As I write this blog I’m sat at the end of my hallway with my computer balanced on top of a pile of books, hemmed in by displaced furniture and various bits of office paraphernalia (phase 3 of our annual home improvement and re-decoration schedule has been going on for what seems an interminable 4 weeks already) whilst my man stands next to me with his computer resting on a still unwrapped furniture delivery, trying to research plant variants that have sprouted in our garden, which we don’t recognise.
We’re not green-fingered, but we do like to try and make sense of our green space without destroying all life within it. You only have to look up to see that we’re unusual in this respect. It seems that the majority of people are hell-bent on ‘managing’ nature, particularly when it comes down to so-called tree maintenance a.k.a. the ceaseless year-round topping, lopping and felling of trees. Question: When is a tree not a tree? Answer: When some idiot has butchered all its magnificent branches back to stubs and spindly, finger-like projections have grown in place of the beautiful tree-shaped canopy that once was…or cut it down completely to an ugly stump.
Stupid is as stupid does. I’m convinced the obsessive compulsion to mess with trees is a form of egocentric behaviour that satisfies man's craving for power and control. With big tool in hand - I mean chain-saw - I believe the power rush they get from hacking, sawing and destroying a living entity is an addiction that feeds on itself. Not only do they spoil the look of the trees that still stand, the resulting pitiful, topped and disfigured specimens are left with open wounds that are vulnerable to attack from invading pathogens (fungi and bacteria). Cutting back, thinning out and removing branches destroys a tree’s natural defences - the tree bark that protects the underlying tree tissue. It also threatens its life support system - the loss of leaves that are every tree’s source of food. Exposed to the sun, the cuts are in effect death wounds and the removal of a large percentage of leaf-bearing branches, starvation.
If a starving tree has enough energy, it will send out multiple shoots beneath the cuts to try and replace its leaves as quickly as possible. These new shoots will never be as strong as the original branch they emerge from and can easily snap off even years after they’ve grown back to the size that the tree was before it was attacked. Furthermore, trees can’t heal - they try to defend themselves by closing off their wounds with a tough, woody substance called wound wood. A tree’s ability to seal off its wounds depends on many variables; its age, species, health and vigour, the size and shape of the wound and the time of year. If a tree can’t respond quickly to its injury it falls prey to rot, insect infestation and wood decay, which in turn leads to a loss of vitality and vigour that results in the tree’s inevitable decline, dieback and structural failure.
It is of course a cunning way for tree cutters to future-proof their industry. If you didn’t need the services of a tree surgeon before, you most certainly will when your decayed and dying trees become a health and safety issue for you and your neighbours!
Despite all the ugliness surrounding them, people still have embedded in their sub-conscious that regular tree felling and pruning is both necessary and good. "It lets in more light; it prevents tree root damage to property; it stops the mess trees create (have they not heard of a broom?); wet leaves are dangerous; tall trees block TV/Sky/Broadband reception; it spoils my view; I can’t see the sky (!); I need the space for off-road parking…" are just some of the excuses given. Then there are the unqualified tree surgeons stalking the neighbourhood for mature trees that they can cash-in on, knocking on doors and persuading homeowners that their trees are an imminent threat unless they are cut-back. I give them short thrift, but many folk are convinced.
What these people don’t seem to know or appreciate is:
- Trees give us oxygen and oxygen helps us breathe - a mature tree in season produces as much oxygen as ten people inhale in a year!
- Trees give birds and animals shelter so if you cut them down you’re messing up their homes.
- Trees help clear the air of heat and pollutant gases.
- Trees clean the soil - trees filter dangerous chemicals and pollutants out of the soil, which helps assure our food security.
- Trees absorb carbon dioxide and help stop global warming.
- Trees help conserve rain (to prevent drought) and reduce the likelihood of flooding. They fight soil erosion by protecting the soil from surface flooding - binding soil to sloping land with their roots.
- Trees help control noise pollution.
- Trees mask ugliness and keep unsightly structures from view.
- Trees save energy. In winter they act as wind breaks - breaking the force of cold, blustery winds and reducing the cost of heating your home. In summer, strategically planted trees around your home shield your property from UV rays and reduce the need for air conditioning.
- Trees give us food - e.g. nuts and fruits.
- Trees improve human health and well-being. As well as offering cooling shade and protecting us from the sun’s harsh rays, they are aesthetically pleasing to look at. Full of life, strong and magnificent, their beauty is more than skin deep. Exposure to trees and nature calms the mind and uplifts the soul. Being in a natural environment surrounded by trees can lower blood pressure and heart rate. Hospital patients who have a view of trees from their window heal quicker, take less drugs and have fewer post surgical complications than those who don’t. Even babies born to mothers that live near to trees are less likely to be underweight.
- Trees increase property values significantly - they not only beautify your property and the surrounding area, there is less fear and violence in well-planted, green spaces than there is in and around homes in barren neighbourhoods. Houses surrounded by trees sell for 15-25 percent higher than houses with no trees.
Since trees do so much to benefit humans, we think it’s best to leave them alone to do their job. No radical pruning of healthy trees is required or allowed! Our reward is a semi-wild garden that nature has developed into something quite Disney-like. As well as owls, doves, pigeons, innumerable songbirds, hedgehogs, mice, frogs, bats, the occasional pheasant seeking refuge from the local Sunday shoot, and a hungry female sparrowhawk that knows for sure there are rich pickings to be had, we live harmoniously alongside a small army of grey squirrels that are accidentally planting more trees.
