Wednesday 25 November 2009

Into the Woods

The myth of the vast wildwood that cloaked most of medieval England in trees is of course just that - a myth (See Oliver Rackham, passim) - much more woodland was cleared or brought under management, much earlier, than was/is commonly supposed. However, the idea of the great wildwood has a strong pull. There is a special edge of wonder to walking in woodland - it feels like home, yet not like home - and a special edge of (at least half enjoyable) fear to getting thoroughly lost in woodland, as if the wildwood might reclaim us after all. Similarly (though here, as ever, I may only be speaking for myself), there's a special thrill in the prospect of more woodland - good broad-leaved woodland - being created in this under-wooded land. Now, by a happy convergence of 'climate change' and 'sustainability' preoccupations, it looks as if it's going to happen. This is a splendid piece of retroprogressive news, improving our world by returning it to something more like the past. My only reservation is that they might not pay enough attention to managing these vast new tracts of woodland. It's the neglect of proper woodland management - particularly creating the right kind of clearing at the right time of year - that has led to the decline of such woodland butterfly species as that pretty pearl-bordered fritillary that's perched on the corner of this post. If the Forestry Commission get this one right - particularly if they join up existing patches of woodland, creating 'corridors' between isolated communities - it should be good news for butterflies, as well as the rest of us.


  1. Are you a woody person then Nige?

    I have this theory that everyone has a wee imaginary fantasy Archetypal Retreat. Leafy woods is a common one. For some it's mountains, cold clear skies etc. Or green rolling meadowland. For me it's the seashore. Friend of mine fantasises about burrowing into tunnels like Moley. I haven't quite worked out how to present this theory yet, or the extent of its significance.

  2. I too welcome a brave new woody future. As well as the woodland itself, it would also mean more wooden furniture, wood-fired ovens, venison and wild mushrooms. I think we should also encourage the grazing of pigs. 'Yummy' as Greg on Masterchef the Professionals would say.

  3. Love woodland but it has to be the right woodland. In a sense, it has to be woodland that's allowed to die off as much as it's allowed to thrive. Regimented trees are no use to anybody. We need more woodland with the occasional upturned tree left to rot.

  4. Recent felling operations around us have led to some contact with 'the consultant' who has been overseeing the work. The font of all arboreal knowledge, he can cost a group of trees to within a penny,
    "It's just a cash crop" he said, he wasn't joking, the machinery, made in Finland, cost three hundred thousand oncer's, according to the Ent who was operating it.
    Woods may be areas to wax lyrical over, ultimately the value lies in another direction.

  5. I wouldn't trust the Forestry Commission to get anything right. My ideal landscape was the glorious moor and windswept upland of the Cambrian Mountains in mid-Wales. My brother and I used to take ponies up into the hills, lie on our backs watching red kites and playing make-believe for hours. Then the forestry commission planted millions of conifers in row upon row, marching up hill and down, ruining the landscape that I loved and God knows what else. Hateful, hateful people. I can't bear to go there now - it makes me cry.

  6. I for one would welcome a radical new partnership being forged between the forestry commision and our lap dancing industry

  7. Hasn't fine woodland always been a slightly haphazard affair, in the sense that it has always relied for care and maintenance on the rich and powerful who regard it as a resource for prestige and hunting? Perhaps instead of shooting everything that moves on their land, today's grandees and moneymen could be persuaded to give some of it over to gentler pursuits. What we need is a kind of Landmark Trust for woodlands, though there are probably a few already. Perhaps someone could make a start by gifting them this.

  8. True that Sophie, the Picasso's of the pine.

  9. Mark, as Oliver Rackham makes clear in the book Nige references, one of the biggest enemies of a traditional woodland habitat is deer. We need to keep them under control - by shooting them - if the woodland is going to thrive. Perhaps we could democratise deer shooting by awarding licenses in the new woodland by lottery (only to those who'd cleared a hurdle or two, of course)?

  10. gaw, let's license deer-hunting with crossbows and longbows. Fun for all the family. Like paint-balling, but less silly, and you get to eat what you kill.

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