Too many in UK conservation are "tree-blind", says author

Britain's conservation bodies and wildlife enthusiasts tend to overlook the importance of the country's trees, according to a former Forestry Commission ranger and nature writer.

Image: Ian Parsons
Image: Ian Parsons

A Dictionary of Scientific Tree Names author Ian Parsons wrote on a conservation blog: "We in Britain have some really unique ones that need our protection, they are irreplaceable [but] we can't protect them if we are tree-blind."

Giving the example of sessile and pendunculate oak, and silver and downy birch, he said: "Are all native to Britain and all are very common, but my experience of working in the wildlife industry has shown me that many people, even 'conservation professionals' don't know the difference between them."

Of the BBC's Springwatch, he said: "One of the presenters was stood talking about heathland when they referred to the trees behind them as 'firs' [when] in fact they were Scots pine... You wouldn't expect that sort of mistake to happen with birds, mammals, reptiles, even fish, but when it happens with trees, no one seems to notice."

Yet "Britain is packed full of brilliant trees, trees we should all get to know," he said. Giving the example of Britain's several endemic whitebeam species, he went on: "Can you imagine the fuss that would be made if your area was the only place on the planet to see a species of bird or butterfly or orchid? It would rightly be celebrated by all, programmes would be made about it, people would flock to see it from all around."

Among these is his "favourite tree", the highly localised No Parking whitebeam (Sorbus admonitor), of which he says: "There is no sign, no placard to tell you that you are looking at something really special. .. [yet] the land that the tree is on, in fact all the No Parking whitebeams in the entire world are on the same estate, belongs to the National Trust, a conservation organisation."

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