Because humans have destroyed so much of the natural landscape, squirrels have been forced to adapt to a more urban environment to survive. Grey squirrels have adapted more successfully than their red squirrel counterparts, but that doesn’t excuse the widespread racism against grey squirrels, which vilifies them with exaggerated claims that they damage/kill trees by bark stripping and excuses the culling of them because, according to urban myth, grey squirrels are deemed pests that destroy property and cause a decline in red squirrel populations. As with the obsession for tree-pruning, it’s all a load of twaddle. Both red and grey squirrels strip tree bark to build their dreys (squirrel nests) and to get to the underlying wood as a source of nutrition when times are hard but, unlike human crime against trees, the damage they cause is minimal and it doesn’t kill the trees. Here are the facts about the demise of red squirrels and, as you might expect, it’s mostly down to humans!
Given that the natural habitat of squirrels is now disappearing at a rate of knots, they make their dreys in any tree-like structure they can find. Four years ago, around the time our next door neighbour cut down an entire copse of eighteen mature trees, one beautiful, dedicated, mamma squirrel sought shelter on our roof under the solar panels, where she built her drey and tried to raise her kittens (baby squirrels). Sadly, it was not meant to be. Somehow, mum sustained a fatal injury to her back and later that day (Friday 13th April 2012) two kittens fell out of their nest and slid straight off the roof - three storeys high - directly onto the solid concrete path outside our back door. What to do? Tiny, helpless and with their eyes still closed, we had no choice but to take on the immediate squirrel care challenge in front of us!
In the first few weeks of life, baby squirrels don’t do much more than eat, sleep and grow. However, it wasn’t long before our two little boys became gorgeous handfuls of wriggly, noisy, messiness that took over our lives completely. Active during daylight hours, they lived right next to my desk in our home office. Despite the immense parental responsibilities thrust upon us, we soon discovered what a life-affirming joy these intelligent, industrious, characterful and acrobatic critters are. With the help and support of Clarissa Summers we loved and cherished little Kipp and Lucky 24/7, until they were about six months old and ready to be released back into the wild. Our boys may be long gone, but our love and respect for squirrels lives on.
Whether chasing each other from tree branch to tree branch, jumping around in the tops of our trees, sitting perfectly still in the classic squirrel pose with their tail arched over their back, pausing in front of us to munch on a nut or cheekily peering through the window to get our attention, squirrels are without doubt the cutest, most entertaining of all the wildlife species living in our garden, and we happily pay the price to secure their allegiance. Not only do we make executive-style squirrel boxes to keep them warm and safe, we’re also their most reliable food source - namely, an all-year-round supply of best-quality walnuts (their favourite), hazelnuts and, when in-season, acorns too. It’s part of a deliberate plan. The squirrels have learned how to exploit our generosity by approaching us with charming gestures that signal their need for more nuts, and we know that large quantities of these will be stored in the ground. As squirrels don’t always remember where they’ve buried their nuts, there’s always the potential for some of their cache to take root and grow into new trees.
Helping squirrels survive and thrive in captivity very much depends on what you feed them. As well as whole nuts, fruit and veggies, I used to make my two boys nutritious seed and nut balls that helped them grow strong and kept them noisily bouncing around their cage for hours. It seems timely that today’s recipe for Lucky’s Nut Truffles (no prizes for guessing why I’ve called them that) are an energy ball equivalent for humans. These blissful little bombs of goodness mix protein, vitamins, fibre, minerals and essential fats and are a chocolatey, nutty delight to enjoy any time you need an energy boost. Sweetly satisfying and sustaining, Lucky’s Nut Truffles are ideal for a pre or post workout snack, yet still dainty enough for some after dinner indulgence. Incredibly moreish, I suggest you squirrel away a plentiful stash for yourself in the refrigerator, where they could (but I predict won’t!) last a couple of weeks.
Lucky’s Nut Truffles (make about 22)
100g organic raw walnuts
100g organic raw hazelnuts, unskinned
15g raw cacao powder
100g Medjool dates, pitted (about 6)
1 ½ shots (60 ml) freshly brewed espresso-strength coffee
1 tbsp smooth almond butter
3 tbsp coconut butter
2 tsp organic ground cinnamon
2 drops organic liquid stevia
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
50g organic shredded coconut, for coating
Pre-heat the oven to 180℃ / 350℉ / Gas mark 4.
Put the pitted dates into a bowl and pour over the hot coffee. Set aside.
Place the walnuts and hazelnuts together on a baking tray and toast for 8-9 minutes.
Place the shredded coconut on a separate baking sheet and toast at the same temperature for 5-6 minutes, or until a deep golden brown. Leave on the tray to cool.
Tip the toasted nuts - it doesn’t matter if they’re still warm - into a food processor bowl and blitz until finely chopped. Don’t allow all the walnuts and hazelnuts to become totally smooth as some slightly larger, crunchy pieces in the mix adds texture. Empty the ground nuts into a bowl and set aside.
Add the dates, coffee, cacao powder, almond and coconut butters, ground cinnamon, vanilla extract and liquid stevia to the now empty processor bowl (no need to wash it first) and process until the mixture clumps together into a sticky, gooey paste. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times to ensure an even mix.
Add the toasted nuts to the paste and pulse everything together until the nuts are evenly distributed.
Using a dessertspoon, scoop the dough into individual bite-sized portions (approximately 17g each) and roll anti-clockwise between the palms of your hands into smooth, round balls.
To finish, roll the truffles in the toasted coconut.
Carbohydrate 6g Protein 2g - per truffle