Ancient trees and the value of telling the truth

Who is it that drafts the spectacularly tone-deaf responses for the UK Government? Whenever a sentence begins “a spokesperson from X Dept/project/official body said”, you can guarantee the coming response will deliberately miss the point, and instead offer a mealy-mouthed platitude.

My most recent favourite is the one given to the BBC about the ancient woodland being felled for the development of HS2. Here it is:

“Seven million new trees and shrubs will be planted as part of the HS2 programme. The new native woodland will cover over 9 sq km of land.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? A new, 9 sq km forest. However, the real point that they’re missing is that ancient woodland is really irreplaceable. ‘Ancient woodland’ doesn’t just mean that it’s been there a while. Ancient woodland is forest that has been present on its site since 1750. They’re unique to their specific locale, have complex and unique communities of organisms living in them, and often have important archaeological features.

Here, the Woodland Trust:

Ancient woods are our richest and most complex terrestrial habitat in the UK and they are home to more threatened species than any other. Centuries of undisturbed soils and accumulated decaying wood have created the perfect place for communities of fungi and invertebrates. Other specialist species of insects, birds and mammals rely on ancient woodlands.’

Add to that, as the Guardian pointed out yesterday, they’re chopping down a 250 year old pear tree, too.

“It’s fine. 9 sq km of new trees. Stop panicking about it. It’s just trees.” – HS2 LTD, apparently. But yeah, tell me again about how nine kilometres of new trees is equal to unique, ancient woodland and a pear tree considerably older than most American states.

So long as we make decisions about invaluable, irreplaceable aspects of our world by privileging economic ideals and the values those ideals enshrine, we will never be able to create a society where we put the planet first.

Given all that, either the person drafting the response doesn’t truly understand the concern about the loss of ancient woodland (possible, and if so, shameful – brief your comms people better), or they do understand and they’re quite willing to ignore it in favour of trotting out something that sounds perfectly reasonable but in reality means nothing.

Ultimately, what bothers me, and has bothered me since I was small, is this; how can anyone trust their political system when even basic communication can’t get done without people lying through their teeth?

I’d have a granule more respect if they said what they really meant; ‘Yeah, this is happening. No we don’t care about your damn trees, now shut the fuck up.’

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