Book hunting at the Shropshire Outdoor Show

At the weekend we went to the Shropshire Outdoor Show at Whittington Castle near Oswestry. The show is now in its second year and thankfully was able to go ahead despite the pandemic. Two dozen stands with a mixture of bushcraft, traditional crafts, and demonstrations like archery. A strong and lovely smell of wood smoke too. During the afternoon I came across a classic book on forestry, but more of that later.

The location of Whttington Castle is another of Shropshire’s hidden gems. The castle is operated by a charitable preservation trust on a 99 year lease, and they have done a lot of conservation work on the fabric of the buildings. As well as a beautiful place to visit, they also host reenactment events and regular car boots sales.

We had pizza from “So, Pizza?” who had a horse box converted into a pizza van! The castle itself also has a cafe, and a second hand bookshop.

When I was a student in the 1990s I used to spend a lot of time in second hand bookshops. They’ve declined in number since then and I tend to get more information online and from new books, which are easier to find and choose because of online bookshops with reviews. So I’m much more targeted than I was in the past when I could happily spend an afternoon in Cambridge or London going from shop to shop.

On a whim I decided to see what the castle book shop had, and came across a first edition of H. L. Edlin’s “Trees, Woods, and Man” from 1956. Which I bought for a pound.

This book was in Collins’ highly influential New Naturalist series, and represented the postwar consensus about the urgent need to create large plantations of conifers to make up for the trees lost during two world wars. The UK had been a timber importer for centuries, but the wartime blockades forced us to devastate the limited forestry we still had. Nowadays we again see the need to plant, but with an emphasis on broadleaf native species, and we’re very critical of Edlin’s employer, the Forestry Commission, in that period. Edlin’s book is a window into that world and helps explain why foresters did what they did.

To get a feel for how influential the book itself was, this is what Oliver Rackham said in his magisterial “Woodlands” of 2006: “This is not a successor to Trees, Woods and Man, published by my great predecessor, H.L. Edlin, as New Naturalist volume 32, fifty years ago. He wrote as a then rather old-fashioned modern forester who still remembered something of the distinction between woodland and plantation. … Although Edlin appreciated natural woods and understood the importance of woodland history, for him the future of woodland lay with modern forestry, and he had little to say about woods that were unsuitable for it.”

Nowadays “Woodlands” appears on university and college reading lists, and even foresters destined to manage the commercial plantations which we will need to replace cement with timber, don’t read Edlin.

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