Why you should be a tree hugger too

Sue Nethercott
5 min readJul 14, 2023

‘I hate tree-huggers’ — so said Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the so-called Labour Party.

Treees from my window. © Sue Nethercott

Why you should be a tree hugger too!

Sir Keir Starmer apparently shares the Tory desire to prioritise economic growth over this green and pleasant land and its people.

Yes, we need a strong economy where everyone who can work can get a decent paid job, and we can afford to look after those who can’t. But that is not the kind of economy that Tory policies have brought us, so he should not share them. And the Bank of England is raising interest rates which makes it harder for people to survive and causes people to be thrown out of work. It’s the same with the Federal Reserve and the Republican Party in the U.S. The right wing, which these days includes the Labour Party, are bad for the environment and for the economy — unless you are already very rich. And yes, you don’t want you or your property under a tree which has not been maintained and is about to fall.

So why hug trees?

Well, maybe hugging is not strictly necessary except to stop someone from chopping a tree down, but we should all appreciate trees.

Our ancestors came down from the trees. Prior to the industrial revolution, trees supplied us with food, warmth, light, housing, weapons, boats, utensils and fences for our livestock and property-owning ways, at a rate that the forests could not sustain. Unlike modern materials, trees could grow back. Without trees we could not have spread into cooler climes. But since then we have been voracious in our use of trees and our population has exploded, and the trees cannot cope any more. But stories of cutting down trees date back to at least 2100BC with the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Trees are good for us

Research has shown that suitable trees can reduce crime, yet cities have declared war on trees. Sometimes they replace them, but it takes many decades for trees to mature. Often when large numbers of trees are planted, they are the wrong kind of tree or on the wrong kind of soil or are not watered until they are established, so many trees die. On the other hand, letting forest regrow on their own can store more carbon.

Many of our modern medicines owe their origins to plants including trees. These include aspirin from willow and quinine from the Cinchona tree. They also provide us with fruit and nuts.

In cities, trees capture carbon dioxide, reduce air pollution and slow the flow of rainwater, reducing flood risks. One report estimated that the value of the services we get from non-woodland trees ranges to be between £1.4bn and £3.8bn a year, depending on the methodology used. They provide shade, cooling our streets. The produce oxygen and phytoncides, which strengthen our immune, hormonal, circulatory and nervous systems when we breathe them in. The UK government estimated the Mental health benefits of visiting UK Woodlands at £185 million. The hobby of forest bathing reduces anxiety.

According to DEFRA, “Trees beautify and shape our landscapes, are part of our culture and heritage, providing us with health and wellbeing benefits. Some tree species can help absorb air pollution, they also sequester carbon, provide spaces for recreation, enhance landscapes, reduce sound, keep our environments cool, and reduce risks such as flooding. Trees provide timber and food and vital habitats for wildlife. Protecting trees from pests and disease will be essential in realising our ambition to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation”.

Trees are good for farms

Mixing farms with forests can help the UK reach net zero as well as boosting income and providing a better environment for livestock. It also helps pollinators — without which many crops would not survive. They pollinate £690 million worth of crops globally each year and need sources of food every day that they are not hibernating, so the greater the variety the better. Planting trees — increasing diversity — makes it harder for disease to spread. We now know that trees can communicate warnings with each other so they can prepare to defend themselves. We know it works because it was how we did things prior to world war 2, before turning to monoculture. But America turned to monoculture before that, plowing up prairies to grow grain. As a result, wind blew away the topsoil, creating the Dust Bowl and driving people off their farms. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded by planting 220 million trees, saving the land and providing work for the people. The walls of trees moderate the microclimate downwind, “improve water retention in the soil, provide a nutrient sink for some of the farmland and give shelter to wildlife, including birds that help cut down on insects”. This and other New Deal projects brought the American economy out of the Great Depression. America has long had a love-hate relationship with trees.

Grubbing out hedges (which included trees) has resulted increased runoff from fields, which increases flooding and includes pollution from whatever the farmer has spread or sprayed on the fields, which can cause toxic algal blooms down river. The trees may also provide shelter for livestock in increasingly hot summers and a healthy variation on their diet.

Trees can lock up carbon for centuries, and it is stored in the soil when leaves fall. Indeed, some coal formed from trees dates back to the Carboniferous period between 358.9 and 298.9 million years ago.

A lot of wildlife depends on trees both for a home and for food. No wonder our biodiversity is in decline. Oaks are havens for 2,300 wildlife species, for example, but it takes 400 years for them to reach their full potential.

Trees are good for the economy.

As already explained above, they:

  • saved America from the Dust Bowl
  • are good for our physical and mental health
  • help safeguard food production from the drawbacks of monoculture
  • give us food and medicines
  • make cities healthier and more liveable
  • capture carbon
  • reduce flooding
  • save our topsoil
  • make the economy more resistant to natural disasters

All of these things save us money and provide a cushion against disaster

A party that does not understand this has no business being the opposition party to the Tories whose views it shares.

So go on, Keir Starmer, hug a tree. You may like it! And it certainly won’t hurt you.

P.S. I don’t have any photos of me hugging a tree, so here’s one of Jenny Jones, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb.

I’m a #Treehugger @KeirStarmer pic.twitter.com/ugfAvxZwa0

— Jenny Jones (@GreenJennyJones) July 9, 2023

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Sue Nethercott

Open University BA, UMIST MSc, OU BSc Environmental Studies. Interests: environment, COVID19. Double #ostomate. Thom Hartmann’s newsletter editor. Views my own.