Normally when you think about the cultural heritage of a city you tend to think about famous buildings, public squares and streets rather than about greenspaces and trees. However this needn’t be the case. Trees in urban areas are increasingly gaining significance for the ecosystem services that they provide. These include softening the impact of development, filtering pollutants, noise reduction, providing shade and protection from floods and excessive summer heat.
Some years ago, I worked in the City of Dundee in Scotland as the City’s “Woodland and Greenspace Officer”. This was an interesting job which got me out of the office regularly and out and about into the City’s Greenspaces.
However, trying to protect the City’s trees could also be frustrating at times. Often it seemed that many people in the City of Dundee (including political leaders and senior council officials) didn’t really value their trees as much as they should – sometimes even regarding them as obstacles to progress that needed to be removed for new infrastructure development. There was often also a lack of knowledge about how the trees and woodlands contributed to Dundee’s environmental and heritage.
To counter this issue, we came up with the idea of a project to explain Dundee’s rich arboricultural heritage to residents and visitors alike and to create more of a sense of pride in the City’s trees by local people. Central to this was the production of a small book entitled “Dundee’s Tree and Woodland Heritage”.
The guidebook looked at how the present distribution of trees and woodlands in the City closely mirrored the main phases of Dundee’s historical development and social history. It went on to show how much there was to discover within Dundee’s woods and provided some background knowledge as to why they are as we see them today.
It was a really interesting project and involved a lot of work in different parts of the City; collecting information, photographs and anecdotes from local residents. Dundee’s woodland story is indeed a fascinating one; it is as much a story about people almost as much as it is of trees.
In the eighteenth century, for example, there was the highly unpopular Lord Provost Riddoch who was ‘encouraged’ to dance around the ‘Tree of Liberty’ by an angry mob of disenchanted local citizens. Later came Admiral Adam Duncan of Camperdown House. Camperdown Estate is the home of Dundee’s greatest claim to fame in terms of trees; the Camperdown Elm. This naturally mutated form of Wych Elm was first discovered growing wild near to Camperdown House by estate forester, David Taylor.
The original Camperdown Elm tree still survives, grafts from which have been cultivated in gardens and botanical collections all around the world – indeed we frequently received calls and emails from as far apart as New Zealand and Chile, reporting discoveries of Camperdown Elm cultivars.
Some wonderful living examples of this iconic tree could also be found nearer by in the ancient “Howff” cemetery, tucked away within the City Centre of Dundee. These gnarled and otherworldly specimens contribute to the special gothic atmosphere of the City’s ancient burial ground.
During the Industrial Revolution, Dundee became a major center for textile production and particularly for the jute industry. Mill owners like the Cox brothers imported and planted exotic tree species, such as giant sequoias and monkey puzzle trees, from around the World as a backdrop for their grand houses or so-called ‘jute palaces’. Meanwhile successful entrepreneurs such as Caird, Baxter and Dawson gifted parks and greenspaces to the people of the City, many of which have remained treasured resources to this day.
Nowadays, Dundee’s residents continue to participate in the development of the city’s woodlands by being involved with community woodland groups, by joining ‘friends of’ organisations and by identifying and assisting in woodland improvement projects. Dundee’s rich green legacy lives on.
All in all, the project was a good way to focus attention on the City’s trees and to get Dundonians to appreciate the woodlands, that were previously merely taken for granted. If something is valued and local people have a sense of ownership, then it will be more likely to be protected in the future. More than ten years later, it’s good to see that the guide still features on the Dundee City Council website and that it’s doing it’s job to make more people aware of the Heritage value of the City’s Trees.
To view and download the guide visit the Dundee Council Website: https://www.dundeecity.gov.uk/service-area/neighbourhood-services/environment/dundee-twig/dundees-tree-and-woodland-heritage
Dedicated to the memory of Eric Hamilton, Dundee’s Forestry Officer for many decades. Nobody possessed more knowledge, or cared more about Dundee’s trees and woodlands than Eric; a veritable legend of his time: https://www.trees.org.uk/News-Blog/Branch-News/Scotland/An-appreciation-of-Eric-Hamilton