Seabrook on ... investing in trees

Last week, energy-sapping heat rose unrelentingly from London's streets so that we welcomed the shade offered by giant plane trees, giving protection from the burning sun. I'm reliably informed that large trees reduce temperatures in their vicinity by 5 degsC. This being the case, why do we not have more of them?

Current practice, if planting street trees at all, is towards compact, smaller-growing cultivars with a lesser cooling effect. This can't be right: more should be done to introduce large species of trees in cities, towns and suburbs.

At the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show there was a large avenue of horse chestnuts along the deer park wall infested with leaf miner. Why are wealthy charitable bodies such as the National Trust and RSPB not financing work to control such debilitating pests?

In Italy and the US, pellets of systemic insecticide are being injected into trunks to control tree pests, so why are we not doing the same? Just think how much carbon would be tied up if we could reinstate elms across the British countryside. When elm bark beetles caused devastation in the 1970s we did not have the effective systemic materials available today. There are a few surviving mature elms about: the RHS Garden Hyde Hall took cuttings several years ago from six surviving specimens, so where have they got with that work?

Universities in the US are breeding clones of trees resistant to pests and diseases, and passing them down to the nursery industry. Why are our seats of learning not following this lead by, for example, trying to breed horse chestnuts resistant to leaf miner pest and bleeding canker disease?

East Malling Research has done some work selecting fine forms of indigenous British trees: surely their efforts deserve greater promotion and financial support. If only the monies spent on the at-best-misguided anti-peat campaign had been invested in trees, our towns would be greener, cooler and more pleasant places.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.


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