Tiny stories from the land

From Europe's tree of the year to your right to roam

The European Tree of the Year

Each year, the title of European Tree of the Year is awarded to one single tree. In the contest’s own words: “the European Tree of the Year doesn’t focus on beauty, size or age but rather on the tree’s story and its connection to people. We are looking for trees that have become a part of the wider community.” The 400-year-old “Oak Dunin” in Przybudki, Poland, is 2022’s winner. Locals know the tree as the “Guardian of the Białowieża Primeval Forest”,  the oldest and best-preserved forest ecosystem in Europe. It is home to the largest population of European bison and is astonishing in its opportunities to conserve biodiversity.

The empty breadbasket

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, the country’s agricultural sector has been brought to a halt. Its primary production is wheat, corn and byproducts made from sunflowers. Of worldwide exports in 2020, Ukraine provided 9% of wheat, 13% of corn and a third of sunflower oil. In 2019, 57% of Ukraine’s land was being used for crop cultivation. A quarter of the world’s “chernozem” or “black soil”, which is highly fertile, can be found in Ukraine. Countries reliant on Ukrainian agricultural exports include Libya, India, the UK, and China—Benin and Somalia were even entirely dependent on Ukraine and/or Russia for their wheat exports.

Reconnecting Black communities with land in Britain

Land In Our Names (LION) is a London-based, Black-led initiative dedicated to land justice and the healing of colonial-rooted trauma through reparations. By connecting racial justice and climate justice, the collective creates space for Black people and people of colour to heal and repair. They provide growers financial grants for people interested in starting or investing further in their allotments or back gardens, as well as programmes to tackle entry barriers and projects to renovate spaces, curate workshops, and learn skills—like bee hotel building and herbalism among others.

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Réttir: rounding up Iceland’s sheep

Approximately 800,000 sheep wander Iceland’s distinctive countryside. They represent more than twice the population of the Nordic island. The large majority of these sheep roam free, across the many Icelandic valleys and plateaus. Every September, locals come together on foot, horseback or on quad bikes to gather all the sheep into a réttir–a circular gated pen with longer sections radiating outwards. They are then sorted into the various sections of the pen so that each farmer can find their flock. The event ends with traditional singing and dancing.

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The right to roam Europe

Many countries in Europe have the right to roam, albeit to differing extents. This right allows anyone to move freely across the land—independently of whether it is publicly or privately owned. In Norway, it is called allemansrett or “the everyman’s right”. And it is not just a right, but a responsibility. Most countries stipulate that people cannot disturb wildlife, damage crops, litter or generally leave the area in a poorer state than they found it in. In Switzerland, the right to roam is codified into law but exceptions are made for conservation, where young forests or biotopes are fenced off. Further north, Keep Ireland Open is a campaign hoping to improve citizens’ access to the countryside. As it stands, national parks are the only place where the right to roam is guaranteed in the country—which represents only 0.9% of Ireland.

England’s right to roam