Sustainability educator, Jen Ringbauer, reflects on the use of roadside trees during election campaigns.

I have recently been angered by seeing trees being used as posts on which politicians are placing political slogans.

It is debatable whether the big ten centimetre long screws used to attach these plastic corflutes do damage to the trees but I believe that these screws must have an impact on each tree’s health. If we were to liken these screws to a nail or pin being placed into our own limbs, we could discover that these puncture sites are places of infection. If our health was compromised in any way, this site of infection could lead to more significant illness or death.

What is so important about these trees growing along our roads?

On my daily commute I see farms that are used for grazing. On these, it is common to see Eucalyptus trees standing in isolation – many metres away from any other trees. Not unlike the massive dieback of eucalypt trees found in New England in the 1960’s, it is my understanding that these single paddock trees will die in the next 20 years or so because they are so isolated in soil that is managed to grow better pasture, rather than forest. The tree will weaken because of the lack of support for the tree’s health that would normally occur.

It is not news to anyone that in the last 200 years we have ripped out countless trees in the name of agriculture. In The Call of the Reed Warbler, Charles Massy states, “90% of temperate woodland have been cleared” (p.257). Thankfully there has been a notable change in the last decade or so with farmers putting corridors of trees in their paddocks in the view to increasing biodiversity, or to create windbreaks to increase the lambing rates within their systems. Recent findings show multiple benefits to the productivity of farms with increased numbers of trees in their system increasing productivity.

Along roadsides there are many autogenous trees grown in natural, and arguably unmanaged ecosystems. Massy also states that “many ecologists regard forest ecosystems as the most important component of the biosphere” (p. 257). Pope Francis also mentions, “… different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems.” (Laudato Si’ 32)

There are so many known benefits to these groups of trees. Some are:

·       Cooling effect on the road

·       Water holding capacity increased in the soil around the roots

·       Improving the oxygen cycle

·       Improving the carbon cycle

·       Aesthetics

·       Habitat for small and large wildlife

·       Corridor for small and large wildlife

·       Genetic seed library for flora in the ecosystem

·       Diversity in soil types and the fungal life we are just beginning to appreciate

·       Habitat for climate change refugees (fauna)

It is also important to mention that if we do not protect these trees and they die, it is unlikely that we will be able to replace these species in the same site due to the changed climate and the inability for new trees to survive longer summers and changing water availability at their fragile and tender age. Dr Leslie Hughes, Climate Councillor, advocates considering the future climate when choosing species for new tree plantings and to choose trees that now survive in climates that your own climate will look like in the next 5 to 10 years.

Roadside trees and their ecosystems have true value and significance in our environment. They are under-appreciated, taken for granted and their ecosystems are irreplaceable. However, once they are gone, they will be sorely missed.

For more information about the importance of trees:

·       The Call of the Reed Warbler Charles Massy

·       The secret life of trees Colin Tudge or

·       The Hidden life of Trees  Peter Wohlleben

·       https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/nature/landholderNotes15WildlifeCorridors.pdf

·       Professor Lesley Hughes in Bathurst Part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJb9C79YMxs

·       Professor Lesley Hughes in Bathurst Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmuTBgyxgjY