One hundred years ago, on the battlefields of Flanders, lay a young officer of the Royal Horse Artillery. He was wounded, presumed dead.
Twice more during WWI he was wounded and recovered. He was awarded the Military Cross.
After the war he was able to pursue his dream and study forestry at Cambridge.
What do we know about trees?
He already had a deeper insight into trees and forestry than his Cambridge tutors. As a boy he had learned about trees by climbing those on Deacon Hill, West End. He knew to stay close to the trunk; that Holly had smooth bark and prickly leaves; that Oak had rough and scratchy bark but gentle leaves; that birch branches are narrow and brittle.
Later he learned at school about chlorophyll, sugars and transpiration. He probably watched a bean grow in a jar and saw how the bean shrank as the roots and stems elongated. Most of us did this.
Adults vs Trees
As adults many of us start to wage war against trees. People need fire wood. They tell us that a tree has to go, its leaves block the drains. Roots from this tree will damage my house, garage or garden shed. There is too much shade in the garden. The trees encourage squirrels which are vermin. This tree could fall and kill a child. So, one by one, trees are removed from our landscape.
“Men of the Trees”
Richard St. Barbe Baker (b 1889), for that was the young officer’s name, thought differently about trees. He travelled widely from his home at West End in the Borough of Eastleigh where he knew about the trees of Deacon Hill near to where the Rose Bowl Cricket ground is now.
He worked as a lumberjack in Saskatchewan, Canada. He realised long before the rest of the world the mathematics of tree felling. Cut trees make money for the lumber company. His equation was different, truer and will last for eternity:
“When the trees go, the rain goes, the climate deteriorates, the water table sinks, the land erodes and desert conditions soon appear”.
Tree loss means soil erosion, decreased biodiversity, loss of timber resource, climate change and decreased quality of life.
He began to encourage the planting of trees and had notable success in altering agricultural practices for the better in Kenya where he founded ‘Men of the Trees’, a group of Kikuyu chiefs and men who undertook to plant and husband at least 10 trees per year. Men of the Trees is now the International Tree Foundation and is credited with planting 26 million trees during St Barbe’s lifetime; he died in 1982.
During the 1950s he gave a talk at his old school, also my school. I remember it well partly because we did not have great expectations of a talk about mere trees but it was fascinating. At the time he was planning to halt the southerly expansion of the Sahara Desert by planting long bands of trees which would hold water in the soil and make the climate wetter. They also served as a barrier to the movement of sand. He was arranging planting in Nigeria, Kenya, and Palestine.
He was aware of the felling of the mighty Redwood trees in California and quickly gained the ear of President Franklin D Roosevelt. Preservation of the giant Redwood trees became law and you can see them today.
What about Today?
Would RStBB be happy with the tree situation in Chandler’s Ford? Many tress were lost in the building developments but householders have planted decorative blossom tress such as Magnolia, Flowering Cherry and Almond. These are now mature and will be a wonderful sight during the next two months.
Some people went for the quick fix of Pinus lawsonii. These quick growing conifers are now large, ugly, dark and sterilise the ground beneath them. Rooting them out and planting more acceptable species will be expensive.
Chandler’s Ford is one of the most beautiful places for trees. If you are fortunate enough to have trees in your garden, look after them well. The yew tree that my father-in-law gave us for the Christmas before he died served in the house for the 12 days. Now it survives in the garden and is over 6’ tall. It could be there for the next 1000 years.
If you lose a tree through death, disease or damage; plant another in its place.
Richard St. Barbe Baker
RStBB lived a long and active life and was a very spiritual man. His parents intended he should take the cloth but forestry won out although he was strongly evangelical in early life. Later he converted to the Bahá’í Faith, a monotheistic religion accepting Moses, Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed as manifestations of God.
Richard St. Barbe Baker was very highly acclaimed by all who knew him but apart from his MC, he received no official recognition. He was a citizen of the world rather than just one country. He kept his contacts with West End and helped with municipal developments there. West End has acknowledged him by a commemorative plaque in a small park and one of the roads bears his name.
Facts about an Oak tree
At 200 years old it will be
Weight 14 tons with 8 ton branches
Contain 12 M3 of wood and 4 tons of carbon
Grow initially at 30 Cm per year, slowing to 10 Cm per year
Transpires about 151,000 litres of water per annum
Provide a habitat for insects, birds and squirrels.
Produce acorns. These can be eaten by pigs. Good acorns sink in water, the infertile ones float.
Oak was the most important material for the Royal Navy.
It is said that the cross section area of branches plus trunk remains constant all the way up the tree. Looking out at my oak tree I am not convinced that is right. Mathematicians love to study the branching patterns of trees.