Signs of the Times

Recent headlines: Safety fears over falling pears; Palm trees constitute safety hazard.

It seems that trees have been selected as public enemy number one. Well, I’m not surprised: in such dangerous times I find it difficult to believe anyone could have overlooked the clear and present danger trees pose in our lives..

First there was the report in June, quoting a Councillor in Torbay who said palm trees should be uprooted and planted somewhere small children can’t be pranged on them, and now we have pear trees in Worcester blatantly out to attack members of the public going for a tranquil walk in the park.

Whatever next, we ask: ‘Watch out for grass – if you try and play a tune on those bits of grass between your fingers, we can’t guarantee you won’t get a cut lip’. And more ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs.

Further investigation reveals many different species of tree which are potentially fatal: Yew trees in Bristol were chopped down by the local Council because of concerns that children attending a nearby school would eat the leaves and be poisoned.

There was even a paper presented on the subject in London last month: The Future of Tree Risk Management, from September 15 2006.

It mentions a case back in 2005, when a tree on a National Trust property fell on an eight-year-old boy and killed the poor mite. As a result, the Health and Safety Executive is preparing a case for the annual inspection of mature trees considered ‘not 100% safe’. The mind boggles at the resources required for this kind of feat: such an inspector’s job would doubtless resemble that of the luckless workmen painting and repainting the Forth Road Bridge – a job without end.

But we have statistics: ‘The average number of tree related deaths over the six year period 1998 – 2003 was six, or one in ten million averaged over the national population. Is this astounding figure only set to grow as trees mutate into ever more malevolent strains? Is mother nature finally fighting back? Numbers could spiral, to, oooh, one in five million by 2020 if so?

No, these news stories, these councils covering their own backs, and these conferences are just signs of the times. But if nature is increasingly considered to be the enemy, we run the risk that future generations see things like trees, grasses, and blackberry bushes, as elements to be avoided in life, rather than to be climbed, rolled upon, or raided.

Let us hope not. With troops abroad fighting two extremely bloody wars, nuclear bombs going off left right and centre – well, ok, only in North Korea – and weather systems threatening to collapse, isn’t it time to get a little perspective?

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