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Recently I was asked along to take some photographs for the local village newsletter. The occasion, such as it was, was the planting, in a piece of unused meadow adjacent to a semi fresh build, of a bunch (or whatever the correct term is for a bit more then a few, a pride maybe, or possibly a congress) of sapling Oaks donated by the Woodland Trust for the creation of a woodland trail in the village.
I can only applaud the Trust for the work they’re doing in encouraging tree planting and, hopefully, making people readdress the strange – and of late slightly skewed – relationship we have with our woodland.
Within the confines of all that encompasses the wild in this country the noble tree is, I believe, the most real, potent, historical and in a way magical link we have to the wilderness from which we came. A wilderness, in my humble opinion, we would do well not to presume we have detached from.
Britain, as most people who are naturally inclined to know these things will already know, was in times of before Yore pretty much one huge forest. Her (for all countries are surely ‘She,’ carrying her offspring protected from raging oceans within her grassy loins) inhabitants eeking their existence from within those wooded enclaves. Hunting, gathering, sheltering and mythologising from beneath leafy canopies.
At present our woodland (for now it is woodland, far from forest-land and leaning ever more toward copse-land) covers a pitiful 12% of our country. What constitutes Ancient Woodland (ancient being, however, distinct from Indigenous – as someone who knows about this sort of thing recently informed me over a pint, only the Birch, the Scotch Pine and the Juniper are actually indigenous the rest being foreign imports that have stuck it long enough to appear truly native, like chips) coves a minuscule 2%. That’s pretty drab, when you take in to account our European neighbours can boast an average of 44% land cover.
And its not just the woodland, the need to have cleared our countryside of the savage wilderness, its our contempt for the very tree itself which is cause for more than a little consternation. Only a hundred or so years ago you could find yourself a choice of over 2000 types of apples in Britain. The rate of decline of the small orchard in this country over the last thirty years, given over to farm cash crops, build bypasses or churn out Tesco’s will leave you lucky to find ten. Ten Types. Of Apple. From Abroad. In Tesco. (Which is particularly pathetic for a country that prides itself in being a father of scientific advancement, no Newtons here anymore, unless we start leaving our budding young geniuses of tomorrow down the supermarket, in the fruit and veg section.)
It does you good, the wilderness, it feeds the spirit, helps you to connect with that which is within us all. Away from this unnecessary obsession we seem to have these days with steel, glass, concrete and ridiculously straight lines. We have, as a species, spent around 99% of our existence tramping around the wilds in some form or another, top suddenly replace that, with a few brief thousand years of arable organising and then an astonishingly fast 300 year migration to the urbanised, industrialised and downright rationalised landscape of today’s cities is nothing short of self psychological strangulation. We adapt quickly as a species but not that quickly. Not at the atavistic, visceral level anyway. You can’t reprogram nature….
Biophillia, the innate need for us to be out, in nature, a part of our world it wont just go away because we make a rational (if you can call it that) conscious choice to embrace mechanised modernity with all haste. But that’s what we seemed to have been thinking, and whilst Britain in her wisdom opted for mass deforestation and reliance on gas and electricity countries like Austria (38% woodland cover) quietly made use of what they already had. Using the natural resources around them to fire small 50 or a 100 watt generators which provide power for a few homes at a time. Cheap, readily available fuel. On your doorstep, how much easier is that than building a pipeline to Norway? The skewed logic of modern capitalism…
Trees – they’re the future, and the past, its time to give them prescience