iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for Trees and climate change

Play now 45 mins

Trees and climate change

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 26 November 2011

As the United Nations Climate conference gets underway in South Africa at the end of the month, we ask whether trees can help save us from the effects of climate change, or are they themselves in danger from the rising temperatures?

Professor Staffan Lindgren, from the University of Northern British Columbia, explains how the milder temperatures have encouraged the rise of the pine beetle, which has already destroyed millions of hectares of forests in Canada, and looks set to march towards the Eastern United States.

Tony Kirkham, the head of the Arboretum at the world famous Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, tells us of the dramatic effects of climate change on native British trees, and how many, like the oak and the horse chestnut, are in danger of disappearing.

And the novelist Tracy Chevalier, author of the best seller Girl with the Pearl Earring, turns her literary attention towards trees and suggests we renew our emotional and spiritual connection to them because they are vital for our survival.

Illustration by Emily Kasriel: our characterful trees under threat from beetles and hotter climates.


4 items
  • Staffan Lindgren

    Staffan Lindgren

    Staffan Lindgren, Professor of Forest Insects from the University of Northern British Columbia, shares with us his latest research on the pine beetle plague, which has taken down nearly 30 billion conifers from Alaska to Mexico, and is now making a rapid advance over the Rocky Mountains to the rest of the continent – with big implications for carbon in our planet. He explains how the beetle has benefited from milder conditions due to global warming, and why some trees defend themselves better against it than others.

  • Tony Kirkham

    Tony Kirkham

    Tony Kirkham is the head of the Arboretum at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew where he is in charge of more than 14,000 trees. He is also one of Kew’s most accomplished plant collectors. He fears that because of global warming, over a very short period the distinctive treescape of Britain will change and that it will start to resemble far more closely that of Mediterranean countries and North America.

  • Tracy Chevalier

    Tracy Chevalier

    The historical novelist Tracy Chevalier shares with us some of her latest writings about trees. She is a co-editor and writer of Why Willows Weep, a collection of short stories by 19 acclaimed authors. In her modern fable, Why Birches Have Silver Bark, she suggests we learn to appreciate trees and that we see them as more than just ornaments or ways of offsetting carbon emission.

    Why Willows Weep

    In her 60 second idea, historical novelist Tracy Chevalier suggests that everyone who's born should have a tree planted for them, and that once they're old enough for the responsibility, they must visit it regularly, arrange for its pruning and raking, and make decisions about its welfare - very much as if it's their child. That way, not only would a lot of trees be planted, but it would help us understand the effect of the choices we make to do with our environment, and teach us to care for the natural world on our doorstep.

  • In Next Week’s Programme

    We try to unravel all kinds of mysteries, from the mystery of quantum physics with pioneer of quantum computing David Deutsch, to that of love with anthropologist Helen Fischer and film making with Hollywood scriptwriter Jonah Nolan.


Free downloads

  1. Image for Forum - A World of Ideas

    Forum - A World of Ideas

    Ideas from the world's biggest thinkers. Hear philosophers, scientists, politicians, novelists,…

  2. Image for Forum - Sixty Second Idea to Improve the World

    Forum - Sixty Second Idea to Improve the World

    A radical, inspiring, controversial idea from a global thinker from the world of philosophy,…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.