The importance of trees

28 September 2017

Last week one of the Deep Dene trees fell, crushed a car, damaged a house and completely blocked the road for the whole day. It happened during the morning rush hour. By some miracle no one was hurt. Commando heard about it on the radio and sent me a message to warn me in case I was planning on walking that way. As I had to go to the village anyway I decided to take a detour and asses the damage.  Ok, I’ll be honest, it was completely out of my way but I’m nosey.  

There were roadworks on Cobbet Road so it was eerily quiet as I walked up towards Deep Dene and, when I got to the top of the road, it wasn’t long before I saw the problem. One of the huge pines on the high Deep Dene bank had toppled right across the road. It had crashed into the roof of the house opposite and a whole load of people in high vis jackets and hard hats were standing about looking at it, along with a few rubberneckers like me.

Of course, I pretended I was just walking that way and knew nothing about the road being closed. Unfortunately, the sun was directly behind the tree so the photos I serruptitiously took with my phone weren’t that good. There was a big gap under the tree and I thought I might be able to get to the other side but the officials told me it was too dangerous. It was hard to see how much damage had been done to the house and there was no sign of a crushed car but the man who owned the house told me it was his car and it had been parked on the drive. Presumably it had been moved by this time.

If a man on a bike hadn’t come along and asked how he could get to the village I might have walked the long way round to the other side and taken some decent pictures. As it was I led him along the cutway next to the damaged house and back onto Midanbury Lane.
“It’s amazing no one was hurt, or even killed,” he said as we walked. “They need to look at all those trees right by the road. It’s dangerous if you ask me. The leaves are always falling and bits dropping off. They should just cut them all down.”
This all seemed a little like overkill as far as I could see, but I kept my mouth shut. The trees do drop the odd leaf in autum or a pine cone or two, once in a while a branch falls and, very occasionally,  a tree. The cars going up and down the road do far more damage and no one is talking about banning them. Besides, if we cut all the trees down everywhere in case one fell and hurt someone, we’d have a whole heap more trouble to worry about.

Today I thought I’d go back and have a look at the damage now the mess has been cleared up and the road is open again. I was hoping not to see a whole load of other trees cut down in some kind of knee jerk overkill reaction. The walk began in the village because I’d had to go and get supplies. CJ, who’d missed the whole falling tree thing, came with me.

We were going to walk back through Hum Hole but, when we got to the top entrance, the ground was decidedly boggy. As the wet ground almost certainly played a part in the Deep Dene tree falling we decided not to risk it and stuck to the streets instead. There were plenty of trees lining the road as we went down the hill past the school. Thankfully no one has tried to cut them all down just yet. The maples on the corner have black spots again. This is tar spot disease, caused by a fungus and doesn’t hurt the tree although it does make it look as if it has a bad case of acne.

The trees along Glenfield Avenue were all intact too. These actually grow on the grass verge at the edge of the road and I’ve always thought how nice it must be to live on a tree lined road like this. Today their leaves were tinged with red and they looked quite stunning. Hopefully none of the people who live there will take an axe to them in case they fall.

On Cobden Avenue there were lots more trees. Their autumn colours were just beginning to show and a few fallen leaves were dancing across the pavement. We huffed our way up the hill, stopping to gather a few conkers for my friend Kylie. She swears they stop the spiders coming indoors if you line them up on the door and window sills.

Once we got to the top of the hill we could see the sawn tree stump. From a distance it didn’t look all that big.
“Are you sure it fell right across the road?” CJ looked at me sideways as if he thought I’d been exaggerating. “I can’t understand how one little tree can close the road all day.”
”Look at the roof of the house,” I pointed to the house in question. “You can see where it hit it. It’s taken the guttering right off and smashed a few tiles too by the look of it. I think that car covered up in the driveway might be the one that got squashed too.”

We crossed the road and had a look at the stump. What I should have done was get CJ to stand next to it to give an idea of scale but I didn’t think of it at the time. It was huge. Now CJ understood why it had taken the men so long to cut it up and remove it.

The man whose house and car got squashed had told me the tree hadn’t crashed down, it had fallen very slowly. Looking at it we could see a massive root ball behind it. It looked almost as if it had slid down the steep bank, perhaps because the ground was so wet it’s roots could no longer hold on. CJ tried to count the rings but gave up after fifty.
“It was  very old” he said in the end.
The ground was littered with sawdust and bits of wood and bark from the men sawing the tree up. I picked up a piece of thick bark to look at it. The inside was all whorls and ridges like a finger print.

We decided to go into the park to see what we could see from above. Just inside the gate there’s a narrow trail that runs along the edge of the bank. It was overgrown but we pushed our way through.

It took us a while to get to the spot where the tree had stood. When we did, we could see a huge section of the bank had collapsed. The root ball of the tree, along with a lot of earth, grass, pieces of bark and pine cones, was sticking up into the air. As I’m not known for my surefootedness,  I stayed at the top of the bank and looked down on it. CJ jumped down and stood on the top looking down at the road. Whether or not this was wise is a matter of opinion.

Deep Dene was once the garden of a large house, perched on the side of the hill leading up towards the Castle. The bank along the edge of the road is steep and high. It is also filled with trees. Their roots make it stable and, most of the time, stop it sliding down onto the road and the houses below. The trees also drink a lot of the rainwater that falls here, helping to stop floodwater running down onto the road and into the houses when the weather is especially wet. Thankfully it doesn’t look as if anyone is planning to cut them all down. At least not just yet.

Now we’d seen all there was too see and satisfied ourselves that there were no men with chainsaw hanging around trying to cut down trees ‘just in case,’ we headed back towards the main trail. Here we saw evidence of other fallen trees. One in particular is a kind of landmark to me. It must have once been a very tall tree and it obviously fell many years ago as a great deal of it has rotted away. What is left is the spiky core of the tree, looking for all the world like its spinal column.

On our way back to the gate we passed other dead trees. Some were still standing, others had fallen but not quite made it to the ground. Here and there there are little clearings and patches of sunlight where trees once stood and where, no doubt, the light and space will allow new trees to grow. This is the cycle of life and it’s just how it should be.

Back at the gate we discovered part of the tree that fell. The cut edge was still fresh and pine smelling. What happened to the rest of the tree is a mystery but I’m glad this one small chunk has been left to return to the earth it came from. With any luck it will provide some nice fungi by and by.

Now we’d seen all there was to see we walked down towards the Triangle. As we went we looked at all the buildings that might one day have a tree fall on them on this most tree lined of roads. Some, like the United Reformed Church and the Bitterne Park Hotel, were nice enough to be worth saving, although we both agreed, not nice enough to warrant the random destruction of trees.

As the day was bright and sunny we sat outside the Songbird Cafe with coffee and cakes. As we rested we talked about what the world would be like without trees.
“There’d be no wood to build stuff,” CJ said, “and nowhere for the birds to nest.”
”There’d be a lot more erosion and flooding too,” I added, “not to mention a lot less earth from all the leaves and twigs rotting down and a lot less oxygen from photosynthesis.”

As we made our way home, still talking about other things trees provide like shade and windbreaks, we spotted a baby robin on the edge of the path. It was sitting on the kerb all puffy and lost looking. There were cars going up and down and I had a vision of it hopping into the road and getting run over. CJ moved towards it, hoping it would see him and fly off but it just hopped a little closer to the edge of the kerb. It seemed as if it was too young to be able to fly. Eventually, with a lot of shooing and gentle shoving, we managed to get it to move to the base of a tree in one of the gardens. Thankfully no one has seen fit to cut them all down just yet.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

4 thoughts on “The importance of trees”

  1. I live in a forest and work in one too and I can say that trees fall all the time, and when they aren’t falling an endless rain of stuff falls out of them. It all works exactly as planned and cutting them down isn’t the answer. Unless they’re dangerous that is, and they can be!

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