AS SEAGROVE Estate, in central Cowes, sprawls eastwards, they earth moved a two-metre embankment on the western side of McKenzie Road, extending down as far as Settlement Road. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they also bulldozed a bank of trees. We now have an uninterrupted view of a never-ending heat island ‘burbs-style new estate, a blight on the landscape for everybody walking, cycling or even driving down McKenzie or Settlement roads.
In the past year or so, whether it’s new blocks or cleaning up around established houses, tree clearing on Phillip Island has reached epidemic proportions. If fences are cut for access, ever taller replacement fences don’t do much for small town charm.
Recent research has revealed that there’s more to the root mass of trees than we previously thought. Evidently hair thickness roots can go down as far as 50 metres. Trees have evolved to be particularly efficient at harvesting water above ground which is then channelled below ground, preventing run off. Water is an essential reserve for plant growth and to transpire and mitigate against damage to leaf growth during heat waves.
The Amazon rainforest is a major wonder of tree life. At 400 kilometres from the Atlantic coast in the east to the Andes mountains in the west, it’s clear that rain clouds off the Atlantic don’t penetrate very far. Trees that do receive coastal rain transpire moisture in subsequent days, enough to make rain clouds, which travel west on prevailing winds, creating actual rain. This cycle of north-south band of rain repeats many times until it reaches the western edge of rainforest in the foothills of the Andes.
It’s now a concern that this massive forest is drying out, causing undergrowth to decompose, generating carbon dioxide, causing more heat and drying. Bush fires happened inside the Arctic Circle this year. Imagine a rainforest as big as the Amazon on fire. Let’s hope action can stop further global warming so trees in the Amazon can continue their magic.
Trees and their water storage moderate temperature for all of us. Without trees, human infrastructure and even bare paddocks become “heat islands”. Trees can even "help one another”, just one example being newly cut tree stumps sprouting healthy green growth, when neither the parts above nor the parts below the ground have enough synergy to support such growth.
The rate of growth of tree roots very much depends on fungi, known as “truffles” in the tree trade, a generic term quite separate from the fancy food meaning. Long-term visiting professors from the US advise that Australia has at least 2000 different truffles compared with just 200 for the whole of northern hemisphere. They confess that much research still needs to be done on such an essential subject. The cost of a single submarine would keep whole of world research into truffles going for 500 years.
Truffles are particularly important in the interface between roots and soil. Trees raise water up to leaves and photosynthesis combines it with carbon dioxide from air to make sugars, which then develop into proteins and familiar tree tissue. It’s less commonly known that tree tissues are formed in a similar way underground as molecules from photosynthesis travel downwards to nourish fungi. In return again, it’s the fungi that mine trace element minerals which are essential for healthy plant growth.
If developers do bulldoze clumps of established trees, why does local government not force them to plant tree seedlings, without delay, considering how long they take to grow? Do we care enough for future generations to leave the planet in equal condition to the way we found it? Or do we insist on our right to the highest possible standard of living, despite the cost to the planet?