One thing I love about Britain is the astonishing diversity of trees. You might be forgiven for expecting an island that occupies the same latitude as Hudson Bay, Labrador, Vladivostok and the Aleutian Islands to be a bleak and unforgiving landscape, interrupted by conifer forests.
Yet just a short drive from my house lies some of the most diverse forestry I’ve seen, even as a veteran traveller of over seventy countries all around the world. When I used to fly for a major airline, it was one of the trick questions we would ask newbies – what’s the most northerly destination we serve on the long-haul network? The answer, London, came as a big surprise to most.
Thanks to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream ocean current, Britain doesn’t have the same bitter winters of the rest of the 50-54N club – this allows a very tree-friendly climate. An amazing array of native and introduced trees cover the whole landmass.
The forests of Britain have stood against the ravages of storms, social upheaval and industrialisation, preserved by national governmental bodies and royal patronage. That we have such an extraordinary diversity and permanence of both native and foreign varieties that have thrived an intermingled is a reflection of the centuries of Britain’s colonial and imperial history. Many varieties of tree were purposely introduced when colonial staff and explorers encountered them abroad. Thanks to Britain’s benign climate, many tropical and other types thrived and became accepted and common. Their diversity and character have been indelibly incorporated and intermingled with the native soil and flora of the island, their beauty admired and their negative aspects tolerated.
It’s a source of sadness to me that the same tolerance didn’t extend to the children of the old Empire for as long. If the current xenophobic spirit is allowed to prosper and increase, we may never reap the benefits of the same diversity of humanity that our island has become famous for; the human diversity is as wondrous and owes as much to Britain’s favourable social climate.
Some want to uproot whole cultures after they have become so indelibly intertwined with the “native” culture. Start with the trees, and see how much, or rather how little, you can afford to lose.