Here are brief reviews of 10 UK cities from an opinionated French immigrant

Brighton, England’s Cartaret. Image: Getty.

Happy Brexit week, my friends! To celebrate this momentous time for Britain, I, a European immigrant, have decided to make a top 10 of your best cities, based on nothing but the time I have spent there, which ranges from a total of ten days to seven hours.

In order to help usher in this new chapter of your relationship with Europe, I thought it would be useful for you to let yourself be judged by your continental neighbours, and, specifically, by me.

I have not included London because it is where I live and I do not wish to be biased – this is serious work – and I must send my apologies to the good people of Wales as I have never visited and cannot judge what I have not seen.

With those caveats aside: here, in no particular order, are my reviews of 10 of your best British cities.

Manchester

Manchester’s alright isn’t it? I have been there five times and each time has been solidly alright. Huge fan of the big red brick buildings and the smaller red brick buildings also, but not much else to report besides that.

Well: I did have a cheesy omelette and chips in a caff in Hulme last year for £3.50. That feels worth noting. You’re alright, Manchester.

Birmingham

I find Birmingham a bit odd, if I’m honest with you. The first few times I went I really didn’t enjoy it, thought the city centre was quite bland, but then I went to stay in the Jewellery Quarter and I properly enjoyed it.

In conclusion: if you have never been to Birmingham I would recommend hanging out away from the centre, which is the least nice bit of the city, and then you will have a pleasant time. I mean, I assume. Don’t come to me for advice.


Brighton

First of all, I resent the fact that it is supposedly “Brighton and Hove” because I only ever really go to Brighton when I go to Brighton and Hove, and I also question the practice of sticking seaside towns together for no apparent reason.

We do it in France too. In my family’s neck of the woods, Barneville and Carteret got merged literally decades before I was born, but it is still such a controversial topic that I grew up with nothing but contempt for the people of inferior Barneville.

But anyway, “just Brighton”, as I call it: it’s good but it’s no Hastings, isn’t it? Also: too many hills. Absolutely no need for all those hills. Still, there’s a beach, so I remain a fan.

Edinburgh

Powerfully into it. That posh bit that has virtually no people in the streets and absolutely stunning buildings and little parks? What all cities should be like. Empty and pretty. People call it a museum city like it’s a bad thing. Fools.

Leeds

Listen, I went to Leeds once. Ten years ago. For one night. My French friend had moved to Bradford for an exchange and was homesick so I went to see her and on the Saturday night we went to an illegal rave on the outskirts of Leeds, the ones you had to receive cryptic texts about to find out where it was because it was 2009.

We went to get the train back to Bradford at... something am? Something pm perhaps? And we walked through the campus of Leeds University and because it was fresher’s week there were some people handing out free Domino’s pizzas.

This was my time in Leeds and I give it a solid, heart-rending 10/10. Great place, would be 17 there again.

Belfast

A very good city, in my opinion. When I went there for the first time I saw a dot on Google Maps that said “The Big Fish, the Salmon of Knowledge”, which is objectively the funniest thing you can spot on the map of a city you do not know.

Anyway, I went to see The Big Fish, the Salmon of Knowledge and it is a ten-metre long blue statue of a fish, and you can text her questions about Belfast and she’ll text back. Brilliant.

Also: the architecture is nice.

Cambridge

Extremely good buildings, far too many idiots on bikes. Every time I’m there I stop walking to look at a nice building and nearly get run over by a cyclist. A beautiful but stressful place.

Liverpool

Was not looking forward to this one because, if there is one thing you learn relatively quickly as a foreigner in Britain, it is that Liverpudlians take their city powerfully seriously. I respect that, but I fear it.

As a result, what I will say about Liverpool is this: it’s a very lively city! Clearly young and full of life and once I found myself in the city centre at 1am on a Saturday night and it honest to god looked like a war zone. I sincerely do not think I could ever go properly on the lash in Liverpool without dying. To Liverpool I say: I fear you and I respect you.

Glasgow

Yes to Glasgow! It’s pretty, it’s alive, the people are nice, and once I went to pet a dog in a park and the old lady at the other end of the leash talked to me for a solid ten minutes and I didn’t understand a word she said because her accent was so thick, but she’s my best friend now. If I weren’t a Mediterranean-blooded coward I would 100% move to Glasgow.

York

Okay yeah we get it York, you’re nice. You’re very old and so much history has happened within your walls and you’re very beautiful. Fine. Whatever. You’re “Fit But You Know It” by The Streets, York, that’s what you are.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how we plant 2 billion more trees in the UK

A tree in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Image: Getty.

