Trees and Climate Change

The advent of Dutch Elm Disease changed the English landscape forever. The Elm used to be the dominant tree in the hedgerow, but it is now a rarity that survives in only small, isolated populations.

Horse Chestnuts, although not extensively seen in the wider countryside, have been extensively planted as an amenity tree for centuries. Sadly, they are now being progressively killed by Bleeding Canker Disease, and like the Elm, we may have to learn to live without them in the future.

There is a firm consensus now that the climate is changing irreversibly, and by the time any trees that are planted now become mature, the climate will be quite different.

On the continent, there will be a natural migration of the flora northwards, but the English Channel will form a natural barrier to that migration into England. This means that we, as landowners, gardeners and growers, will have to get into a new mind set. It will be down to us to ensure that what we plant today will have a chance to live to maturity in the new climate.

Quite clearly, the first casualty amongst our native trees will be Beech. Every seriously dry year (1976 and 1986 for example) has put many Beeches into a terminal decline. Oaks, Limes, Hornbeam, Sycamore, Ash, Sweet Chestnut, Planes, Wild and Bird Cherry and Common Walnut are thriving now in France, and so we can look to their vigour and example to suggest what species we should be planting in England for the longer term. Italian Alder is another attractive and fast growing tree that could be more extensively planted. It is a nitrogen fixer and grows in a wide range of sites.

Whereas Sycamores and Field Maple should thrive, Norway Maple is likely to be replaced by the north-eastern American species – the Sugar Maple and The Silver Maple.

False Acacia (Robinia) can grow in very shallow sites and it should be more extensively planted. Amongst the conifers, the Firs (Abies) and Pines are likely to do better than the Spruces.

As tree planters we have a great responsibility for the future, and we are going to be greatly affected by climate change. It is absolutely necessary to confront this problem now.

Other practical responses should include consideration of the time of planting depending on the ground conditions – in some cases planting in the Autumn is the best course of action.

When planting larger standard trees it is important to consider the use of watering tubes, along with the use of mulch around the base. Mulch can be used on trees of all sizes and not only helps in conserving the soil moisture, but also reduces the weed competition which can be a major factor in dry summers.

If you would like further information, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Also, see our other specialised advice pages linked from the Information main menu.