The Fall and Rise of Nature

One of the things I love about the green spaces in urban Hastings (St Helen’s Wood, Alexandra Park, Newgate Woods) is the rich variety of exotic and unusual trees planted decades ago, many helpfully labelled. Many of these are now magnificent, sturdy creatures of stature.  

However, one such tree that I’ve always enjoyed watching through the seasons each year – an Indian Horse-chestnut – came down in last week’s storms.

A native of the Himalayas, the Indian Horse-chestnut (Aesculus indica) is popular in many parks and estates in the UK, where it was introduced in the mid-19th century.

Although in some ways I’m sorry to see the tree fallen, this is not the end of the story.

One of my favourite posts in an old blog of mine is Twist of Fate (do please take a look) – my attempt at poetry about a fallen trunk in Alexandra Park that continues to give life.

Rewilding pioneers Isabella Tree and Sir Charlie Burrell describe how, in their early days of rewilding the Knepp estate in West Sussex, instead of cutting down a previously grand old – now rotting old – oak, made the counterintuitive decision to leave the tree to its own devices – “our first lesson in sitting on our hands and leaving Nature in the driving seat.”

They watched a whole new universe spring to life, as beetles, other saproxylic (dead wood eating) invertebrates and woodpeckers began to find a home and nutrition in this dying habitat.

Voles took up residence in the rabbit warrens amongst the tree’s roots, and a heron frequently perched itself on a lower limb that overlooked a lake.

Isabella and Charlie learnt to leave fallen branches from other trees on the ground – encouraging the natural process of fertilisation for the trees.

As Isabella puts it, “Death became a different kind of living.” [1]

Most spiritualities have a healthy and hopeful outlook on death and dying. My own Christian faith has resurrection hope at its centre. Nature (God’s first “Bible”[2]) has always shown us this, with its patterns of renewal, revival and resurrection amidst its ostensibly messy system of decay and dying.

I write this while struggling with a bereavement myself. Putting these reflections together turns out to be an important cathartic process, reminding me of the hope that I hold.

It’s thought that the Victorians are to blame for our obsession with tidying up. Tidiness may be useful in some contexts, but it spells disaster for ecosystems.

In Nature, nothing is wasted.

Dead wood and fallen trees become sources of vital nutrients, create fresh habitats for new visitors, and give rise to all kinds of life.

The collapse of the Indian Horse-chestnut is by no means the end, either of its own life or that of others. In fact, it might just be an auspicious sign of new beginnings.

I just hope and pray now that the authorities don’t decide to tidy the fallen tree away, but leave it to do what Nature does best.

(Photos all mine, but no copyright!)


[1] Wilding by Isabella Tree (London: Picador, 2018).

[2] See my recent blog post Nature – the first Bible

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