An oak tree at the top of the field, longstanding and withered in its silhouette, it has remained a figurehead of longevity and comfort to the whole family as it seemingly cloaks us with its solidarity and assurance, offering a time to reflect and a time to look forward. It’s in these moments where I realign my values, aims and decisions.
Although infrequent, when I find myself escaping back to the Cotswold’s I’ll take the time to wander up to the oak tree for that slither of freedom of thought and feeling. It’s customary to have some curious sheep creeping over gingerly to see who the stranger is, but rather than distracting, this adds to the euphoria of the great escape. The intoxication this experience offers has the characteristics of addiction when juxtaposed against the daily fight in the big smoke, and I feel extremely privileged to share the rarefied time and surroundings with what seems untouched and free of human blemish.
We so rarely dedicate time for our lateral thoughts to explore where they might, so I know the time given by the oak tree is as precious as the oxygen it emits. Trees have the unique ability to offer us a means of escapism that is seldom practised within our self-centred and hostile milieu. Whether it’s their rugged beauty, their comforting commonality or the parallels we draw with them as they change as we do, the quiet spaces trees offer our conscious is a critical catalyst to improving our mental health.
The word wellbeing gets thrown around far too easily nowadays, so I would like to offer you a little academic weighting and to steer away from my abstract rhetoric for a little while.
Us humans are lucky as we have developed a large prefrontal cortex, or ‘human brain’, that enables logic before action. However, the amygdala, our ‘animal brain’ (thanks Phil!) is always ready to act on our behalf when we are unable to react quickly enough with our human brain.
This has provided us with an evolutionary advantage as we can switch between reason and action, thus knowing not to attack the stick on the floor thinking it was a snake. However, the human brain has been unable to keep up with the rate of our invention, infrastructure and daily toil now experienced. This has resulted in the overproduction of cortisol, catalysing choric stress and weakening our braking system between the human and animal brain. What does this actually mean you might be thinking. Well, that time you spilt milk on the floor when prepping your cereal and you ended up screaming your hair off, yep, that’s your brakes failing under the pressure of cortisol.
Panic not! Studies in both psychology and neuroscience have come to prove the effectiveness of mindfulness (another word that’s thrown around to line pockets!). Let me explain, mindfulness training is time dedicated to the art of pausing, noticing and focusing, thus preventing the lashing out of untamed actions. The frequent practice of mindfulness training has been shown to strengthen our otherwise weakened braking system and reverse the effects of cortisol and chronic stress.
We have many opportunities to practice mindfulness, but when better than when in nature. Despite the imperial qualities we denote onto ourselves, we are creatures of nature and so returning to it can only infuse us with good. Although we aren’t all able to venture off to the Cotswolds, we can all find a place in the park to take gratitude for the peace trees offer us. Trees for Cities, the tree charity, are dedicated to the maintenance and planting of trees throughout the UK, without which many of us would live in cold and empty surrounds.
Street trees have been a part of our urban landscapes since human’s first started popping up around the globe. With humans perhaps being a little too successful in our reproduction and innovation, our communities have grown ever larger and so the strain on trees to continue operating as they mean too is meeting braking point.
Some facts for you! “Yay facts!!”
- 1 mature leafy tree can produce enough Oxygen to allow 10 of us to breathe. This is most important of all in densely populated and polluted areas like cities, where average Oxygen levels are expected to be at least 6% lower.
- In a year, a single mature tree can absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide.
- It’s thought that globally our forests absorb 40% of manmade CO2 emissions before it reaches our outer atmosphere where it can trap more heat.
- It’s estimated that 2,367,000 tonnes of carbon is stored in London’s trees alone, with an estimated value of £147million to the UKs economy.
- It isn’t just Carbon Dioxide that trees absorb from the air, they also soak up a range of other pollutants and toxins which are emitted by our everyday activities. Not great when 8 in 10 of us now live in built-up towns and cities.
- A single mature, leafy tree can absorb up to 450 liters of water through its roots every day.
- The overall cooling effect of a single, mature tree an average is equivalent to 10 air conditioning units running for 20 hours in a day.
- Between 2006 and 2012 the UK lost 222,000 hectares of green space to urban sprawl. That is roughly equivalent to 22,000 football pitches
It is evident of the necessity for trees and people to coexists, and so we must take greater responsibility for the plantation and maintenance of our cities trees. They act as the floodgates and lungs of our great cities, and without their significant contribution to our daily lives, we would be worse, not better off.
Rather than using our hereditary invention for personal gain, we can and are beginning to use our gifts as a means of adding rather than taking.
Architects and engineers are taking the constructs of fiction and making them our reality. The Bosco Verticale in Milan is a pair of residential towers within the Porta Nuova district, stretching into the sky, they contain 900 trees on their 8,900 square meters of terraces. Also nestled in Milan is the Biblioteca degli Alberi (Library of Trees) which will be a 3,500m2 green space in the heart of a city. Not only is the space designed to improve the cycle of inner-city air and residential wellbeing, but it will also draw nature back to Milan’s once thriving centre. Similarly, the grey piazza in Porta Nuova, Milan’s business district, has had thousands of seeds distributed in the hope of creating a harmonious and congruent place of work. There will be 450 trees from 19 species as well as 90,000 other plants including hedges, shrubs and climbers, therefore, transforming the once bleak surroundings into a plethora of colour and nature at its best.
The Sauvabelin Tower in Switzerland takes a slightly different approach as it looks to draw people from the city and into the forest. The project aims to get people closer to nature, and therefore encouraging people to become more responsible for the daily activities that have an otherwise unrecognized impact on habitats. The tower offers the influential force of Instagram and it’s users the opportunity of taking the ‘ultimate picture’ whilst gaining a greater understanding of how our actions impact the natural community.
In Toronto, there are plans in place for the Tree Tower Project, an 18 story residential building standing 62 meters high and offering it’s residents unrivalled balcony space to be accompanied by trees and plants.
London’s Garden Bridge, designed to stretch across the iconic Thames River as a statement of change and appreciation for trees and their longevity. Though the concept proved popular, no further action was taken due to a number of political issues raised by Transport for London. This is by no means the end of London’s contribution to the amalgamation of architecture and nature as the city continual proposes designs to match that of other projects around the world.
The oak tree and me, I know there will be a day where it no longer stands proud and provides the space and time for tranquil awareness. Rather than avoiding the evasive images of it fallen I simply accept this as an inevitability and appreciate what it has already provided.
Lucky though I am, we all have the opportunity to appreciate the presence of trees. Whether on your morning commute or on a sunny Sunday afternoon, use that time to look around an acknowledge the trees around you. Their innate ability to offer us more time, colour and meaning in our lives along with their capacity to prevent flooding and emit breathable air, we must take greater responsibility for their resurgence in our cities.
You can do your part by donating your clapped out and unwanted car to Trees for Cities, the tree charity. Your donation can help fund the purchase and planting of new trees all around the UK’s wonderful cities and towns. Do something that makes you feel proud and donate your car to Trees for Cities with Giveacar.