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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.

I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

When did you last plant a tree?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Recently Cicerone Guidebooks kindly gave Around Britain No Plane a very young oak tree. But where to plant it? Words by Nicola Baird 

My new oak tree, safe for a while in a big pot away from the bantams.
If I've got a proper life regret, then it's that I haven't planted enough trees. We all know we should plant more trees - to mop up pollution, provide habitat,  maybe even offer a sense of continuum - it's just that I don't really have anywhere I can put trees. My back garden is titchy and the hens and dog are expert at ruining any planting schemes I might have. And I live in London where the dreaded word subsidence is always linked to trees. Subsidence by the way is allegedly caused by street and garden tree roots undermining your home in their search for nourishment and water.

Worse for my tree planting dreams, my last purchase was a bowsaw which I intend to use to reduce the height of my giant privet hedge.

But I still long to plant trees. One a day is the Man Who Planted Trees mantra - and I have planted a few, maybe 100. Some highlights include:
  • Acorns taken from trees later felled along the Newbury Bypass which are now growing at my brother's house.
  • The mini orchard (you only need five trees to make an orchard!) in my home's front garden.
  • The new whippet thin hedge saplings planted when I was doing a three month long course with British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, now the TCV.
  • The small native woodland trees my friend Hannah has got me to plant in Wales. Always done when it's freezing.
  • The olive tree that got put in my children's primary school grounds when the playground was remodelled.
  • At Christmas my brother and I had the fun of planting two crazy trees in his garden - a little hazel which has truffles added to the root ball; and a weeping willow which he hopes to use as a picnic den, about 10 years from now...
Where to plant this baby oak?
This obsession with wanting to plant more trees means that I was thrilled to be given an oak sapling in February during a promotion for Britain"s National Trails by Cicerone, the publisher that specialises in long distance travel guides. I love the variety of Cicerone's guides and have The Danube Cycleway by my desk and on the kitchen table there's The Great Glen Way, just in case I have to take off, now... In some ways there is too much choice - Cicerone has 350 guidebooks and as a result has provided me with proper anorak information about Britain's National Trials... for instance 2016 will be:
  • 45 years since Offa's Dyke Path was established
  • 30 years sionce the opening of The Peddars Way and Norfolk coast Path
  • 20 years since TheThames Path became a national trail
  • 51 years since Britain's first national trail - the Pennine Way - was opened.

My husband and kids exploring the oak and hornbeam
woodland of Hatfield Forest, Essex - just beyond
Stansted Airport's runway.
Who will help me plant trees?
Walking and cycling across a long distance route are exactly the sort of times that get you thinking about landscape. Should the UK look so denuded?

Well it probably wouldn't if there were less sheep on the uplands and a different emphasis on land use. But that doesn't mean people aren't still planting trees. And the great thing is that it's possible to have a go yourself, even if you have zero outside space. For example:
  • The Woodland Trust is a fabulous organisation doing a lot of tree planting - thanks to people like you and me (well actually not me, but I hope soon to have a go!). See more about how to plant trees with them on local community land, at schools and even in urban areas, here.
  • The National Forest in Leicestershire is transforming 200 square miles into a huge forest. They rely on volunteers - so if you live in Leicestershire, Staffordshire or Derbyshire, or can make a trip to the Midlands, then you can help them out in their ambitions to plant more trees. See all the info here.
  • You can also look at Trust for Conservation Volunteers website - just type in your postcode - and loads of green (management tasks and tree planting) pop up. Rather sweetly some of these are called green gyms.

Seeing the wood and the trees
I can see a couple of trees from my window as I type this, but amazingly 45% of the land in Russia, more than 50% of Brazil, 31% of Canada and 30% of the US are forested.

In the UK only 11% is forested.

Depending on your point of view woods can be beautiful, calming, wildlife and ecosystem havens. They are also a huge source of our cultural capital - lots of stories hint at the dark deeds that could happen "if you go down to the woods today". That mix of oasis and death trap does perhaps confuse the way we react to the idea of a walk in the woods. I certainly prefer to go into woods with my dog - although he's no friend to the larger animals we meet there (squirrels, munjac deer etc). But in the woods I notice how much calmer I always feel, it's almost as if time stops when I make the effort to touch and smell the bark of a large tree trunk or look up into the canopy.

Devon woodland - a place to stand & stare.
What to see
In winter I love the architectural quality of trees. In spring it's fun to compare the shades of the new green leaves, and see if you can spot love birds quarrelling over which is the best tree. In summer they just offer wonderful shade, and then autumn it's the joy of catching falling leaves and enjoying the array of reds, auburns and yellow displays.

Thank you
So thank you to the trees, and thank you to anyone - like Cicerone - who has ever made it possible for me to plant a tree. As you can see from the photo at the top of the page my baby oak is currently in a pot and at some point is going to need relocating so the roots can get growing properly. But here's to a year of planting many more and enjoying the ones that we know best. Let me know your tree planting stories. Here's a cheer to anyone who manages to plant even one tree, and proper envy and big respect to whoever plants the most!