Country diary: uprooting a tree is the ultimate assault on nature

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Four large trees lie within our boundary. They’re a comforting part of our number, filling views with a nature we appreciate but take for granted. All cast their shadow signatures, have voices when in leaf and asway, and carry many passengers, from squirrels to sparrowhawks.

This one, a 12-metre silver birch split mid-height into a hand of branches, has been a fine compass. Its pale bark glows amber at sunset, and silvers intensely under a bright moon. Its low trunk, with bark fissures big enough to take a hand, is slung with layers of ivy, its nooks teeming with bugs that feed all manner of garden visitors.

It was one of the storms late last year: a branch came down a little too big, a little too close. We didn’t think much, until we noticed the fungus in the branch. And the rot.

The man who assesses it is sympathetic. It has done well, he says. But the tree is effectively dead. Rotting high up, with concerning lines of weakness. Anything from heavy branches to the whole crown could come down, in 10 gales, or the next. The tree’s position means, for reasons of responsibility and safety, this matters.

It’s an awful decision. Maybe it’s trivial to some; apparently, trees matter little in the pursuit of “progress”. But to me, with the hypocrisy of anyone who rides trains or drives cars or reads a book, the uprooting of a tree is still an ultimate assault on nature. What arrogance, to say when something so living, with that hard-won fortitude, should be there or not there! Take hold of a tree and you feel its strength. To see one felled – more, to make the decision to do it – comes with a strange devastation.

It’s done in an afternoon. Too quickly, really, for something that has been so present for so long. And then, on the long look down the garden, so grounding this past year, four are suddenly three.

I go to look. Grouted with snow, the pile of raw cuts isn’t as big as I expected such a thing might reduce to. We’ll make the most of it: log piles for habitats, make something for the house, plant more trees in its place. It’s one tree. An individual – and a loss.

o Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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