HERE’S a riddle:

“I have a magnificent crown,

I drink with my toes which are brown.

I eat with curly fingernails of green,

Standing on one leg is how I’m usually seen

What king am I?”

Here’s a clue to the answer: there will be tree planting in Butterdean Wood this Saturday morning. The wood is owned by Woodland Trust Scotland and they are extending it in a large area already enclosed by the trees. We saw the preparations on a recent walk there and I have to say I was relieved to find out it was to prepare for tree planting.

The trust are asking for volunteers, but if you fancy going along to help you’ll need to register first, so numbers are controlled and the planting can be planned better. Native trees will be planted, and what better way to feel a connection to a wood than planting a tree and then being able to visit it over the years to watch it grow and change with the seasons and years.

There is a lot of discussion just now about climate change, with the UN climate change conference COP26 taking place in Glasgow from Sunday until November 12. Big decisions need to be made which will affect our children’s future. Nature depletion and extinction are at the heart of this crisis too. The planting of trees at Butterdean may be a small contribution to the global effort to change things but it’s a highly significant one for those taking part.

It can feel empowering to be able to make a difference, no matter how small; to watch young trees you planted grow into mature ones. And it can happen quicker than you expect. We all know time flies, and some trees grow quickly. A silver birch can be 30 feet high in 10 years (see image below).

East Lothian Courier: A silver birch can grow as tall as this in just 10 years

The ultimate solution to our climate crisis, I believe, is restoring our personal connection to nature; and that’s the irony. We are nature, we are part of it as much as any other creature, it is our habitat too. But in our cleverness in making our own environment, we have seen nature as something to use and exploit rather than understanding we are part of its web. We have been desecrating our own natural habitat, thinking we no longer need it, because we have made a more comfortable human one. In so doing, we have lost an essential part of who we are, as well as, quite literally, destroying our life support system.

Of course, there’s lots of good things about this human ‘progress’ and I acknowledge the benefits too. It’s not an argument for going backwards, but to look forward and redefine what progress looks like. The climate crisis has created a broader awareness that we have something sacred in nature and that we have neglected or abused it for so long we’ve become accustomed to its absence in our priorities and sense of who we are.

So this planting of trees is about fostering that reconnection to nature, feeling part of it again and also being responsible for caring and nurturing it. In doing so, we are also caring for ourselves.

Recently, near where I live, there have been some sad incidents of vandalism in which community gardens and woodland have been purposely damaged or destroyed, after much love and devotion was given to making it a natural space for the whole community. My initial response was to be angry and feel sorry for those who had put so much work into it. But then I also felt sorry for those who had desecrated such a beautiful place. Yes, anger at their actions is justifiable, but they also reveal a deep-seated disconnection, and not just from nature.

Sadly, I think there will always be such incidents, just as there will always be people who step up and refuse to give up, despite disheartening incidents such as these; and that includes so many young people who are taking the lead on climate change.

And the most damaging vandals are much bigger fish than any group of locals: companies who deliberately pollute the environment, developers who maximise their profit at the expense of the environment and, yes, the politicians who allow it.

So planting a tree is more than planting a tree. It’s claiming a stake for the future wellbeing of our planet. We don’t do it for us, but the generations that will come after, who will inherit the world we have shaped.

Oh and the riddle? I’m sure you got it, but if not the answer is an oak tree, for the oak is the king of the forest.

“Who’s the queen of the forest then?” asked one of my kids after I’d tested the riddle on them. The answer to that is the beech, I told them. So began at the breakfast table a discussion on different types of trees and what their characters and qualities were.

Connection and a sense of belonging to nature are key to our long-term survival as a species, I believe. But there are short-term benefits too, not least having beautiful natural surroundings which improve our mental and physical health.

Happy Hallowe’en and happy tree planting.