Mind the Gap

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I've been absorbed by the media coverage of the iconic tree that is no longer on Hadrian's Wall.  First of all, there was the uncertainty as to whether this was deliberate vandalism or not.  In my book, anything involving a chainsaw is deliberate.  They don't materialise out of the vacuum and start lopping on their own!  The police even seemed uncertain as to whether the tree had been cut down, despite standing next to the stump; not wanting to prejudice the forthcoming criminal case, I suppose.

Then there was the sentimental sludge that was poured over the nation.  Dear me!  You'd have thought that it was Gary Lineker who had died rather than a mere tree, that the NHS had been sold to a hedge fund, or that The Guardian had gone out of business.

Writing in Unherd, Dan Jackson said: "The felling of the mighty sycamore on Hadrian’s Wall is simply unbearable. I haven’t felt a loss like this since the mediaeval beams of Notre Dame came crashing down in 2019."  He then quoted the Bishop of Newcastle as saying that "It bore a pastoral load in its strength and beauty.”  Not everyone agrees – just look at the comments below Jackson's article.  Some think it's baloney at best and more likely hypocrisy.  In the Times, Helen Rumbelow called it a pet tree.  She added:

The National Trust, which cares for the land around Sycamore Gap, reports that it would have once been part of a family of trees that we felled for the usual exploitative reasons. The National Trust thinks the others were cut to make game hunting easier or just to help the “views”. No one made a fuss about those other trees, of course not. Our tree cover in England is right at the bottom of the table for European countries. And the food we eat in the UK using ingredients like palm oil and soy-fed British farm animals causes mass destruction of forests elsewhere. We’re not that fussed [about trees].

Indeed.  It is obvious that the significance of this tree, in tree terms, is next to zero; and many trees would have been cut down on the same day.  Should we plangently mourn all those as well?  Well, perhaps we should.  As John Donne so very nearly wrote:

"Any tree's death diminishes me, because I am involved in trees.  Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee".

But this is really a landscape issue.  It's the view that has changed rather than the nation's biodiversity.  Oddly enough, though, a view remains and the Gap endures.

Now there will likely be a national debate about whether to replace it, and if so with what.  Earnest folk will demand a proper native species and not a Johnny-come-lately sycamore.  Others will want a tree that can withstand climate change: maybe one that's Italian / Roman to fit in with the cultural setting of the Wall.  There'll be a fuss about gender and about the sycamore's links to colonialism – significant you might think given that it's the Roman Wall.  Many will call for 24/7 guards, ideally armed with longbows.  The National Trust will wring its many hands and launch a consultation.

Maybe we should leave the Gap as it now is once the stump is removed and the debris has been cleared away, possibly adding a blue plaque on the Wall to explain what's no longer what.

As for me, I'm minded to buy a chainsaw – battery-powered, of course; something solidly Germanic to keep their damaged economy going.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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