Wooden that be nice?

PUBLISHED: 16:11 05 October 2007 | UPDATED: 23:06 28 May 2010

Fenland is a tree-free zone. All right, that s a bit of an exaggeration. The monks who established abbeys at places like Ramsey and Thorney 1,000 years ago made sure they planted enough traditional English trees to give themselves shelter. In more recent

Fenland is a tree-free zone. All right, that's a bit of an exaggeration. The monks who established abbeys at places like Ramsey and Thorney 1,000 years ago made sure they planted enough traditional English trees to give themselves shelter.

In more recent times, those living in isolated farmhouses have protected themselves from northerly blasts by walls of rampant conifers.

It's not surprising we have so few trees. For centuries, all that grew across our flatlands were reeds, sedges and opium poppies. Fen Tigers saw little need to waste money by planting decorative trees across their muddy landscape.

Back in the 1970s, town planners actually got things right when they designed the tree-lined parkways around Peterborough. We're approaching that season of the year when the thousands of trees bordering Longthorpe Parkway and Parnwell Way turn gold and russet - and the city looks positively beautiful.

As an American visitor told me last year, "Why go to New England for the fall? You've got it on your doorstep."

Fenland does actually employ a tree officer. I'm very grateful to him. After a four year battle with the council, I finally got permission to grub up some straggly elder (bizarrely subject to a planning restraint) and plant a traditional, English holly hedge.

Presumably, the Fenland planners who'd initially refused my permission must be into witchcraft. After all, it's an old Fen tradition that elder should never be sawn down because it's a plant favoured by witches.

Once upon a time, my vicar would have given me full support. Elder was hated because Jesus was said to have been crucified on a cross made of elder - and Judas Iscariot (who betrayed him) hanged himself on elder.

Holly, on the other hand, protects you from witchcraft.

Another old Fenland belief was that every churchyard should contain one monkey puzzle tree. It would be an obstacle to the devil when he tried to watch a funeral and claim the soul of the person being buried.

Besides checking our churchyards do all possess such a tree, we might also consider lining a few boring Fenland roads with poplars as they do in northern France. Apparently they help motorists focus on the road ahead.

Like all trees, they also improve air quality and help save the environment.

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