Clive Woodnutt goes by a few names. His family calls him Bohmer, which is Afrikaans for “man of the trees”; but to the wider public he’s known as the “Tree Whisperer”.
And it’s fair enough. The owner of Bohmer’s Tree Care and an arborist of 46 years makes no secret of where his passion lies.
“It started when I was 14, and my mother married a tree surgeon. I fell in love with the job and love it more each day,” he says.
A qualified tree surgeon himself now, he says chopping them down, while sometimes a necessary part of the job, is always the last resort. And there’s a good reason for this.
“A lot of people think trees generate oxygen; they don’t. Trees clean oxygen and then store the byproduct, carbon dioxide, within themselves,” he explains.
“When a tree dies, it releases that carbon. So imagine the Earth as a balloon, filled with a finite amount of oxygen, and you might start to understand why it’s important that we stop chopping them down so fast, and try to plant more.”
Clive has dedicated large amounts of time to delivering this message to the general public, as part of a series of talks he gives as the Tree Whisperer.
Donning a tree costume (yes, actually) and arming himself with seeds, fruits, ropes and other props, he visits markets and schools with his colleague Shane Moon (aka the Wood Fairy) to spread the word.
The Tree Whisperer talks about his job, the importance of trees, what they do for us and the role they play in sustainability, all distilled into a digestible format.
If at a school, the Wood Fairy then takes the kids on a scavenger hunt for twigs and leaves, with which they create their own nature collages on recycled paper.
Finally, they’re gifted a recycled paper cup containing soil and a seed, which, hopefully, they take home and plant in their gardens.
“It’s not easy to hold the attention of six to eight-year-olds very long, so we try to create a few chances for the kids to get their hands dirty at the sessions and at home, which they love,” Clive says.
“The hope is that they take the message on board but also take it home with them and pass it on to mum and dad.
“I think we can change the world if we can reach young children in time.”
Though tree whispering has been a decades-long occupation, the moniker itself and the public outreach element are relatively new.
The first session was held at Coledale Markets about six years ago, after Clive worked on a magnolia tree for a client.
“The magnolia was well on its way out. I gave it mulch, food and Seasol, pruned the deadwood and installed an irrigation system and lo and behold, it recovered,” he says.
“The client said to me, ‘You’re the ‘Tree Whisperer’ and the rest is history.”
Today, on Schools Tree Day (Friday 28 July), the young’uns at Woonona Public School were the beneficiaries of the presentation.
They took home an Illawarra Flame Tree seed in a small, biodegradable pot.
Clive says good species selection plays a big role in long-term tree health.
“It’s no good driving to Queensland, seeing something that catches your fancy and then planting it in Wollongong – it won’t work,” he says.
“Speak to an arborist, the Wollongong Botanic Garden or the Wollongong City Council for advice.”
He also points to the Wollongong City Council’s “Adopt a Tree” program, which invites residents in the Wollongong Council area to approach the council to plant a tree on their verge that the resident then cares for.
Participants can nominate their preferred kind – deciduous, evergreen, native or exotic – and council experts will select from the species most suited to the area.
It’s part of Wollongong’s greater Urban Greening Strategy and a goal to increase local tree canopy coverage from some of the state’s lowest (17 per cent) to 35 per cent, which is what’s found in suburbs like Mangerton and places such as Wollongong Botanic Garden.
Since 75 per cent of Wollongong is private land, a great deal of the work will need to be driven by locals. And Clive says it’ll be as much about caring for established trees as planting new ones.
“We have to take care of our mature trees,” he says.
“If you’re having issues, engage an arborist. Maintenance costs money but neglect will cost the world a fortune in the end.”
To engage the Tree Whisperer for an informative presentation on trees, contact Bohmers Tree Care.
National Tree Day takes place this Sunday, 30 July.