Estimated reading time:9 minutes, 18 seconds
Everyone has a story. Meet a man who really loves street trees – as much for their beauty as fabulous carbon storing abilities. Chris Setz is taking his tree road show to Gillespie Park in May 2015, and has lots of clever new media ways to help map, love and value Islington’s trees. Here’s a challenge: before you read this, guess how many trees are in Islington (answer below). Interview byÂ Nicola Baird.
Chris Setz has his eye on Islingtonâs trees. After a career in computing which saw him spend six years in Copenhagen Street, N1 he moved temporarily to neighbouring Crouch End and became involved in their Transition Group. HeÂ now specialises in getting north Londoners to champion their trees.
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âWe all walk past a wide variety of trees from all over the world every day,â points out Chris. âIt’s easy to pass 100 street trees on your travels in a single street there and back. There may be more than 30 different species to observe in the streets near your house.â
It means that many people in Islington get the benefit of the boroughâs trees every day, often without even realising it.
Chris loves trees for their beauty but heâs keen to point out that they have a monetary value too.
âIncreasingly we’re putting more objective valuations on trees. A UK-derived formula (CAVAT) values one of the London Plane trees inÂ St Mary Magdalene’s ChurchyardÂ at ÂŁ1.6m â Islingtonâs most valuable single tree. The Elms in Gibson Square are worth around ÂŁ250,000 each, whereas common trees like the cherry can vary from under ÂŁ140 to over ÂŁ25,000 per tree. According to the Council’s Tree Service (acknowledged by their peers as among the best of any London borough), our street trees alone are valued at more than ÂŁ110 million.â
Weâre getting better at estimating the real value of our trees. The open source computer movement has helped create a global tree-valuing community by providing the free, open source software suite – iTree. âOne recent result has been the largest global tree survey in a city anywhere – 600 places chosen in London at random were professionally surveyed by practitioners like Islingtonâs Tree Officers. They work with trained amateurs to derive a more scientific view of how many and what type of trees are growing across our city. This serves to better inform local decisions as to what we should plant in our green spaces.â
Trees to look out for in Islington… as spotted by Chris Setz
“Everyone likes fruit trees and there are many in Islington. Â Incidentally Alexander the Great was reputed to have been given a ânewâ fruit whilst travelling on a mountain range between Kazakhstan and China and liked it so much he disseminated it on his travels. As a result people say that all âwildâ apples came from that single region. As apple seeds have been found wherever people have lived since the dawn of time it may be apocryphal but itâs a nice story, worth remembering each Apple Day.Â Thereâs certainly one single 1805 Bramley tree (named after the owner) from which the Bramley apples used in apple pies for the past 200 years are descended.
“Next time youâre in Amwell street, pause at the Amwell Fig – it’s the biggest fig tree I’ve ever seen. There are also quite a few olive trees growing in most wards.
“Ginkgos are really interesting as theyâre âliving fossilsâ and can be traced back 270 million years – almost as long as human history.
“There are impressive trees on Islington High Street, Carlton Road, Percival Street, Kings Square Gardens, Canonbury Road and Hornsey Lane. They are alsoÂ on our estates, gardens, fields, walks and parks too – theyâre everywhere. Keep an eye out and use theÂ free Tree Key to figure out what theyâre called.
“My favourite trees are the London Plane trees.Â They are the most common street tree by far in London and are all over the borough (eg, the avenues on Highbury Fields). They’re a mix of the American and the Oriental, probably deliberately cultivated in Spain in the 17th century to arrive at their mix of characteristics.Â They easily shed bark so are perfect for polluted cities.Â The collection of mainly London plane trees in the St Mary Magdaleneâs garden is my favourite group anywhere I suppose.
“There are lots of special trees in school grounds. It would be good if local children could recognise the trees at their own school.”
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
âIâve lived most of my life in London â starting with a period in the seventies squatting in Regentâs Park, Kingâs Cross, Paddington, Bloomsbury and Mile End,â saysÂ Chris explaining how he knows the capital well.
âI was born in Liverpool and from when I was five through to my teenage years our large family moved backwards and forwards to Cornwall and then Devon. They were small seaside resorts, full of villagers twitching curtains so my Mum knew where I âd been, and who with, before Iâd got home. This is one reason why itâs such a pleasure to live in London in privacy,â says Chris. But he makes an exception to his desire for anonymity when it comes to being a cheerleader for trees. âIâve heard it said that there is no finer thing you can do than get involved with helping the place you live in improve. If you do invest in your street, keeping an eye on local trees seems an obvious step,â he adds.
How can I help Islington trees?
Chris recommends letting the Council know of anything you want changed/improved/dealt with during their regular maintenance in your ward. Watering trees when needed really helps them grow. âOnce youâve done the dishes you can use all that dirty âgreyâ water to soak tree roots with through their watering hole â do this twice a week or so when they have come into leaf and especially when itâs hot. Trees really appreciate 10litre drinksâ
âTrees have an abstract beauty â they can help shape our view and are almost as beautiful as the sky I think. We mostly grow up in and go on to occupy box-shaped spaces full of âunnaturalâ straight lines. Spending time with natureâs tallest plants can provide a wonderful contrast to the geometry of the artificial world – this is probably one reason why people delight in the shape of trees.â
Chris reckons, given there are around 7 million trees in London, so there must be over 200,000 here in Islington.
âThere are enough trees in Islington for everyone to adopt one. I hope to help create a map on which youâll be able to name your nearest tree after yourself or dedicate it to someoneâs memory.â he suggests. âThanks to Google Streetview you can start identifying yours now. Using the âarchiveâ feature you can walk back in time to look at trees the way they were in the past, see how theyâve changed according to the season, grown bigger or in some cases been damaged, removed or replaced.â
Not long ago a little booklet, The Man Who Planted Trees, was a publishing sensationÂ â an allegory about an old man whoâd planted a forest during his lifetime thanks to a habit of planting at least one acorn a day. Now it seems that city dwellers in Islington have the same opportunity to do a wonderful thing for trees â but this time, as well as simply pointing out planting sites, we can also help natureâs biggest plants better grow once there. That could mean pouring the dirty dish water into their tree pit during the growing season, helping count them or simply learning their names as a step on your journey into the treescape. Good luck!
- Make use of Islington tree wardens. Info at http://www.islington.gov.uk/services/parks-environment/parks/getting_involved/Pages/trees_guardians.aspx
- Â Report tree problems/issues directly to the Councilâs Tree Service through âReport Islingtonâ on 0207 527 2000.
- New understanding of how much our trees are worth may help Londoners make the case for Greater London to become an urban national park, seeÂ more about this idea at greaterlondonnationalpark.org.uk.
- Chris was atÂ Transition Highburyâs inaugural âGreen on the Screenâ event. First film wasÂ âMore than Honeyâ, an acclaimed Â documentary on bee decline and bee-keeping â both small scale and on an industrial scale, with hives being traded and shipped around the world to support intensive agriculture. The fewer bees, the fewer trees. Info about events can be found atÂ http://transitionhighbury.org.uk/
- Join Chris Setz for a free tree walk organised by the Friends of Gillespie Park, starting from the Ecology Centre,Â on Sunday 17 May 17 @ 3pm for an hour.
- ANSWER TO THE QUESTION – HOW MANY TREES DO I LIVE NEAR?
7 million trees in London; over 200,000 here in Islington.
Transition Town is an international movement, developed by permaculture expert Rob Hopkins, which helps empower communities to develop practical responses to climate change. See more at https://www.transitionnetwork.org
Over to you
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This blog is inspired byÂ Spitalfields LifeÂ written by the Gentle Author.
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