plant 3m or more from your house.

  • Crab apple Malus ‘John Downie’
  • White Himalayan birch (Betula utilis jacquemontii)
  • Judas tree (Cercis silquastrum)
  • Ornamental hawthorn (Crataegus persimilis) ‘Prunifolia’
  • Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)
  • Ornamental ash (Sorbus vilmorinii)
  • Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)
  • Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ (pods are poisonous!)
  • Ornamental cherry Prunus ‘Kursar’

And if the sheer beauty of trees and their major role in removing carbon from the air isn’t enough for you, then consider that maybe, just maybe, money can grow on trees. There’s no data for the UK, but research in the States found that a tree in the front garden added the equivalent of nearly £6,000 to the value of the house, and if that tree was part of nice landscaping, it could increase the value of the home by up to 11%.

For more information on the Wild Wanstead project, visit wnstd.com/wild
Author: Editor