Smallwoods, Issue 73, New Year 2019

The postman delivered the current edition of the Small Woods Association’s “Smallwoods” magazine today, for New Year 2019.

As well as the usual news roundup, letters, and book reviews, the feature articles include:

  • Carbon capture in wood
  • Identifying signs of mammals
  • The first in a series of articles on woodland planning permission and other controls
  • Buying and selling woods
  • 100 years of the Forestry Commission
  • The Oliver Rackham archive of books and papers
  • Weaving a willow basket
  • One member’s wood, planted by them in 1995
  • Blue tits in woodland

I was really pleased to see the planning article, which again brought up some of the themes of the Long Tail essay. I’m looking forward to the next article in the series, on the details of the planning system (the bare bones of which are in the Planning Law page on this site.)

 

“Broadleaf” magazine, Winter 2018

The winter issue of The Woodland Trust’s quarterly “Broadleaf” magazine dropped on the mat today.

This edition’s features are:

  • the Trust’s new landscapes programme, that aims to connect up woodlands to allow wildlife to move around and be part of larger populations, which in turn has benefits for genetic diversity and disease resistance
  • an article, with some striking photos, on the reintroduction of beavers and their impact on water quality, flood control, and recreating habitats – the original British coppice workers
  • a walk through Lineover Wood in the Cotswolds (with an accompanying map) and some information about the volunteers who manage it and their Christmas campfire feast (which sound like a great idea!)
  • and an article on Orienteering as a way of enjoying woodland and how to get involved

News items include:

  • wildcat reintroduction, including the possibility to bring them back to England and Wales as well as extend their range in Scotland
  • an update on the Northern Forest, including the Government’s desire to use it as a testbed for the reforms of agricultural and forestry funding after Brexit, as we leave the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy rules and target more of the money at wider environmental and social benefits from flood control etc
  • the huge Summit to Sea rewilding and restoration project in mid Wales

There’s more about “Broadleaf” in the Trust’s blog.

“Leave No Trace” and “Winter’s Bone”

I watched the film “Winter’s Bone” from 2010 last night and then went to see “Leave No Trace”, both directed by Debra Granik. The two films are set in American forests and show non-conventional families finding ways to survive.

“Winter’s Bone” has Jennifer Lawrence’s 17 year old character trying to keep her sisters and virtually speechless mother in their cabin in their woodland. Most of the film is her search for her father who has put the cabin and land up as bail. Now he has disappeared, they face eviction. The film briefly touches on learning to hunt and dress kills, when to fell hundred year old trees, and rural isolation when you don’t have your own transport. It’s not a stereotype “hillbilly” film, but it does tick a lot of the boxes. Neighbours butcher a deer carcass hanging by their barn and lots of people have banjos. I was waiting for moonshine to appear but it’s the 21st century so they’re cooking crystal meth instead. Mark Kermode’s DVD review.

Eight years later, her “Leave No Trace” has a father and 13 year old daughter living in the forest itself. They have semi permanent camps, make their own fire but fall back to gas bottles when they have to, read books a lot, and make occasional trips in Portland, Oregon to buy provisions they can’t source themselves. Eventually they get caught and the to and fro of being in and out of “civilisation” leads them to question what they each want: living in a farming community? An isolated cabin in the forest? Or a trailer park community not unlike “Winter’s Bone”? Mark Kermode’s review has more and you might still be able to catch it in the cinema.

 

Rewilding and permaculture at the Hay Festival

Yesterday I was at the Hay Festival and went to sessions about rewilding and permaculture. This was my first time at the festival, although I’ve been going to Hay-on-Wye’s second hand bookshops since I was young. The annual book festival is about ten days long and takes place in tents and covered walkways in a field outside of town. There is an official book shop and some stalls, but it’s mostly discussion sessions and talks. Some of these are plugging someone’s new book, but others are about other interesting topics.

DSC_0002 After a bit of an explore, the first session I went to was also the first of the festival and was entitled
“Elements of re-wilding: perceptions and prejudices”. It took the form of a panel discussion led by Rob Yorke, with Sophie Wynne-Jones of Wales Wild Land Foundation and Bangor University, Julia Aglionby of the Foundation for Common Land (i.e. land with commoners who have a right to use it), and Minette Batters the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union.

I’m interested in rewilding for several reasons. It includes reforesting land.  The likely missing, native species we’re talking about have intrinsic value, like restoring a painted-over fresco. Keystone species can dramatically improve natural checks and balances, such as beavers building dams which mitigate flash floods downstream. Three species may be significantly reduced which are bad for saplings and suppress the natural regeneration of native trees from seed, either in re-established forests or to replace felling in existing woods: pine martens control grey squirrel numbers, and lynx control deer and rabbits. Rewilding moves the British landscapes closer to their naturally wooded state, which people will engage with more, and start to rewild ourselves. I believe more basic “accommodation” like wild camping and hutting have a role in that.

Rob Yorke had a list of prepared topics to provoke discussion, and started with definitions of rewilding, and then things moved on to differing land uses, environmental benefits such as flood control, climate change, and even the EU referendum. One theme that kept being emphasised was the desirability of avoiding conflict and trying to find consensus, rather than the sometimes stronger language that you see. I had a feeling that phrases such as George Monbiot’s “White Plague” description of the impact of sheep on the landscape were in people’s minds when saying this.

Consensus and compromise are good, but they are a two-way process, and it became increasingly clear that Minette Batters and Julia Aglionby were dragging us away from rewilding step by step. Eventually the idea of reintroducing pine martens for their own sake and for the way they suppress grey but not red squirrels was countered by the idea that we might just not bother and be satisfied with conserving the refuges the reds have been reduced to.

Simultaneously, farmers had to be acknowledged as the custodians of the landscape who take a multi-generational view in contrast to politicians and the public; and yet the 25 years for tree planting to take full effect could be deployed dismissively when discounting trees for flood control. Consistently, the message was “management”. A managed landscape that must continue to be managed. It’s understandable that people whose uneconomic lifestyle is subsidised by the more productive elements of the economy in return for “management” of the landscape are attached to the word. But it’s missing the point in a discussion about rewilding, where the intent is to see how far we can let go.

The discussion took a more worrying turn when Minette Batters got on to the subject of lynx. She’s clearly horrified by the idea, and the thought they might take lambs, and deployed some unfortunate and untrue arguments. In particular, she claimed that “we” had decided to remove lynx from Britain because they are dangerous to people (and to the aforementioned lambs.) This was picked up by the Telegraph reporter present (or planted by the NFU?) with the lurid headline “Releasing lynx into wild puts ramblers in danger of attack, warns NFU“.

I’m struggling to believe that Minette Batters is ignorant of the European experience with lynx. Humans aren’t attacked by lynx. If you attack a lynx it will defend itself, but they actively avoid humans. The whole idea was implicitly undermined elsewhere in the discussion: we weren’t even to consider lynx as a way of controlling badger numbers (which are crashing the hedgehog population) because there was no way a lynx could tackle a badger.

In retrospect I should have made more of an effort to get the audience microphone and object to the falsehood that lynx endanger humans before the discussion moved on. But it illustrates that an untrue statement can conveniently shut down a debate in the moment, and then get spread by other media to a wider audience (with comments turned off, too.) People do say some very harsh things about the NFU’s behaviour, and this is the first time I’ve seen it up close. Unfortunately Minette Batters is ignoring replies to her comment via Twitter, despite happily tweeting away about other things.

So all in all I felt it was a wasted opportunity to really get into the subject of rewilding, and that being nice and trying to find a concensus doesn’t work when this kind of thing is going on in the room.

Next I went to “Permaculture and climate change adaptation” with Thomas Henfrey (who has a new book out), Maddy Harland and Andy Fryers. There were some interesting overlaps with rewilding. One striking example was the Tamara village in Portugal where reforestation was part of improvements in water availability throughout the year, where previously cork oaks had been replaced by eucalyptus, accompanied by a collapse of lynx numbers incidentally. Permaculture shares with rewilding a recognition of natural systems  and the way their elements fit together and cannot be broken down into separate parts and controlled.

DSC_0013 DSC_0007Back outside, the Woodland Trust have a stand at this year’s festival, and were fielding waves of children from the school coach trips that had been organised, in between the sessions they all seemed to disappear in to every hour or so.

DSC_0057Hay is normally a different kind of town anyway, and the festival accentuates this. On the road between the town and the festival field, ad-hoc cafes and shops pop up, like this one in a front garden. There’s also a convenient car park next to the festival run for Macmillan, which you can pre-book.

DSC_0026 IMG_3589 DSC_0021The weekly market in front of the castle still goes ahead, now in the hands of the Hay Castle Trust after it was sold by Richard Booth, who started Hay on the path to becoming  a “book town”. His old bookshop is now in other hands, but he started again with the much smaller “Richard King of Hay” bookshop.

There are fewer shops than there used to be, and I’m guessing that’s the internet. I used to scour second hand bookshops but now use sites like Abebooks.com if there’s something out of print I need. Searching rather than browsing I suppose you could say. However, just as vinyl records have survived despite cassettes, CDs, DAT, MD, MP3s, and now streaming, people still enjoy the experience of browsing and reading physical books.

DSC_0041This last photo is taken from Hay Bridge, showing the wooded banks which include the Wye Valley Walk. Across the bridge is the main site of the How the Light Gets In festival which runs at the same time as Hay Festival itself. They have a helter skelter and a big wheel (amongst other things) though.

Sun 29th May update: Ben Eagle has posted another first hand account of the rewilding panel at Hay. Minette Batters of the NFU still hasn’t retracted (or defended!) her falsehoods about lynx.

Thu 2nd June: another first hand account (“What would Eat a Badger? Rewilding at the Hay Festival“), from Graham Strouts at Bangor.

Watching the stove vs watching TV

Last week we were at the log cabin for Sunday and Monday, and I brought my computer which has a plug-in TV tuner so we could watch Episode 3 of Shed of the Year. It was good to watch it, but it felt very out of place.

Our log cabin is deliberately simple and it gets us away from the kind of urban, electronic environment we have at home. There are no electricity, water or sewerage services, and very patchy cell phone reception. So we have a wood burning stove, a sink with water from a water carrier,  and camping gas for lighting. