Branches of knowledge

11th July 1997 at 01:00
From drought to monsoon, and no doubt soon back to drought again - recent climatic hiccups have added to the stresses and strains of being a tree in the United Kingdom, and that's before you take into account pollution, poor land management and urbanisation.

Wildlife Watch, the junior branch of the Wildlife Trusts, has set up a project with the Esso Living Tree Campaign to survey trees in your neighbourhood.

Esso Treewatch is aimed at children aged five to 14. The project is divided into four sections - the trees in your street, charcoal use (and abuse), ancient trees and recycling.

The survey will take place between now and September 30, which makes it an ideal summer project for groups of children who live near one another, youth clubs or even individual families.

The survey results booklet is fairly complex, so younger children would need adult assistance. But it is serious scientific stuff and will eventually be fed into a national database to form the basis for Wildlife Trust policy and conservation efforts.

The booklet comes in a colourful, comprehensive pack with teacher's notes for England and Wales and separate sections for Scotland and Northern Ireland, all giving appropriate subject links and cross-curricular potential.

It comes with posters, including one of the trees of Britain. These include the familiar (oak, ash, sycamore, lime) and one or two less well-known characters such as the wild service tree and the ginkgo. This will be invaluable if you are staring into a mass of foliage wondering if it really is an acacia in your avenue, or an alder.

There's a game (Tree Quest) for two to four players or teams, in which you start as a seed and have to germinate and grow through some environmental crises (brief dry spell: lose two leaves).

There are also lots of tree trivia. The rowan, for example, is also known as quickbeam, witchwood or caorann (in Gaelic), kerdhinnen (Cornish) and cerdinen (Welsh) and was traditionally planted in gardens or hung from doorways to ward off evil spirits. The birch symbolises fertility and love. But birch rods were used to thrash miscreants. And in Scotland, for some inexplicable reason, birch trees live almost twice as long as they do elsewhere in Britain.

Three books complement each stage of the survey or could be used as stand-alone class resources. Trees in the Garden, Trees in the Home and Trees in the Neighbourhood are well laid-out, photocopiable and full of activities, information and suggestions for further study. Trees in the Home, for instance, contains a recipe to make paper using pop socks, kitchen cloths and a large yoghurt pot. Food colouring, flower petals, seeds and glitter are optional extras.

It's not often that something which promises to be so much fun could also make a real contribution to conservation. Esso presumably hopes that such a laudable resource will make us all forget why some of our trees got sick in the first place. But if this pack achieves even some of its aims - an increase in environmental awareness, more trees in the peak of physical fitness - it is to be warmly welcomed. And you can win a mountain bike. Get counting.

The pack costs Pounds 10. Discounts available for Wildlife Watch members (Pounds 5). Postage Pounds 2.50. Copies are available from Richmond Publishing Co, PO Box 963, Slough SL2 3RS. Tel: 01753 643104. Wildlife Watch is based at The Green, Witham Park, Waterside South, Lincoln LN5 7JR

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