Forest Protection By Any Other Name, For Any Other Purpose, Through Any Other Means, Is Just As Sweet


Richard Fortey and Derek Niemann among the beeches in Grim’s Dyke Wood. Photograph: Sarah Niemann

We do not favor private sector conservation efforts over all other options; we favor them over the option of no conservation at all. Governments around the world have rightly done the heaviest lifting on preserving nature, considering their resources, eminent domain, and other factors including the most salient; public lands effectively belong to an entire nation’s citizens. Philanthropies have also done enormous good. We have written plenty on both public and philanthropic conservation schemes. Today, a more modest story, but no less lovely:

A walk in the woods with Richard Fortey

Henley, Oxfordshire The palaeontologist and author offers a tour of Grim’s Dyke Wood, which he bought in 2011

Derek Niemann

Five years after the palaeontologist Richard Fortey bought Grim’s Dyke Wood, a small Chiltern beech wood, he shows no diminution in enthusiasm for his “nature reserve”. He gives me a tour, though in truth we delight in each other’s discoveries. I find him a ring of bright feathers on a pile of rotting pine logs, a raptor’s kill, the buffs and browns speaking of a song thrush forever silenced. He finds bracket fungi that have insinuated themselves into the thin, horizontal lesions on a cherry tree’s trunk.

I prise a white pebble from the ground as if drawing a chocolate from its box. North Wales, he says, a jewel of quartz carried to that very spot by a prehistoric river. A cappuccino-coloured stone he ascribes to the Midlands, with the easy assurance of a geologist who pinpoints tiny details within (for the rest of us) unimaginably big pictures.


Richard Fortey, pictured at home in 2009. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian

I jump into one of his best finds, a deep, rectangular bramble-strewn hole that looks tailor-dug for a large coffin. He is fairly certain it is the remains of a sawpit, a relic from the days when labourers left the farms after harvest-time and spent their winters working in the wood, felling trees for more skilled woodworkers to make Windsor chairs and scrubbing brushes…

Read the whole story here, and especially consider reading its precursor, part of an excellent series in the Guardian:

The Wood for the Trees by Richard Fortey review – our deep-rooted connection to woodland

Renowned natural historian Fortey bought four acres of beech and bluebell wood and began a deep investigation into its fauna and flora. His enthusiasm for his new wonderland is infectious

Rob Cowen

It is hard to think of a more treasured aspect of the British landscape than woodland, which is surprising when you consider how far we seem to have wandered from the trees. We have lower levels of woodland cover (13%) than our EU neighbours and nine out of 10 of us are firmly immured in the urban environment, yet the forest continues to thrive in the national psyche, as demonstrated by the outcry in 2011 that halted government plans to privatise England’s state-owned woods and forests.

This passion is partly aesthetic: who can really resist the stark beauty of cruciform trees backlit by winter sun, the rolling green seas of birdsong they become in summer, or their spectacular russet and scarlet autumn shows? Certainly not 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill who, after a walk through one patch of beech trees, proclaimed woods “the great beauty of this country”.

We love too the off-the-lead freedom to wander these ever-changing yet timeless spaces, to briefly decentralise ourselves from the world and experience nature’s otherness in counterpoint to day-to-day life. Public outrage at the proposed sell-off wasn’t just about the effect it would have on a favourite view or psychological retreat, however – the very character of the country seemed under threat. In its defence, protestors evoked everyone from Robin Hood to Winnie the Pooh. Also deployed were those iconic sylvan signifiers of English history: the yew bows that won Agincourt and the hearts of oak that helped the Royal Navy rule the waves.

Although slackened, our connection to woodland is deep-rooted. It is historical, cultural and personal, ingrained from millennia of habitation, dependency and usage. Even today, among a deforested population, clues as to how hard-wired and hands-on this relationship has been remain close. Take the surname Cooper, one who crafts barrels from oak, or Cartwright or Wheelwright. In my own family (tree), there is Brayshaw – meaning a broad, small wood – Woods, Holmwood and Turner, all with associations to a place or profession tangled up with trees. Small wonder that, whenever we do find a path back, forgotten memories are stirred. We half-recall a time not too distant when woods provided all we required. And in an unstable world they still provide a sense of reassurance we’re not ready to lose…

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