“A wood of our own” by Julian Evans

I read “A wood of our own” by Julian Evans before I bought Century Wood, way back in 2007. I was already pretty sure I wanted to own a woodland, and Evans’ book helped confirm it. It’s become the book I compare other woodland owners’ books against, and I’ve looked through it again after reading and reviewing “A wood of one’s own” by Ruth Pavey.

Back in 2007 I had already read Evans’ book “Badgers, beeches, and blisters”, which is out of print but still available as a free PDF from woodlands.co.uk. That is very much a How To book with a lot of practical advice. At the same time as “A wood of our own”, I bought Chris Starr’s “Woodland management: a practical guide” and Ken Broad’s “Caring for small woods”. Both of these are more formal (very formal in Starr’s case: it’s a textbook) How To books in the vein of “Badgers, beeches, and blisters”, whereas “A wood of our own” is autobiographical. A first person account of Evans and his wife and her brother purchasing and managing the wood.

The book is relatively slim, with 158 numbered pages, but stays on the point without wandering off (compare Ruth Pavey’s book.) It is illustrated by John White’s line drawings, diagrams, and maps. This sketch of a shared gate with different owners’ padlocks in series will be a familiar sight to many woodland owners and managers.

Julian Evans was working at the Forestry Commission’s Alice Holt Research Station when he bought the wood, and eventually became Chief Research Officer before becoming Professor of Forestry at Imperial College. He is a past President of the Institute of Chartered Foresters. So his academic and professional credentials are impeccable, but you do not see them paraded in the book. In the book, you feel as if you are having a long chat with a Forestry Commission officer who knows his stuff and knows his wood, and is enjoying the role of gamekeeper turned poacher.

The chapters cover the experience of finding, buying and managing the wood in Hampshire. Originally 22 acres in 1985, the book describes how it grew in depth and size. After a few years the freehold was bought out. They were able to take possession of an area occupied by standing trees retained by a previous owner and eventually felled by them. A neighbouring wood came up for sale and another 7 or 8 acres were added.

At each stage we witness the thought processes and planning, and the implications of different types of land ownership and legal obligations. The first one we meet is that owning a wood as leasehold rather than freehold often means the “sporting rights” to shoot pheasants, other game, and pest species are retained by a previous owner. Who therefore has the right to turn up with guns and friends and shoot. Good country neighbours act with consideration and communicate, as Evans (mostly) experienced, but you can see how things can easily be different.

We see the difference between felling and thinning, the practicalities of selling standing timber and of waiting for it to be felled and removed, what it means to plant hundreds of saplings, the damage caused by the American Grey Squirrel, the habits of deer, the effect of the great storms of 1987 and 1990, and the pleasure of sharing a woodland with friends and family.

This is not a lyrical account of summer evenings, watching sunsets and listening for the sound of bats wings. But if you share the urge to find a wood and then leave it better than you found it, Julian Evans wants to tell you his story.

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