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Drought casualties

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

This dry year, the record breaking heatwave is

having a severe impact on my trees. With the water table dropping some 25 feet in my garden, the root system of my beloved peace tree (Davidia involucrata) pictured right, and its specific fungal partners, has been deprived of water for much longer than normal.

To conserve what little is left,this tree has closed its leaves, cut them off and dropped them. They quickly yellowed during the July heatwave and the vast majority dropped in the first week of August.

This 18-year old tree was planted to celebrate the birth of my son. It should live a hundred years or so. There is a good chance that it may never recover however, for the volume of rain needed to percolate down and raise the water table for its roots to drink from, is still awaited. To me the signals of global heating are frighteningly clear. Once trees die before even reaching maturity then we've got a problem. Some of the tree whips I planted last year have also dried and died.

My old apple-tree, pictured left, has reached autumn at least a month early this year. The fruit are small, though sweet, with some dropping already before they have reached their full volume and flavour.

My orchardist friend is concerned that dry years such as this may well reduce fruit harvests, and long term may challenge the sector as trees take years to recover.

I have brought our community apple juicing event forwards two weeks to account for the seasonal change that this drought has brought upon us. In the meantime my fingers are crossed for more rain but no floods.

What really worries me is that there is no turning back. We can't turn the climate thermostat down now; the gentle weather we once called normal has left us forever. How many trees will simply dry up and die if droughts like this one become more longlasting and heatwaves more severe?

We need to plan and prepare better for future weather extremes now. It is unlikely that this Government will sign up to the Climate and Ecology bill, though I'm sure that a future government with a better understanding of the urgency of the environmental crises we are in would do so as a priority.

We are the least forested country in Europe, well below the average 30% tree cover. We need a well organised tree planting initiative - planting the right tree in the right place - and allowing natural reforestation to grow on land that can accommodate it. Let's hope this government doesn't return to the idea of selling off our public forest estates again, as they did a few years ago. Let's avoid the Forest of Dean becoming the Desert of Dean.

Chris McFarling

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