Our planet needs trees. We all know that. Without them we wouldn’t be alive today. People and animals breathe in oxygen, and breathe out carbon dioxide. Trees and plants do the opposite. We’ve evolved together with them over millennia. There’s a natural balance to our ecosystem that’s held in place since the start of life on earth. But now we’re tipping that balance and threatening our very existence. Our carbon emissions, from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation, have risen to the level where they are far outstripping the carbon that is consumed by trees and plants, and the resulting climate emergency has been widely acknowledged.
In Eastbourne, the Borough Council formally declared a state of climate emergency in July this year, and pledged to “continue working in close partnership with local groups and stakeholders to deliver a carbon neutral town by 2030”.
With the Council’s support and full engagement, local environmental groups have pooled together to create an Eco Action Network, comprising a number of working groups, each focussed on specific ways to achieve this goal. The Carbon Capture group is focussed on removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by any means possible – planting trees, shrubs and hedges, building living walls, nurturing kelp and marine plant forests off the coast, rewilding wasteland, and so on.
But if our challenge was tough to start off with, it just got a whole lot harder. You may not yet have heard of ‘ash dieback’, but as an Eastbourne resident, that situation is likely to change very soon. Ash dieback is a devastating tree disease that is threatening to wipe out up to 95% of the UK population of ash trees. It is a fungal infection carried in the air, that unfortunately cannot be prevented or cured. And it spreads like wildfire. The past 12 months have witnessed the devastation of the ash forests which run along the downland slopes that cradle the western side of the town. From Butts Brow in Willingdon, approximately four miles down to the edge of the Meads.
All we can do is to cut down the trees to prevent them from falling as they die and rot. And it’s not finished yet. On Monday, 2 December 2019, the council and the Forestry Commission began a tree felling programme that is expected to last till 2024. Over the next 5 years, a staggering one hundred thousand plus ash trees will be lost to Eastbourne for ever.
This will have a huge impact. The landscape of the edge of the Downs will change completely. The affected woodland and streets around it will be cordoned off and inaccessible as the work takes place. Eastbourne’s current level of 5% tree cover – and the CO2 they consume – will be reduced dramatically, leaving us with an even steeper mountain to climb.
Ash dieback threatens the character of our town and the health of our planet. In one way or another, it affects all of us who live in Eastbourne. If you ever walk on the downs, or ramble through the woods, you will see and feel the changes for yourself. This is not someone else’s problem. It is all of ours. However, working together, we can achieve so much more. If everyone in Eastbourne were to plant just one tree in their garden, a third of the entire lost Ash population would be replaced in one fell swoop! Community collaboration is the key to success. It will take a coordinated and concerted effort by all of us over the next ten years, not only to overturn the loss of that many trees, but to go way beyond that.
ECO Action Network, Executive Director