By John Pinel
IT is always disappointing when personal interest trumps good governance, not least when it happens in politics.
Recently, not only have we seen the loss of the Chief Minister, delaying much needed government work, but we also saw the loss of amendments to protect the trees in our island which are so important for the health and wellbeing of our population.
The Island’s trees do so much more than enhance our landscape. They help to provide clean air and water. They slow soil erosion and provide relief from floods. They reduce pollution in our ground water. They enhance people’s wellbeing and provide essential food and shelter for much of our wildlife.
Even fallen trees enhance our environment as they slowly die, providing habitat for fungi and bacteria, which form the base of the food web essential to us and to wildlife.
There are many instances of trees being arbitrarily chopped down as they block someone’s view or are in the way of a development and yet, this vote was approved by the Chamber despite being only two months since Storm Ciarán tore through Jersey, destroying thousands more trees.
Despite our government’s refusal to adequately protect our environment, and while our remaining trees will have no protection, there are a number of initiatives proposed by other organisations which aim to create an opportunity from the disaster.
Such initiatives include proposals to simply allow nature to take its course, as some fallen trees will re-grow and others will rot down providing important habitat for wildlife. Where fallen trees can’t be left, other plans are to utilise appropriate timber for construction and artisanal purposes.
People are ensuring that proposals for replanting are thoughtful and considered, taking into account the right tree in the right place and planning for the future of our woodlands in the face of climate change. There is a great deal of talk about replanting the thousands of trees which have been lost. However, I have heard very little about proposals for the management of Jersey’s woodlands for their long-term future.
Our woodlands are in a poor state and have been since before 1987, when the last Great Storm tore through our island. There is very little appropriate woodland management taking place which would enhance the wildlife, environmental value and public benefit of our small woodland areas enormously.
The States of Jersey, our parishes and the various organisations which help life go on were unprepared and lacked the necessary skills to deal with the 1987 storm. Many opportunities were lost in the rush to clear up and replant the fallen trees.
Thousands of tonnes of wood were simply buried and remain in the landscape hidden under banks and in-filled land at places like Noirmont and Creepy Valley. We should ensure that this doesn’t happen again by making the best use of the fallen timber that we can.
Young trees were in short supply in 1988 as the whole of southern England was replanting, so in Jersey whatever species were available were planted. This led to poor choices in species selection and many trees planted in the wrong place back then that have now grown too big for their situation or are in danger of damaging buildings and infrastructure.
Even specialists seem to neglect to consider that trees often grow very big. Before you plant a tree you need to take a step back, find a mature tree of the same species nearby and consider, not how this little plant in your hand will perform, but what that massive, mature tree will look like in that location.
Planting the right tree in the right place is critical for the future of trees in Jersey and you should consider the outcome in 50 or 100 years’ time, when you, who have planted the tree, retain no responsibility for its management.
We need to consider planting species which will survive our changing climate where there will be longer summer droughts and heavier winter rains, which our current woodlands may not be able to cope with.
We have a huge opportunity to reinvigorate tree planting and woodland management in our island. The priority should be planting in the urban landscape, in central St Helier and the parish villages. This will improve people’s lives and bring wildlife into our centres of habitation.
These trees can be a wide variety of species, and should include fruit and nut trees to feed people and wildlife. They should be small-growing species, which may never mature, but will not outgrow their situation or their container.
Continuing the excellent work of the National Trust for Jersey and Jersey Trees for Life, hedgerow trees should be planted well back from the roadside so that they can grow and spread without impeding access or damaging banks and roadsides as they mature and die.
Our woodlands should be managed and supplementary planting should increase our woodland areas, while providing public access for the wellbeing benefits which woodlands provide to us.
Replanting after the storm should not be a knee-jerk reaction to get trees in the ground. We can continue planting trees while we develop a programme of woodland enhancement across the Island.
Habitat management can enhance our local wildlife in the small areas of semi-natural habitat we have left. We should develop a fund to which people can apply to manage woodland for the benefit of wildlife and people, funded by the Environmental and Social Governance objectives of local businesses. The following organisations are all involved in recovery from Storm Ciarán and would welcome your support.
John Pinel is a freelance ecologist. In the past, he has travelled widely, covering thousands of miles by bicycle but also building his own carbon footprint with international travel. He has had many jobs, from finance to pizza chef, including over 20 years in various environmental roles, the last ten as principal ecologist for the Department of the Environment. He is now active in a number of local and international non-governmental organisations and campaigns for social and environmental justice. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the view of any organisation. X: @johnepinel.