By Miguel Angel Ruiz
A centennial tree is much more than a tree; he is also an essential element of the landscape, part of our culture, a guardian of traditions, even an old friend. Venerable trees provide us with food, shade and shelter for rest and quiet conversation, they are often a vital reference and are always where they need to be unless they are struck by lightning or blown away by the wind - right, pine tree? Celia? And they cheer us up, whether we are in the middle of the mountain or in the middle of the city. In the Region of Murcia there are more than a thousand of these colossi that have seen history pass among its branches, but there is no regulation that protects them as a whole, although the Autonomous Community does a follow-up to take care of the most important and some municipalities, like those of Murcia and Alhama, they have recognized the value of some of them in their municipal planning.
To solve this deficiency, the Popular Parliamentary Group wants to carry out a Monumental Tree Heritage Law, whose proposal it registered in the Regional Assembly last month. A basic regulation inspired by the one in force in the Valencian Community since 2006 –although the regulation is being developed now–, but more generous in terms of some criteria. For example, all trees over two hundred years old will be protected - in Valencia the default protection is 350 - or that meet some of the following guidelines: thirty meters high, 25 in diameter in the crown or a trunk with six meters in perimeter.
The legislators will not go blind: the plant heritage of the Region is well studied and there is enough scientific literature to close the list of trees that will be legally protected. In its day the information of 1,100 specimens was compiled, and with a selection of them –the two most relevant of each species, by size and age– the list of 146 that make up the Catalog of Priority Monumental Trees (CAMP) was drawn up. Among them, relics such as the Olivera Gorda de Ricote, the Mayayo eucalyptus (in Murcia, the highest tree in the Region), the Lo Santero taray (Torre Pacheco), the Maripinar olmeda (Cieza), the Hortillo poplar. (Caravaca de la Cruz), the maple from Hondares (Moratalla) and the almond tree from Cuesta de Gos (Águilas).
The idea was to protect them with the category of Natural Monument, but the initial intention did not go beyond there. "We are aware that there is a danger that centennial trees, which are part of our natural, cultural and historical heritage, will be lost", Jesús Cano, executive secretary of Agriculture and Environment of the Popular Party and promoter, explains to 'La Verdad' of the bill together with Víctor Martínez, PP parliamentary spokesman.
The first step will be to develop a catalog of trees that can be protected, a relationship that will emerge from the previous scientific work carried out by experts from the University of Murcia (UMU) and the environmental technicians of the regional Administration. "We will meet with the UMU researchers and with all those who have something to contribute, because we want it to be a law open to society," says Jesús Cano, who hopes to discuss the new rule after the summer.
The creation of the catalog, as well as the practical application of the new regulations, will be in the hands of the Ministry of Water, Agriculture and Environment, where the regional tree heritage management body will be established.
The bill does not specify a budget. The cost of monitoring, conserving and disseminating the importance of monumental trees in the Region will be calculated when the working group decides which ones should be protected. The advance of the legal text does specify the economic sanctions for mistreating the tree heritage: up to 18,000 euros for minor offenses, from 18,001 to 100,000 euros for serious ones and between 100,001 and 250,000 euros for very serious ones. Among the latter, both the uprooting of the tree and the transplant, as well as damage, mutilation, deterioration or direct death. Therefore, the sale of bicentennial olive trees to decorate roundabouts and gardens ended. "The truth is that the film 'El olivo' by Icíar Bollaín was an incentive to launch this legal initiative," admits the PP politician.
(Published in ‘La Verdad’ on June 12, 2016)