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About A Week: Remember Robin Hood - Plant A Tree

Peter Hinchliffe calls for a tree-planting campaign.

Britain’s trees are putting on their most colourful autumnal art display in years.

Leaves are turning gold, yellow and red before falling from the trees to paint roads and paths.

The extra-bright colours are due to a very rainy summer, followed by months of warm dry weather.

The weather affects leaf growth. Leaves are the food factories which enable trees to live and thrive. They contain chlorophyll which, with the help of sunlight, converts the nutrients gathered up from the soil by the roots into proteins and starches.

As the nights grow cooler and the days shorter – this week in the UK it is dark well before 7 pm – trees batten down the hatches as they prepare for winter. They don’t grow in winter months. The leaves stop producing food, and the remaining green chlorophyll in them begins to disappear, allowing autumn’s bright colours to show through.

There are still an astonishing number of trees in and around the Yorkshire industrial town where I live. Six centuries ago we were on the northern limits of Sherwood Forest, domain of the Robber Prince, Robin Hood.

Nottinghamshire lays claim to Robin, but many now think that the man on whom the legends are based was a Yorkshireman. Certainly the greater part of Sherwood Forest was in Yorkshire.

One of Robin’s four alleged graves is three miles from where I live, in woodland where Kirklees Nunnery once stood.

The story has it that Robin, seriously ill, decided to be bled by his kinswoman, the prioress of Kirklees, a woman "skilled in physic."

The prioress took Robin into the priory gatehouse, having sent away his loyal companion Little John. The outlaw hero, beloved because he robbed the rich to give to the poor, was then bled almost to death. He had enough energy left to summon Little John with three blasts on a hunting horn.

Supported by his faithful companion, the famous bowman fired his last arrow – and where it landed, there he is buried.

The grave is appropriately in woodland, not accessible to the public. Enclosing it are rusted iron railings erected in Victorian times. An inscription in pseudo-gothic reads:

Here underneath dis laitl stean
Laz Robert Earl of Huntingtun
Ne'er arcir ver as hie sa geud
An pipl kauld im Robin Heud
Sick utlawz as him as iz men
Vil England nivr si agen

In Medieval times much of England was covered by trees. Industrialisation and an ever-rising population resulted in the vast majority of them being chopped down.

Twenty years ago England experienced its worst storm in three centuries. Some 15 million trees were blown down. Thanks to folk who value the importance of trees, more than that number have been replanted.

Trees can be our best allies in the fight to slow down, and maybe reverse, global warming. They improve the quality of the air we breathe.

Trees in urban areas help to counteract air pollution. man-made pollution in the form of carbon monoxide – CO2 – contributes hugely to the greenhouse effect which imprisons the Earth’s heat instead of allowing it to escape into space.

Trees gather in CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis to form the carbohydrates which keep them alive. In effect trees serve as a waste pit for CO2, storing it as cellulose in their trunks, branches, leaves and roots.

A single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 lbs per year and release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support 2 human beings.

An acre of trees absorbs enough CO2 over one year to equal the amount produced by driving a car 26,000 miles.

It has been estimated that if every American family planted just one tree, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be reduced by one billion lbs annually. This is almost 5% of the amount humans pump into the atmosphere each year.

There should be a world-wide campaign to plant more trees. And who better to be its patron than Al Gore, if he would be willing This month he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for elevating global awareness to the threat posed by climate change.

The former US vice-president’s film on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, had earlier won an Oscar.

Mr Gore says we are facing a planetary emergency which demands a quick response.

"This is the most dangerous challenge we've ever faced," he says. "I will be doing everything I can to try to understand how to best use the honour and recognition of this award as a way of speeding up the change in awareness, and the change in urgency.’’

Tree planting is not a complete solution to the problems that will come with global warming – but it is a practical step that deserves international support.

And what better place for a planting campaign to be launched than in the territory of the legendry Robin Hood.

The ‘rich’ are the wealthy industrial nations who are the biggest producers of CO2. The ‘poor’ is Planet Earth.

Time for citizens in the Western world to cough up cash to pay for millions of trees.

Perhaps there could be local tax incentives to persuade people to buy and plant trees. The local government area in which I live could be just the place for such a scheme to be launched.

It’s called Kirklees – named after the nunnery where the legendary hero died.

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