By Paul George, Landmark Trading
Trees are a vital part of the global ecosystem, providing us with many of the things we need to live. As arborists, acting ethically when we undertake any job is of the utmost importance. Although tree preservation and practicing as an arborist are two things that may seem dichotomous to the other through the outside lens, it is arborists that must be the most conscious of how our actions may potentially affect the fragile global ecosystem.
Whilst environmental ethics as a philosophical discipline is vast, complex and ultimately, entirely theoretical, there are a few important and actionable principles that, as arborists, we can apply to our daily interactions with the environment, that don’t necessarily have to misalign with our job responsibilities.
Why Are Trees Important?
As the biggest plants on the planet, trees hold innumerable benefits for both the environment, our communities, and for preserving the Earth’s future. On a human level, trees have supported and sustained life throughout our existence, from providing fuel and food, to their medicinal properties. Notwithstanding the unquantifiable value of their personal and spiritual connections, their large and monumental presences acting as historical records for families and large communities, whose memories are inextricably linked.
Ecological and Environmental Importance
Perhaps the largest and most complex benefits trees provide, are within their all encompassing presence within the environmental and ecological landscape.
Existing in both urban and natural landscapes, trees benefit both environments, as well as the respective inhabitants of each, in multiple ways. Overarchingly, trees contribute to the environment by providing oxygen, climate amelioration, improving the quality of the air, preserving soil, conserving water and supporting local wildlife.
Trees and other woody plants filter the air by catching dust and absorbing pollutants, like carbon monoxide, from the air – their canopies acting as both shields and filters – eliminating up to 1.7 kilos per tree annually.
Similarly, their canopies can aid climate control, moderating the effects of the sun, rain and wind, their leaves absorbing and filtering the sun’s energy, reflecting the heat upwards from their leaves – within urban spaces, it’s estimated that trees can reduce the temperature in a city by up to 7°c. Moreover, trees can provide a screen from the harsher weather systems, such as rain, sleet and wind.
Their large trunks, roots and foliage host a number of complex microenvironments, offering fuel and habitation to varied species, alongside providing cover needed by insects and animals.
More importantly, on a global scale, trees reduce the heat intensity of the greenhouse effect by maintaining low levels of carbon dioxide.
What are Environmental Ethics?
Developed into specific philosophical discipline in the 1970, due to the increasing awareness of the effects of the technological and industrial advances, environmental ethics concerns human beings’ ethical relationship with the natural environment.
Stretching the anthropocentrism (human-centeredness) applicable in most ethical disciplines, environmental ethics seeks to apply both respect and concern for nonhuman objects. Outlining the moral obligations of the global population in the face of concerns such as, dwindling flora and fauna biodiversity, the loss of wilderness spaces, climate change and consequently rapidly degrading ecosystems. Environmental ethics seeks to place the impacts human consciousness and action within the wider ecological landscape, affecting both public practice and policy
How Do We Practice Ethical Tree Care?
Ethical arborism is by no means a new trend, at the forefront of arboriculture is a healthy study and understanding of the flora and fauna our interventions could potentially affect. There are a few important applications of ethical tree care that every arborist should weave into their practice.
Limb clearance, to make room for building structures, or to increase available light into yards, is one of the most requested client objective. Although tree pruning is essential to promote tree health and to encourage good structure, over pruning, removing more than 23% of a tree’s leaf canopy in a single operation, can jeopardize both. Directional pruning, only removing the branches that directly obstruct utilities or structures, or elevation can preserve the health of the tree.
An excessive form of over pruning is to top a tree. “Topping” refers to the aggressive reduction of a tree’s height that does nothing to make a larger tree safer, but instead serves to make the tree more hazardous by stressing the tree; encouraging the spread of rot and decay, loosening the branches and weakening its immune system. Moreover, topping can actually increase the expense of a tree, triggering a survival mechanism to force the rapid growth of a crop of, weaker, new leaves. Again, intelligent and moderate pruning through canopy reduction or inter-limbing, or removing branches from the ground upwards is a vastly better alternative.
Reducing the use of spurs or tree spikes when climbing a tree can help mitigate the spread of disease and decay that a multitude of unnecessary puncture wounds can catalyse, using a system of harnesses and pulleys can be as effective and less harmful.
Most importantly, is to refuse to remove healthy specimen trees without a valid justification. Unless the tree is dead, structurally unsafe or in an urgent state of decline, whether from disease or structural damage, other methods can be utilised to control the tree.
Tree felling licensing goes a long way towards mitigating the potentially damaging effects of our industry, outside of certain urgent exemptions, such as the prevention of disease or pest, or trees within a certain time limit, to fell trees you must apply for and obtain a tree felling license.
As part of the license application, you are often required to submit a plan indicating how the area might be replenished, through extensive tree planting, after the existing trees are felled, minimising the risk of potential long term environmental damage.
The ability to understand our roles within the larger ecosystem can positively affect the way we work with, and around trees. By employing these practices, not only are you working more ethically, but more responsibly, ensuring that trees are protected and preserved, establishing a safe space for future generations.
About the author
Paul George is the managing director of Landmark Trading Ltd, and has worked in the arboricultural industry for 14 years. Landmark Trading are one the the UK’s leading suppliers of arborist equipment. You can connect with Paul on Twitter, Facebook, Google + or call Landmark Trading on 01780 482231.