We were loyal fans: us ancient oaks.
We loved watching them play.
But one day a sorry defender crossed the pitch,
And climbed into our eldest’s arms to say:

“They’re coming for you.”

Her whispered words stirred the bats,
startled the butterflies,
set the birds gossiping anew.

We looped roots and swayed together,
just like forever.
But oh, how we trembled, too.

ROSE RADTKE | Oak | Upper Dicker, Low Weald, East Sussex

The majestic oak tree has long been a great friend to the British people. Its wood has protected us against waves and enemy fire in the great warships of the 18th century, and become lifelong members of the family in heirloom pieces of furniture. Its branches have cradled our young as they climbed, and its trunk has quietly supported us as we devour the pages of our favourite books. 

It would take a force ten storm to bring this great survivor of nature down before its 400 winters are up. Only the angriest gusts of wind – those reaching 90 miles an hour – stand a chance of destroying the old oak. The oak is steadfast, that’s for sure. 

Until, that is, it’s confronted by its own old pal. Everything changes when our planet’s most deadly species approach, fully armed. 

In a small town called Upper Dicker in the south-east of England there are two rows of 23 ancient oak trees, which were planted as boundary hedgerows under the Enclosure Act of 1855. These oaks are more than just trees. They’re the eldest members of the village. Some of their newest neighbours, however, see them as little more than firewood.  

Early in 2019, the ancient oaks were put on trial for standing in the way of human recreation. The penalty? Death. Despite already having a perfectly useable hockey pitch, a well known private school in the area decided to put forward a planning application to construct a brand new one, right next door. In order to do so, a full-sized cricket pitch will need to be relocated to the fields next to the village. And to make way for the cricket pitch, the school will chop down all 23 majestic oak trees. 

It’s not just the rare noctule bat that will miss foraging amongst the broad, green leaves, high in the branches. It’s not just the birds that will lose their homes for the winter. It’s not just the landscape that will be scarred forever by the loss of these wise community elders, or the walkers of the Weald Way that will miss a moment of shade. What the trees become next doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that our planet Earth will lose yet 23 more of its loyal protectors – all on another whim of humankind.