The UK’s official climate advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), recently published a report outlining how to reduce the 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions that come from land use by two thirds by 2050. Alongside recommending cutting meat and dairy consumption by 20 per cent, the report calls for the annual creation of up to 50,000 hectares of broadleaf and conifer woodland for the next three decades. This would increase forest cover from 13 per cent to at least 17 per cent – a level not seen in Britain since before the Norman invasion.

Reforestation at that rate would mean creating roughly the area of the city of Leeds every year for the next three decades. At typical stocking densities of 1,500 stems per hectare, the ambition is to establish some 2.25 billion additional trees. Given that the UK, as with most of Europe, is in the grip of ash dieback, a disease likely to prove fatal for many millions of native ash trees, the scale of the challenge is massive.

On a crowded and intensively farmed island like Britain, unlocking a million and a half hectares of land will be no mean feat. But it’s not impossible – and is an unprecedented opportunity not only to tackle the climate crisis but also the biodiversity crisis that is every bit as detrimental to our wellbeing.

Trees and farms

One million and a half hectares is just 6 per cent of the mainland UK’s land area. To give some sense of perspective on this, 696,000 hectares of “temporary grassland” were registered in 2019. So if land supply is not the problem, what is? Often it’s cultural inertia. Farmers are firmly rooted to the land and perhaps understandably reluctant to stop producing food and instead become foresters. But the choice need not be so binary.

The intensification of agriculture has caused catastrophic declines in many species throughout the UK by reducing vast wooded areas and thousands of miles of hedgerows to small pockets of vegetation, isolating populations and making them more vulnerable to extinction.

Integrating trees with the farmed landscape delivers multiple benefits for farms and the environment. Reforestation doesn’t have to mean a return to the ecologically and culturally inappropriate single-species blocks of non-native conifers, which were planted en masse in the 1970s and 1980s. Incentivised under tax breaks to secure a domestic timber supply, many of the resulting plantations were located in places difficult or in some cases impossible to actually harvest.

Productive farmland needn’t be converted to woodland. Instead, that 4 per cent of land could be found by scattering trees more widely. After all, more trees on farmland is good for business. They prevent soil erosion and the run-off of pollutants, provide shade and shelter for livestock, a useful source of renewable fuel and year-round forage for pollinating insects.

The first tranche of tree planting could involve new hedgerows full of large trees, preferably with wide headlands of permanently untilled soils, providing further wildlife refuge.


Natural regeneration

Where appropriate, new woody habitats can be created simply by stopping how the land is currently used, such as by removing livestock. This process can be helped by scattering seeds in areas where seed sources are low. But patience is a virtue. If people can learn to tolerate less clipped and manicured landscapes, nature can run its own course.

A focus on deliberate tree planting also raises uncomfortable truths. Most trees are planted with an accompanying stake to keep them upright and a plastic shelter that protects the sapling from grazing damage. All too often, these shelters aren’t retrieved. Left to the elements, they break down into ever smaller pieces, and can be swept into rivers and eventually the ocean, where they threaten marine wildlife. Two billion tree shelters is a lot of plastic.

The main reason for using tree shelters at all is because the deer population in the UK is so high that in many places, it is all but impossible to establish new trees. This also has serious implications for existing woodland, which is prevented from naturally regenerating. In time, these trees will age and die, threatening the loss of the woodland itself. Climate change, pests and pathogens and the lack of a coordinated, centrally supported approach to deer management means the outlook for the UK’s existing treescape is uncertain at best.

An ecologically joined-up solution would be to reintroduce the natural predators of deer, such as lynx, wolves, and bears. Whether rewilding should get that far in the UK is still the subject of debate. Before that, perhaps the focus should be on providing the necessary habitat, rich in native trees.

A positive response would be to implement the balanced recommendations, made almost a decade ago in a government review, of creating more new habitat, improving what’s already there, and finding ways to link it together. Bigger, better, and more connected habitats.

But the UK is losing trees at increasing rates and not just through diseases. The recent removal of Victorian-era street trees in Sheffield and many other towns and cities is another issue to contend with. As the climate warms, increasing urban temperatures will mean cities need shade from street trees more than ever.

Trees aren’t the environmental panacea that the politicians might have people believe – even if they do make for great photo opportunities – but we do need more of them. Efforts to expand tree cover are underway across the world and the UK will benefit from contributing its share. Hitting the right balance – some commercial forestry, lots of new native woodland and millions of scattered trees – will be key to maximising the benefits they bring.

Nick Atkinson, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Conservation, Nottingham Trent University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.