Oak grows quickly in its early days but slows as it ages. It takes 150 years before an oak is ready to be used in construction. Ancient craftsmen, farmers and builders knew that they had to plant oak trees, not for their own use but for the use of future generations. We too must take the long view when it comes to oak, building sustainable forests and woodlands that can be enjoyed by people in the future and from which we can take what we need in the medium term. Oak trees are not just beautiful, majestic and enduring, they are also essential to the planet’s ecosystem. Like all trees, they take in and store carbon dioxide and expel oxygen, helping to redress the imbalance created by humanity.
By burning the wood of an oak tree, we are releasing the carbon it has stored back into the atmosphere. This means that we are contributing to the accumulation of greenhouse gases that are causing global warming. When we build with oak, on the other hand, we are keeping that carbon locked up for much, much longer. An oak building can stand for literally hundreds of years, allowing us to prevent the release of that carbon for a long, long time. Oak is an environmentally sound building material because it will allow us to build structures that are carbon neutral and will not result in a net release of carbon into the atmosphere.
Oak burns well. But by building with oak taken from sustainable forestry we are definitely taking the long view. This long view is not only desirable, it is actually essential for the survival of life as we know it on this planet. We must all live more thoughtfully and think about the future if we are to successfully transition into a future we all want to see. We have to think less short term and on grander scale.
What is more, building with oak allows us to pay respect to these wonderful trees and do them justice by allowing them to become something beautiful at the end of their lives rather than literally sending them up in smoke. Oak trees are something to be respected and there are plenty of good reasons why it is one of our best-loved native trees. These trees are great for biodiversity. They support and sustain a wide range of wildlife and create a rich leaf mould beneath them which is used by other plants, fungi and soil life. Allowing these trees to grow then, into a size that allows them to be used for construction allows the ecosystem to flourish around them.
Oaks are revered across Europe and such is their regard that much mythology and symbolism has sprung up around them. In the UK, the oak is a symbol for strength and survival. It is important that we recognise the immense cultural significance of these trees and do not take nature’s bounty for granted.
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