Posted: Friday 1 February 2013
by Richard Jones
Some people are very precious about trees. This is because the tree has become one of the green super-icons of the environmental movement.
A few days ago some bright yellow no-parking cones were lined up along the kerb a few doors down from me. Tree works, it seemed, were taking place. It wasn’t until the whine of the chainsaws started up that it dawned on me what trees were being worked on.
Some people are very precious about trees. This is because the tree has become one of the green super-icons of the environmental movement. Very simply — planting trees is good, cutting down trees is bad. Except it’s not that simple. Not that simple at all.
In this case, the tree being felled was a massive cypress, a good 15 metres high and probably four metres across near the base; it was a great blemish of a tree, a dark hulk, a brooding monster. Whatever people’s attitudes to gardening might be, I doubt there are many who would mourn its loss from a wildlife perspective, and plenty who would celebrate the final demise of a pernicious triffid.
But this vigorous tree does have some wildlife value, as host to one of Britain’s loveliest shieldbugs. Cyphostethus tristriatus is a crisp emerald green, with a striking orange-pink boomerang mark on each wingcase. It feeds on the young cones, but never enough to do any damage to these most vigorous of trees.
It’s sometimes called the juniper shieldbug, because this was its native foodplant, but nowadays it is really the cypress shieldbug. And whereas it used to be quite a scarce species of chalk downland and limestone uplands, it is now a widespread garden species, mostly feeding on Lawson’s cypress, but also sometimes on Leylandii. There are several other previously juniper-feeding bugs now found on these garden hedging plants, but this is the prettiest.
I’m not suggesting that cypresses should be preserved for their special food-plant status. I’m just pointing out that one man’s (or woman’s) intrusive light-blocker is another’s wildlife habitat.