Tales of a tree surgeon

By Martha Nicholson


[dropcap]S[/dropcap]tockholm’s woodlands are much more than meet the eye. The late Swedish Poet Laureate Tomas Tranströmer agreed, and commented on moments of blissful creativity when walking in the woods on his home island Runmarö in the outer archipelago. With this in mind, I took a look at the health and social benefits that Stockholm residents get from living in a tree friendly city.

So, do Stockholm’s residents live healthier, happier lives as a result of living a few minutes away from a leafy forest path? Research suggests that by living close to trees does indeed lead to social, mental and physical health benefits, more cohesive communities and better air quality. This research has been used by Dr Dan Bloomfield at the University of Exeter to develop a ‘Green Prescription’. A dose of forest and outdoor engagement nature for patients with Chronic conditions can deliver physiological and psychological benefits. Other studies show that living in close proximity to woodland leads a lifestyle free of stress, anger and depression, with more room for mental composure and a higher self-esteem. Having trees nearby also encourages us to abandon sedentary lifestyles and to bravely step out into the outdoors to interact with the visually gratifying environment.

Rob Vowles (pictured here) is a specialist tree surgeon and long time Stockholm resident. He has explored every inch of Stockholm’s diverse woodlands, with work taking him from the heart of the city and its elm trees on one day, to a secluded pine studded island the next. The leaf-free winter months are prime season for repurposing trees by pruning, monitoring risks of deadwood and ensuring the safety of tree structures. Rob explains that “urban forestry is fundamental in environments where humans and trees co-exist for the sake of safety for both the tree and us residents”. So tree surgeons have their work cut out this winter where towering pines, maples and giant oaks dominate our urban landscape.

With the big freeze upon us and here to stay for another three months, how can we use this knowledge to our advantage? The social, mental and physical benefits of the forest are invaluable resources for winter Stockholm survival. When I asked Rob how to get the most from Stockholm’s woodland scenery, he tells me that the best way is to make a conscious effort to plan walks, cycles or runs into your weekends. If you’re feeling ambitious, take a hike in the visually stunning and readily accessible Tyresta National Park ( in the South of Stockholm. “What makes Tyresta such a special place is that it is one of the oldest untouched forests in Sweden with some truly spectacular trees”. If you can’t fit a full day of woodland wanders into your schedule, “try a relaxing stroll around Djurgården with your route ending under the epic oak tree (one of Rob’s patients) that dwarfs the castle like cafe Helin Voltaire” ( They do a great fika too.

Good clothing is essential to a day out in the woods. Stay true to the old saying “Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder” (there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes). Rob tells me “hardwearing kit from stores like Fjällraven ( are worth the investment so you can enjoy winter woodlands to the full by going out and really getting mucky”.

While we all want to make the most of Stockholm’s woodlands, glean the benefits of fresh air, enjoy the health promoting qualities and even the higher economic equality, we should turn our attention the sustainability of the woodland landscape. Tree surgeons have an important role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem and, as Rob explains, sometimes his patients have to suffer a sad but inevitable fate; “a tree falling into a state of decline can rarely be pruned to a state of recovery so instead of trying to do the impossible, we encourage the specimen to be an effective habitat for numerous birds and insects.

Next time you visit your local woodland and see large dead standing trees, don’t think of them as being dangerous or untidy but look at them as a metropolis for creepy crawlies and our flying feathered friends”.

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