Friday, September 23, 2016

The Wood Wide Web

If you're planning an autumn walk in the woods, may I waylay you for a moment?  The facts revealed in an intriguing new book will definitely add to your enjoyment.
Let me whet your appetite.

Called "The Hidden Life of Trees", the book's author, Peter Wohlleben, a German forester, was interviewed on the "Today" programme on Radio 4.
"For the past hundred years," he told us, "we've been looking at nature like a machine . . . " he then went on to prove just how mistaken we've been.

Trees, it seems, are tribal.  Each member of the same species is intent not on personal growth, but on the wellbeing of the family.   Each species, according to Peter Wohlleben, is "genetically as far away from each other as you and a goldfish".

He went on to tell his listeners that the trees within each tribe communicate by means of electric signals from the roots, these roots being brain-like structures which have brain-like processes.  This information can range from the whereabouts of nourishment in the soil to warnings of insect attacks.

What's more, it seems that, at the point where the web of roots cease, the information is still carried forward, this time by means of the surrounding fungal network . . . not so much an inter-net as an under-net.  In fact, this is what scientists have named the complex network, they call it The Wood Wide Web.

Just think about it for a moment, centuries before the advent of the computer, trees had an equally efficient social network by means of which they could support each other.  By this understanding, a spruce tree in Sweden, known to be well over nine thousand years old, has been 'online' for a very long time!

The information was fascinating.  Did you know, I didn't, that a mother tree can recognise its own seedling?
Not only that, it can provide the seedling with food, and nurture its growth.  It will even curb its own root growth to make more room for its progeny.

I was equally astonished to hear of the antipathy between the beech and the oak.  A hostility so strong that beech woods can intentionally weaken the growth of any oaks on their periphery.  Willows, it appears, are loners . . . poplars keep themselves to themselves.

Wohlleben's experience had taught him that trees can make decisions, have memories and even different characters.  "City trees," he declared, "are like street kids, isolated and struggling."
I'll be looking at London's trees very differently in the future.

It was an absorbing interview . . . but surely some of its conclusions were anticipated by Shakespeare?

"And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."

Enjoy your walk!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

An eventful week

I wonder if your attention, like mine, was captured by an interview on Radio 4 last week?

The person being questioned was the Professor of Folkloristics at the University of Iceland.
The topic being discussed was the intriguing and unlikely subject of elves!

Elves are recognised in Iceland, their sacred sites are respected.
However, following an earth-slip in the proximity of a supposedly enchanted elfin rock, the rock had been accidentally moved and muddied. In the wake of this mistreatment, several disturbing incidents had reportedly taken place.

The elves, it seemed, had needed to be appeased, and a decision had been made by the Iceland Road Administration to replace and clean the rock.  Click here if you'd like to learn more.

As for the bemused interviewer on Radio 4, it was clearly beyond his comprehension that intelligent Icelanders should give credence to such beliefs.

Nor has it just been the elves who've made their presence felt this week . . . there were other items in the news that further undermine our notion of being in control.

Is it mere coincidence that international newspapers, which have long made no serious mention of UFOs, are now falling over themselves to disclose the latest information?

The Sunday Express reported that astronauts, on a recent space walk from the International Space Station, were taken aback by the unexpected appearance of UFOs  - click here for a video and more details.

Then, with the American Press circulating news of sightings off Malibu, the British Press has responded by featuring photos of a UFO zooming low over the rooftops in Manchester . . . all in the past few days.

Elves . . . Extra Terrestrials . . . could it be that the universe is more complex than we've allowed ourselves to believe?

Preoccupied with the creation of artificial intelligence, intelligence designed to serve our own needs, have we been blinding ourselves to what is already there?
Could it be that, hovering on the edge of our blinkered vision, other life forms are observing us?
Life forms, perhaps, whose intelligence exceeds our own?

Judging by this week's events, we could be about to find out.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Worth more than medals

May I share some good news . . . some good news relating to trees?

In order to appreciate its significance, just glance at this map of the British Isles.

In particular, study the outline of Wales . . .  appreciate the size, note the considerable distance from north to south, from east to west.
Now, picture a forest the size of the area you've been studying . . . a beautiful, natural forest, an area of woodland free of invasive towns or industry, with no more than the occasional road winding its way between the trees.
Wouldn't you agree that this would constitute an impressively large forest?

However, and this is the good news, what we've been imagining is no myth.  It has very strong roots in the soil of reality.
Back in 2010, with the support of the Prince of Wales, a Welsh charity was founded.
It was born out of anxiety and determination . . . anxiety at the rapid disappearance of the world's rain-forests, and a determination to do something about it.

There was, however, a guiding stipulation . .  .   any areas of forest that it took under its wing needed to be the size of Wales itself.
It was an inspired idea, an idea which gave rise to the name of the charity, 'The Size of Wales'.

Since its inception, forests have been established on the continent of Africa in Guyana, the Republic of Congo, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Kenya which, together, cover an area the size of Wales.
Now, with the Olympics and Paralympics focusing the world's attention on South America, the charity has set its sights on Peru.

But the good news doesn't end there, it extends to the Olympic Games themselves.  The lasting legacy won't be limited to the precious medals that many athletes carried home.  Although they represent success, they lack the long-term value of the gifts handed to the athletes at the Opening Ceremony.

On entering the Maracana Stadium each athlete was given a precious seed, a 'Seed of Hope'.  When the Paralympics are over, these seeds will find a permanent home in the Deodoro Olympic Park to the west of Rio.  An area which, in time, will be known as The Athletes' Forest.

This was where the equestrian events took place . . . where Valegro gave his winning performance.
The Park also housed the modern pentathlon, shooting, rugby and hockey . . . not forgetting throngs of enthusiastic spectators.

The arenas, car-parks and tiers of seats will be removed.  What remains will be the perfect setting for a potential forest . . . and, who knows, the top-quality manure deposited by the horses could help the seeds to grow!

In the short term, let's celebrate those well-earned medals.
But, looking ahead, it's the more permanent items of good news that deserve our gratitude.
The news that The Size of Wales is establishing a global imprint . . . that The Athletes' Forest will literally take root in Brazil.

Athletes of the future may well have courage, ability and determination, but, above all else, they'll need oxygen . . .   this is the vital life-force that forests alone provide.

Do you see what anxiety and determination can achieve?
And, fortunately for all of us, The Size of Wales and the IOC are not alone in their endeavours.
To see what else is going on, click here . . . and marvel.