Caring For The Trees at Global Retreat Centre, UK

The Amazon forest is termed the ‘lungs of the world’ for its exchange of CO₂ and O₂. And yet, in 2022, deforestation was taking place at an estimated 4 hectares per minute, that’s 21 trees per second! Despairingly one asks, what contribution can a small estate like that of the Global Retreat Centre, which is only 20 hectares, make? 

In Indian mythology, Rama, to save his wife Sita from Ravana, was required to build a causeway from Bharat (India) to (Sri) Lanka. For this, an army of monkeys carried rocks and dropped them into the sea. Also, desirous to help, was the diminutive chipmunk. Its contribution was to cover itself in sand, run to the causeway and shake the sand off. Such a small amount yet, nevertheless, making a contribution to the greater task. This must be how each estate, each farm, each garden should see its contribution to reducing CO₂ levels with the trees for which they are responsible.

However, trees are not just about CO₂ exchange as they also offer shade, habitats for wildlife, nutrition for soils, both from leaves and their final decay, timber for construction, and valuable products including, in certain instances, medicines.

So what eco-practices do we at the Brahma Kumaris Global Retreat Centre, put in place?

As a grade 1 registered parkland, we are obliged to maintain the character and historic influences found within such an important space. This can lead to questions – even conflict – over choices made. Where is the balance between maintaining a historic landscape and leaving trees untouched?  

When the Brahma Kumaris first took on the property in 1993, one of the first tasks was to replant areas of Capability Brown’s Woodland Walk using about 400 native saplings, thinning these across the years to establish a good tree cover. Planting in other smaller areas followed. 

What we do today, in part, reflects the approach of Brown himself – the creation of pathways with openings that create surprise vistas into the surrounding countryside. This requires active thinning, pruning, lifting or reduction of the tree canopy, as appropriate. In addition, such public areas require risk assessment and dead wood or dangerous tree conditions to be removed. Any timber cut is separated into that which has monetary value or in-house value (usually logs) and that which, when piled up, creates habitats for a rich variety of fungi, insects and small mammals. Dead or dying trees provide a multitude of nooks and crannies for nesting, shelter and hibernation. One magical site is to see a barn owl sitting in the hollowed-out entrance to its nest before silently launching off to quarter the adjacent meadow. Or red kites creating several nests in the high trees before finally deciding on which to occupy this year.

Sometimes, fallen trees can be shaped into seats. The damp, hollow space beneath these can act as an ideal overwintering habitat for the great crested newts found on site. Also grass snakes inhabit the pond area – which may be why there are so few frogs. Allowing some areas to remain largely untouched and using logs to support a corrugated iron sheet just a few inches off the ground, will create an ideal space for the snakes – snakes are cold-blooded and the iron sheet warms up in the sun. It’s akin to you sitting in a sunny window on a cool spring morning.

Snakes, newts, amphibians, and other wildlife need areas of water.  Recently, a pond has been created in the wetter part of the meadow, for such wildlife requires such additional ponds to reduce inter-pond distances and support their spread across the locality.

Nuneham may not be the lungs of the world but it certainly plays its part in maintaining biodiversity in the locality.  

The Global Retreat Centre is located in the rolling countryside of Oxfordshire just outside of the University City of Oxford in the UK.  The Centre is surrounded by 55 acres of historical gardens and overlooks the river Thames.

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