2017 is the year of the Tree Charter! On November 6th, on the 800th anniversary of the influential 1217 Charter of the Forest, the Charter for Trees, Woods and People will be launched to recognise, celebrate and protect the rights of people in the UK to the benefits brought by the trees and woods in their lives. For the past year more than 60 organisations have been working together to explore and highlight the important role that trees play in the lives of people across the UK, in order to identify the benefits that should be protected for the future by the Tree Charter. This consultation phase ends at the end of February 2017 so that the articles of the charter itself can be written based on the public testimonies and expert guidance from the 60 organisations involved in the campaign. For a chance to win £100 in Amazon vouchers please take a few minutes to complete this short survey: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/treesanddisability
Writer and photographer Tanvir Bush, who has retinitis pigmentosa, reflects on the importance of disabled people adding their voice to help shape the future for trees and woods in the UK.
When I was six my best friend was a tree, an enormous, spreading Jacaranda tree in our front garden. We were living in Lusaka, Zambia then, expatriates; my Dad a GP and my Mum an artist. They were always busy. I was always up that tree. It was a castle, a space craft, a fort, a school, a house, an ark, an entire universe. The bark was thick, soft and dry and looked like elephant skin. It was very comfortable to sit in and the way it had grown, out as well as up, up, up, meant that it was a superb climbing tree. I, being small and light back then, could get higher than my older sister, higher than any visiting kid, so high that often adults would come out of the house and not see me clinging to branches over their heads.
The tree was host to marvels; delicate moths and strange insects so well camouflaged that one could easily miss them hiding in the bark, all sizes of ants and spiders, bumbling beetles glinting in their armour, caterpillars (avoid the hairy ones!), hundreds of flying things from wasps to carpenter bees, bluebottles to dragonflies and geckos, snouted lizards and higher out of range, the occasional snake. Birds nestled and sang above and all around was the clicking, clacking and tiny munching sounds of tree life. I would be in that tree for hours at a time.
Forty years later and l clearly remember how wonderful it was to climb into that tree and I still am always itching to climb another. Harder now, obviously, not just because it freaks out my guide dog but also because I have become scared of falling.
There are many disabled people though who cannot get out to run their hands over the bark of a tree, breathe in the open air, be alone or comfortably with companions in the woods and park lands. It may be because there is no safe easily accessible local park for them to wander into. It may be that they would, like me, require help with access, with finding the routes or manoevering on difficult terrain. Even when one is able to get to a slightly wilder place, there may be stiles, battered unkempt tracks and the like that prevents anyone with mobility issues from getting very far.
What does this matter? Well, research into outdoor learning (Learning Away 2015), eco-therapy (MIND-Feel Better Outside, Feel better Inside Report 2013) and the effects of being in nature on the human condition, have shown repeatedly that getting outdoors boosts physical and mental health, can create social cohesion and reduce social isolation among other benefits. In this way it is integral to everyone’s health and happiness. Creating ways in which disabled people, the elderly or parents with pushchairs and small children might access and enjoy nature too must surely be an obvious part of any Tree Charter that aims to influence and impact on all areas of our society. It may be as simple as accessible loos and gates for wheelchair access, guided tree walks or large print maps. It may be as impactful as mobility scooters and community events on site (as at Westonbirt Arboretum) but whatever it may be, it will create value and a more equal community of tree lovers.
Dr Tanvir Bush is a novelist and film-maker/photographer. She is based in Wiltshire with her guide dog and research assistant, Grace.
Her latest novel, Cull, is available via Unbound. Read an excerpt online and access the e-book here.
Click here to watch an interview with Tanvir about the Tree Charter.