Tree-hugging’s an oft-maligned activity, those who practise it written off as weird, eccentric or quirky. Yet trees are one of nature’s most precious resources. They sequester carbon, ease flooding, moderate rising temperatures and nurture troubled souls. Surely it would be stranger not to acknowledge their presence, to take it for granted even and only raise an eyebrow when once tree-lined urban streets are suddenly bereft of all greenery, specimens sometimes felled to curb the spread of disease, but also to make way for housing developments or to quote Canadian singersongwriter Joni Mitchell: ‘They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.’
Now, it seems city-dwellers the world over are joining forces with the tree-huggers and also beginning to wrap their arms around these forces of nature – if only metaphorically in some cases – with campaigners from south-east London to New South Wales encouraging everyone to plant saplings and reap the benefits of green streets.
Rural communities, of course, have long recognised the importance of green spaces and how they protect all the Earth’s citizens, but for some those roots extend deeper and wider. For the indigenous communities of Ecuador and the Brazilian Amazon in South America, for example, they are part of a life-support system as well as sacred areas where generations of their ancestors rest. And in countries across Africa, from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, hopes are high that a home-grown initiative – a vast green wall comprising a montage of trees and shrubs – can combat drought and desertification.
All the while this global patchwork of green spaces is providing respite for human hearts and minds. A single olive tree in a neglected square is enough to slow racing thoughts, kindly providing shade and solace. The benefits of trees to mental health is substantial. We have an instinctive and deep connection to them and in urban spaces that might otherwise be colourless they offer precious sensory relief.
In times of adversity, a tree is an uncomplaining and generous friend. Let’s join forces and hug them warmly and openly. Let’s save paradise.
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