Controversy: Is it OK to Hate Trees?



Being Ancient is fun.  Particularly, because when you are old you are allowed to be a bit quirky, even controversial.

It is a time when you can reflect on ideas. Interestingly, on ones you had assumed were settled for good.

Recently I  met someone who made me do a serious rethink. It was in Orkney. She was an old lady  who was the guardian of a historic croft building, a black house, and had lived on Orkney all her life.  I was the only visitor, and we began chatting.  Someone had planted baby trees in the cottage yard and I  commented. ” Hmm ” she snorted, “ Its that English curator’s idea. They’ll soon die”.   She shook her head and prodded the peat fire.

And she was probably right.  Orkney is virtually treeless…. The constant strong winds get them. Once their heads pokes above the garden wall, that would be it. Trees were literally not on her horizon.  “That’s a pity”. I said. 

What she said next quite shook me.  “No” she said” Can’t stand them.”  and carried on” I went down south once ” she said, confidingly ” You couldn’t see anything for trees. Couldnt see the Loch or the  Bens. Hate them!”

That was some revelation! I had never ever heard anyone say that before! Have you?

We currently accept that trees are a good thing. Who would argue? Who would dare argue!

It made me  think.   And the more I thought the clearer came the realisation that it hasn’t always been that way. Not at all. In the past the old lady would have had good company!

If you climb the knoll behind Port Appin in Argyllshire you will find yourself with a superb panorama. Islands, headlands and sea lochs shimmering their way out to a distant ocean.

You get all dreamy and imaginative in places like that don’t you?  I remembered being there on that kind of day.  I had found myself  building a picture of early peoples travelling these sheltered waters. They must have come across the Channel, post Ice Age, passed Cornwall, wandered along the coast of Wales, round the Isle of Man, and on a good day ventured to Ireland.Simple boats, but in calm weather paddling steadily from island to island, beaching in a cove like this, exploring, settling, trading.

It had never occurred to me before, but slowly it dawned.  For them, the sheltered waterways of the Irish Sea were the equivalent of our motorways. Wandering along a sea coast was relatively easy..pull into a service station cove for water, shellfish supper, a fire and bed. There I was standing looking at a Neolithic Ml !

It clicked.  For them, the sea wasn’t a barrier, the land was!

Love it when you get that kind of revelation. Don’t you? Began imagining their thinking. Would you have made that journey by land? The country at that time was rough, mostly forested or boggy, with no real tracks and full of wild animals.
Their view of trees must have been so different! Trees were useful for fruit, nuts and certainly for fuel and timber, but on the whole they must have been regarded as a nuisance. Certainly those early settler farmers must have thought so as they burnt and slashed through tree roots to make fields.
Exploring the woods in New England today you come across the stone walls of early settlers. Now they lie buried in trees and poison ivy…. Such effort, but soon abandoned when to the West the prairies were opened up…..Treeless!

Why had I never realised? People hadn’t always loved trees…..

Hadn’t thought about it before, but once it had been said I found I also had to confess, I am not entirely  keen on them sometimes! Our garden is in a Victorian suburb and is surrounded by trees, and for half the year I see them unhappily. It was a requirement of the builder in 1860 that lime trees should be planted around the edge of each plot. A hundred and fifty yrs later they are over 100 feet tall, protected giants that we are not allowed to cut.  The poor roses straggle upward seeking sun….so do I. No evening sun cocktails here……
The old lady  was right, trees do block light and views. Have you ever tried taking visitors on a tour of Scotland’s Lochs in the summer? You can drive miles through gorgeous mountain and water scenery and see nothing but trees.

What are the Tourist people thinking of, letting that happen? They sell scenery!

It isn’t clear whether The Tourist Industry hasn’t noticed, or whether tree lovers won’t allow it. Maybe it is a cash problem. But that trees grow, wherever they can, very successfully and out of control is actually a problem. But one never talked about.

Today, cutting down a tree is almost a moral sin. And much of the time is  illegal…..

And it isn’t just a Scottish problem. Many UK motorways are suffering from similar issues. Much of the time you could be anywhere. Worse still, Landowners in the last 80 years have planted millions of trees and they produced some of the most boring landscapes ever ..Conifer plantations. Grey green shadowless sterility….

The lovely sensual curves of skylines and open skies, lift your spirits Don’t you think that there is an inspiring endless feel in all of these long views which calms and yet thrills? Shouldn’t they be cherished?
Yes, of course we must plant trees. In themselves they are beautiful. An Autumn Woodland walk is delicious, a Spring bluebell wood, heaven. And, yes, we need them to control carbon levels, but would it be possible to plant them judiciously?

Does every single seedling have to be allowed to turn into full grown tree? Could we have judicious pruning and felling so that we have vista creation and preservation as well?

Why nowadays do we think that all trees must be unthinkingly protected?

There! Down with trees! An Ancient reactionary enjoying stirring it.

Why  do you think I decided to write this?

Nothing to do with trees actually!  Just that the Orkney  lady  and her very strong statement generated some serious thought.  How what is so clear to one generation, the obvious truth etc  becomes another generations bete noir.

