How trees talk to each other

National Tree Week

National Tree Week takes place from March 4th to the 11th 2018.

To celebrate Tree Week I tought I’d point you in the direction of a TED Talk that I love. In 2006 Suzanne Simard, a renowned Canadian ecologist, gave a Ted Talk that has been viewed by over 2.6 million people. Suzanne talks about her research over 30 years that uncovered how trees in a woodland communicate with each other; that instead of competing with each other for resources, they are in fact super-cooperators. Using a vast underground network, they share nutrients, warn each other about drought and disease, support younger trees and more. Trees talk!

“You see, underground there is this other world, a world of infinite biological pathways that connect trees and allow them to communicate and allow the forest to behave as though it’s a single organism. It might remind you of a sort of intelligence.”

Take a look at her talk. You’ll never look at trees or a woodland the same way again.


Do you like nature?

When I signed up for my Beekeeping for Beginners course, the friendly man behind the desk enquired, “Do you like nature?”

It’s true for him, we humans really do fall into a few camps when it comes to the natural world, but broadly:

  • Those who love it and who get very cross if you disrespect it;
  • Those that couldn’t give a monkeys: it’s inevitably a problem to be fixed by someone else; and
  • Those that hate it and try to kill it when it encroaches on them.

And then, irrespective of which camp you belong to, there’s the vast majority of us: the ones who have simply lost touch. Our lives play out in the man-made world, both the real and the virtual. Sadly children that grow up in such a sanitised man-made environment never get to make a connection with nature in the first place. A connection that makes up the memory bank of most adults. Climbing trees, falling into nettles, running through fields.

I’m sure there’s someone in your circle who isn’t convinced or concerned that the natural world is in trouble. This is a real problem: To motivate someone who isn’t looking to be motivated.

Professor Brian Cox makes the point that understanding how something in nature works only deepens its beauty.

There’s motivation for you! Look into your garden or park and pick just one thing. One wild living thing. It could be a crow, a tree, a weed (or more correctly, a wildflower), whatever, put it into Google or YouTube and find out a bit about it. I promise you’ll be amazed.

By the way, if you choose to investigate a wildflower, I love love love Zoe Devlin’s very excellent website

It’s when it dawns on us that every living thing occupies a unique niche in the world and that other living things depend on it for their own survival; that is when the penny drops: my very survival depends on the proper functioning of this web of life. It provides my food, clean air and water, and materials.

This is why news this week from a German research study, conducted over the past 27 years, is so distressing. Over those 27 years scientists found a drop of 75% of flying insect biomass in their reasearch areas. In the paper on these findings they wrote: “Loss of insect diversity and abundance is expected to provoke cascading effects on food webs and to jeopardize ecosystem services.” This is Armageddon stuff.

Sadly at some point in our lives the living things around us have become invisible. With the exception of song birds and butterflies we have mostly tuned nature out. So when we hear that something is on the decline or brink of extinction, we’re not massively bothered, because we stopped seeing it a long time ago anyway.

We should be learning all the time; discovering new stuff about the living world around us. And take kids with us. (See my last post on this). Learning how the natural world works is the key to appreciating it. It’s such great fun to be next to someone who enjoys showing you how a plant / an animal / fungi etc. works. Nature walks are important for reminding us about our place in the world. About what we have and what we gain to lose. By understanding how something in nature works you recognise its incredible beauty, but also its terrible fragility.

And if you’re really looking for your mind to be blown, why not join your local astronomy club for an evening of star gazing. Nature will never look the same to you again. It’s beyond precious.

environmental education