An ecologist is advocating for our ancient forests, claiming that the trees have a message for us.
Edward Green is known as a rebellious individual who refers to sheep as “land maggots” and a horse-riding center as a “dog-food complex”. In his new book, the ancient tree expert includes a photo of himself making an obscene gesture towards a portrait of Margaret Thatcher.
However, the renowned and rebellious Green, aged 89, has resided near Windsor Great Park for his entire life and continues to serve as a conservation consultant for the crown estate. He is also a strong supporter of King Charles’s efforts to preserve Britain’s exceptional collection of historic trees.
Accompanying the Guardian on a scenic journey through Windsor Great Park, which boasts a vast number of centuries-old oak trees, Green explains that the king’s efforts not only protect these invaluable and exceptional biodiverse landmarks, but also preserve their genetic makeup for future generations of ancient trees.
We travel through restricted gates where he previously trespassed, and Green gestures towards King Offa’s oak, an impressively strong and expansive tree estimated to be 1,300 years old.
“The tree you are looking at is a 1000-year-old gene bank with more than thousand-year-old gene-bank soil,” he says. “Conserving the genes of these ancient trees is absolutely priceless.”
The young tree beside it, along with many others throughout the park, were planted by the king himself. They were carefully propagated from twigs of old oak trees in order to preserve their distinct genetic makeup for future generations.
Essentially, it is important for the roots of the young sapling to be colonized by mycorrhizal fungi and micro-organisms from the ancient tree, which is grown from Windsor acorns. This ensures that hundreds of species that rely on the original tree for support can continue to thrive.
Green describes the king as a good young man.
Green has spent his entire life questioning those in positions of power and widely accepted scientific beliefs. He was born in Cheapside, a village located next to a park. During his childhood, his father was absent while serving in the war and was later declared deceased when a Japanese attack caused a boat carrying prisoners of war to sink. As a result, Green and his mother, who had become a war widow, were forced to leave their home and reside in a rundown ex-military shed with a roof that constantly leaked.
When Green was a child, he was often sick and couldn’t go to school. From the age of six, he spent a lot of time wandering around Windsor Great Park without permission. This is where he gained a lot of knowledge about trees and birds. When he was a teenager, he rode his bike for 160 miles in two days to go birdwatching in Norfolk.
A renowned ornithologist recognized Green’s talent and encouraged him to work as a technician at Imperial College’s field station near the park. For 34 years, Green assisted numerous scientists until budget cuts at Thatcher’s university resulted in his job loss. He then became an advisor for the crown estate in Windsor, where he is still well-known for bringing together ecologists, arborists, and conservationists who may have conflicting views.
Green’s guidance to the Knepp estate regarding their struggling ancient oak trees was instrumental in the decision of owners Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree to rewild their land. According to Green, rewilding is a form of soil conservation.
Tree states that Green is a mycorrhizal fungi, serving as a bridge between concepts and individuals. Green is also described as an innovative and independent thinker, continuously questioning established beliefs and environmental principles.
She admires Ted for his unique thought process. Unlike most academics, he did not follow the traditional university path and instead taught himself through his experiences as a wild child. His perspective is original and stems from direct observation in nature. In meetings, he is not afraid to confidently express disagreement and push for unconventional ideas. He thrives on sharing knowledge and promoting collaboration, which is essential in the scientific community. Many of his ideas may seem radical at first, but upon further consideration, they often hold validity. He continuously thinks outside of the box.
Green’s latest book, Treetime, released by the Arboricultural Association charity and financed by Green with his £25,000 winnings from premium bonds, contains a wealth of extensive expertise, daring concepts, and thought-provoking ideas.
According to him, non-native trees are not a concern and he believes that the impact of shade is more harmful to British forests than high deer populations. He strongly opposes the current trend of planting dense, dark, and unproductive forests in the name of carbon capture.
According to him, trees that grow freely for 400 years will absorb much more carbon than a group of small, densely planted trees that only live for less than 100 years. These open-grown trees also provide significant advantages for biodiversity, temperature control, and even produce fruit. He emphasizes the importance of urban forests, which primarily consist of open-grown trees.
Great Britain is home to a large number of these trees, with England alone possessing over 3,400 ancient oak trees that are at least 400 years old. This number far exceeds the amount found in all of continental Europe. These oaks play a crucial role in supporting over 2,000 different species of animals, plants, and fungi. In comparison, non-native spruce trees have been found to only support 37 species of invertebrates.
According to Green, our island is small and has a supply of coal, leading to a decrease in the need for wood as fuel. Additionally, we are fortunate to not have experienced war for 400 years. In times of war, refugees and armies often require wood, so our lack of conflict has also contributed to the preservation of our wood resources. Finally, we must show gratitude to our aristocracy for helping to maintain our wood reserves.
Regrettably, according to Green, there are benches located next to the River Thames “that receive greater protection than our historic trees”.
In France, maps indicate the locations of significant ancient trees. Green states, “Almost all European countries hold their old trees in high esteem, while we tend to overlook them.”
Green and other experts in ancient trees believe that tree preservation orders are ineffective due to limited resources within local authorities for enforcing the law and safeguarding trees. Green suggests implementing a system for listing ancient trees and providing funding for enforcement and assistance to owners in maintaining their mature trees.
The Heritage Trees bill, proposed by Barbara Young as a private member’s bill in the House of Lords this month, aims to accomplish this goal. However, the chances of it being passed without government backing are low.
Green is concerned that traditional conservation efforts do not acknowledge the responsibility we have to protect our collection of historic trees. He believes that these trees hold important messages for us. Just as miners used canaries to gauge the safety of the mines, we can observe the health of Europe by looking at the health of its trees. Green believes that our primary duty is to preserve the ancient trees in Europe.
His one wish would be for trees to receive the same level of respect and recognition as historic buildings, as he believes they are also a form of living heritage.