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Living With Trees

"Chainsaw Massacres"

One of the very first scientific facts I remember learning at school was about our close relationship with trees. Even at that young age I was impressed by the knowledge that we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide while trees convert carbon dioxide back to oxygen. I have always felt that our relationship with our planet is essential for our very existence and trees form an important part of the health of our planet.

So why do people keep cutting down trees?

I love trees and, having travelled to eastern islands, I am distressed to see that where the trees have gone the land is rapidly turning to desert, there are severe water shortages and people are poor and starving.

I am saddened to find that other people don’t see it.

I once asked a highly regarded tourism figure in Bali what it was that made Bali a place attractive to visitors.
“The people” he said.
“Yes and what else?”
“The culture.”
“Yes and what else?”
He started to flounder.
“The beaches” I prompted.
“Yes, the beaches” he agreed
“Though they are not the best in the world so what else is there in Bali?”
He was totally lost now.
“People love volcanoes” I offered. He didn’t much agree with that.
“One of the most important factors is that this is a tropical island.” I suggested. Well, yes, he could see that. “…and the things that make it feel tropical are the reefs and the vegetation.”
I suggested that if people keep cutting down trees at the rate they are very soon Bali will not be a tropical paradise anymore.
Sadly he couldn’t understand my point of view at all.

I live in Sanur and for me one of the most wonderful things about Sanur is its old trees planted by forward thinking people many years ago.

Unfortunately in recent years they have been disappearing one by one. The continual removal of many landmark trees is, I suggest, destroying Sanur’s greatest asset. The trees outside the Hyatt, La Taverna and The Village still remain, thank goodness, but for the most part the main street of Sanur is steadily becoming hotter and more of a concrete Jungle. By cutting down trees the people are destroying what is their most important asset, the beauty of Bali. The loss of the large tree outside the Besakih Hotel was particularly tragic.

So why am I bringing up the subject of trees. The answer is simple. For many years I have dealt with land developers, architects and maintenance people who create reasons to justify cutting down trees. Whether they universally hate trees  I don’t know but it certainly appears that they do. Perhaps there is some deep seated desire to control rather than work with the environment, they want trees but only where they put them.

Land developers nearly always want to clear all the trees from any land they develop. Trying to persuade them not to can be very difficult.

This is important to consider if you are building a house or even adding an extension. Trees grow quickly in Bali but it will still take 30 or 40 years for them to reach full maturity. If you have a piece of land with beautiful trees on it try and work with the trees if you can. If your builder says they must come down find another builder.

I once met a very switched on architect in Brisbane who would design his developments around the trees that existed on the site. When issuing a contract to the contractors he would include a clause that gave hefty financial penalties for every tree that was “accidentally” lost. He saved many beautiful trees, trees that really made his developments very special. Even then he had a continuous battle trying to get development contractors to obey his instructions.

Living with trees is not difficult but with a few simple considerations at the design stage they can cause no problems and provide a better environment round your home.

1. Coconut trees drop coconuts so don’t situate them near driveways, garages or public areas underneath them. ( I suspect a falling coconut could give you a bit of a headache).

2. Tree roots like moisture so pipes should be kept away from trees unless they are fully sealed plastic pipes.

3. Trees drop leaves, consider this when positioning a swimming pool.

4. Old trees may get termites in them so branches may fall off. Overhanging branches should be checked and removed if they become dangerous.

5. If you cut off an original growth branch and a new one grows in its place just beware that regrowth branches are not as strong and are more likely to break off than original growth.

6. Trees overhanging alang - alang (thatched) roofs will tend to rot the alang – alang fairly quickly.

The other day I walked down a narrow alleyway towards the beach. It was very hot and dusty made worse by the bare concrete of the high walls down each side. I turned a corner and found myself in a beautiful road. It was suddenly cool and shady under the large trees down each side. The contrast was amazing. Why do people keep cutting down trees?

Perhaps it’s time we started a tree conservation and planting program in Bali.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
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