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Buddhist monks in northwest Cambodia ordaining a tree. © Equator Initiative
Oct 2010

Buddhist monks ordain trees as monks

In response to widespread logging, the monks of the Samraong Pagoda acquired legal protection for 18,261 hectares (45,000 acres) of evergreen forest in northwest Cambodia. They established patrol teams, demarcated the forest's boundaries, and raised environmental awareness among local communities. The monks have developed unique approaches to law enforcement based on Buddhist principles, demonstrating the power of linking conservation with traditional customs and beliefs. [1]

In Buddhist thought and teaching (based particularly on the Lotus Sutra) the Buddha can take any form to bring about the release of any aspect of nature from suffering – including taking the shape of a tree. Based upon this and in response to the illegal destruction of trees in Cambodia and Thailand, Buddhist monks working in partnership with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), have ordained trees as monks. Wrapped in robes these trees are totally protected and the forest within which they stand becomes a sacred and protected area. [2]

The monks of the Samraong Pagoda received the 2010 Equator Prize for outstanding community efforts to conserve biodiversity. The award is sponsored by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Monk's Community Forest is now Cambodia's largest community forest. While logging and hunting are prohibited, villagers may use traditional fishing methods, collect fallen timber for construction, and harvest non-timber forest products like bamboo, wild ginger, fruit and mushrooms. Illegal logging of the forest has been reduced significantly.

Watch video and download full report here.

the yew tree that stood in the garden of the Richard Jefferies Museum. © Tom Saunders
Sept 2008

Swindon Borough Council destroys old yew tree

An old yew tree (in the media described as '800 years old' but really about 250 years of age), major literary and spiritual importance, was axed by Swindon Borough Council on 25 September 2008 when no-one was around to stop the destruction.

The tree had been much appreciated by the poet Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) who had lived there in his time. The Council said the tree's roots were threatening the building.

Comment: It is a wide-spread paradigm that a building is seen more important than a tree by default and without question. And sadly, cutting down the entire living being is always cheaper than a closer investigation and careful partial surgery.

Compare Telegraph article

oldest spruce in the world: 'Old Tjikko' in Fulufjäll, Sweden. © Karl Brodowsky/Wikimedia Creative Commons
Feb 2008

The world's oldest spruce found in Sweden

In spring 2008, a 9,550 year-old spruce at Fulu Mountain in the Dalarna province of Sweden was proclaimed the 'world's oldest recorded tree'.*

* This might only be true if you swap 'world' for 'Europe' or 'tree' for 'spruce'. If you want the real superlative go to 'Pando', the gigantic American aspen colony in Utah.

The existing tree itself is actually not that old but under the crown of the (bonsai-sized) tree, scientists found four 'generations' of spruce remains in the form of cones and wood. Carbon-14-dating at a lab in Miami, Florida, showed the samples to be 375, 5,660, 9,000 and 9,550 years old respectively. 'Clear signs that they had the same genetic make-up as the trees above them' suggest, according to the Swedish scientists, that this tree had been alive all this time. Which is feasible because spruce trees are able to multiply with root-penetrating branches, in other words, they can clone themselves.

However, pre-dating the arrival of spruce in the region challenges the theory that the species came to Sweden from the east. Spruce is able to survive harsh conditions but would it have been possible for the seeds to travel 1,000 kilometres over inland ice that covered Scandinavia at the end of the last Ice Age?

Hence, Leif Kullman, Professor of Physical Geography at Umea University, suggests that spruce survived in places west or south-west of Norway and later spread north along the ice-free coastal strip. 'In some way they have also successfully found their way to the Swedish mountains.'

source: TreeNews, Issue 16, Spring/Summer 2009, p27;
Wikipedia: Old Tjikko

the word Classified in front of rough blackened background
Feb 2004

US army destroys ancient trees in Iraq

Iraq used to have the largest concentration of Date Palms on the planet. In the 1960s and '70s, about 30 million trees produced at least 578,000 tons of high-quality dates annually, the countries second largest export after oil.

But the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s (one incident alone destroyed the five million trees of the southern Ras al-Bisha grove), and the destructive agricultural policies of Saddam Hussein's regime reduced the Date population of Iraq to about 13 million (43% of the original number).

The US authorities claim to be working on the problem. A February-2004 agreement states that the USAID's Agricultural Development Program aims to buy 40,000 Palms (0.0013%) for orchards and nurseries, while the Iraq Agricultural Ministry will provide land, personnel, logistics and maintenance for the orchards.

However, the US and British series of air strikes in March 2003 coincided with the pollination period of Date palms and brought all hopes of an abundant harvest that year to an end. As for 2004, as journalist Patrick Cockburn reported in the Independent:

"US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of Date Palms as well as Orange and Lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerillas attacking US troops."

What if someone really doesn't know anything?

source: TreeNews Autumn/Winter 2004