We at The Optimist Daily often write about how essential trees are to our mental and physical health, as well as how they provide an important balance to planetary conditions which are too numerous to name.
Trees become even more useful on all these counts as they age. The older the tree, the more valuable it is as an ecosystem support, a natural air purifier, a carbon sink, and in providing essential habitat to many creatures in the forest they share. Replacing an elder tree with new small trees, even at higher density, doesn’t make up for the removal and destruction of old, well-established ones. Like the wise elders in our communities, older trees are hubs of knowledge and resources which are shared widely through an entire forest according to forest ecologist Suzanne Simard.
That’s why when we heard about a group of more than 70 women in Bristol, UK who took it upon themselves to marry 74 well-established trees, we had to feature it. Their goal was to halt the proposed removal of these trees in the face of a new apartment project.
It seems a developer had put in an application to build a new set of 166 apartments in an area that also includes the stand of long-growing trees. The development plan includes a note that some or all of the trees would be removed.
Prof John Tarlton, a professor of regenerative medicine at Bristol Veterinary School, wrote the tree vows and played the role of best man. The action was taken in advance of the project breaking ground, in the hopes of preventing the project approval and the removal of the trees. Because as Tarlton explained, “Once the planning application has been approved, it is too late.”
As quoted by the BBC, one of the bride activists, Suzzane Hackett, explained, “To get married to a tree is an absolute privilege. It’s not just a sentimental gesture, it is highly significant and symbolic. Trees are pure examples of unconditional love, which fits in so beautifully with the whole idea of marriage. Marriage is for life, breathing is for life. Bristol needs mature trees more than it does luxury private housing.”
The Bristol activists were reportedly inspired by the Chipko movement led by Indigenous women in the Himalayan region of India in the 1970s. This movement was led by local women and included hugging trees to save them from being cut down by logging and development companies. The loss of these forests in the Himalayas devastated the local village economies along with the surrounding ecosystems, and the tree huggers became folk heroes in their communities, and inspirations for young environmental activists ever since.
The Bristol tree brides have taken the practice of tree-hugging to a whole new level with their tall, bark, and handsome grooms. All we have to say is “Congratulations! We wish you a very happy union.”