Perhaps a better example might have been that beloved cure of all Drs two hundred years or so ago: blood letting.  They had no doubts it was right.

Which brings me to the final question.  

Which of today’s truisms will be seen in the future as the equivalent of tree clearance and bloodletting in this century? 




  1. December 18, 2016 / 1:20 am

    Ah, but we wouldn’t be able to breathe without them. Or would we? Seventy-one per cent of the earth’s surface is taken up by water. Not surprisingly therefore, the seas are an important source of oxygen.
    National Geographic claims that photosynthesis by phytoplankton (mostly single-celled phototrophs, such as cyanobacteria, green algae and diatoms) account for half of the earth’s oxygen production.
    The other half, they claim, is produced on land by trees, shrubs, grasses, and other plants.
    So if all the trees in Brazil (the biggest tree-oxygen producing land mass in the world) were felled by greedy, land-grabbing developers we would be finding it just a little harder to breathe.

  2. December 18, 2016 / 12:04 pm

    Joyce, I adore trees. Even the ones that block out my view of the distant hills and mountains in the summer. To me, everything in nature adss to my delight.

  3. December 18, 2016 / 12:05 pm

    Or even ‘adds’. Apologies for the typo.

  4. December 19, 2016 / 1:43 am

    Like anything else in this life, trees have their pros and their cons. The right trees in the right places are wonderful – they give us those beautiful autumn colors. Then in the winter they show us the beauty of their branches outlined sometimes by the snow. In spring the blossom is wonderful and of course in summer, the fruit.
    In years gone by, though, trees were a major obstacle to settlement. Today their roots can give us problems in our homes and their canopies can block out our light or our view.
    But what I am taking away from your post is that it’s OK for someone to have a completely opposite view to our own. When we encounter that we should investigate the reasons and question ourselves!

    • December 19, 2016 / 9:08 am

      Maddy, thanks for your thoughtful reply. Agree with all you say.
      The blog wasn’t really about trees as such, I was playing with the idea that humans value systems change with circumstances and knowledge and that we need to be aware that perhaps beliefs we hold today will change in future….but which ones!

  5. Scott Concertman
    June 6, 2022 / 12:29 am

    There’s no in between anymore, In fact the haters have become more overzealous than even the tree huggers. On one hand proponents claim trees increase property value. Yet developers Find existing trees more trouble than they are worth. First because there are less buyers wanting to purchase already wooded lots, second because said construction activity Always inevitably require those existing trees removal some 5 years after completion resulting from not enough precautions taken to protect root system.

    Today 100 yr infrastructure improvement utility construction requires all trees to be removed without even considering default preservation for at least the small handful of culturally historic ecologically important trees. I mean it’s pretty silly saying after 400 years a tree is in the way and would mess up our engineering plans which have already been completed. Especially After preparing first 150 years to provide an additional 150 year service life. And even though we replant, what precautions are being taken to prevent same in another 100 years.

    Now that People are no longer planting new trees in backyards, Because a long list of selfish but capitalist freedom things. Even going so far as to hack away limbs coming over from their neighbors, Which is not legal if tree will be damaged but see then developers will be happy to pay the fine. Thus Only Parkway trees will remain. And with so many complaints Especially ADA requirements enforcing perfectly Perfect Walkways. Only public park trees will remain. But that said construction and park improvements are now fatally damaging public park trees as well Which then after removed is a good time to expand baseball fields and other hard escape amenities.

    With today’s overzealous mulching fad, as arborist we expect to lose more trees to soil/chip mounding than all the diseases and bugs imported into the US last 100 years. Besides This is very minute 100% of trees arrive right from nurseries with trunks already too deep in root ball. Thus requiring new mandatory planting step by removing back to trees original birth grade in the ground. Just research trunk flare exclamation and watch this old house video “how to mulch around trees properly”. Learn with a root flare is and how it needs to be at ground level. Also remember When you see roots going on top of ground, it means soil below has been severely compacted so much there is no oxygen for anything to grow under ground. And roots do not bust underground pipes they Call attention to already busted pipes. So you can lead tree roots to water, but cutting it down doesn’t repair the Already leaking Underground drainage pipe.

    And the fact is while everyone brags about trees producing oxygen for us air breathers, We are literally denying trees self produced oxygen required for their root systems. By artificially raising grade over already existing root system. So how bad is mulch 3 in or more existing Over 3 years or more creates perfect conditions for stem girdling roots which inevitably cause trees to strangle itself. So I can only suggest You get a trunk or root flare excavation for If you have been mulching for a while and bring things back to original grade. Also remember to remove old mulch before appying new. All one need to do is top dress the ground surface similar to how people do it for their lawn . I mean really whoever heard of 3 in or more top dressing over lawn , I guess that would keep down weeds. Lastly donut mulching by pulling back away from trunk is only half correct. Since donut mound Also forces suffocated root system below to grow new emergency roots at or above ground level waiting to inevitably trip up widening trunk.

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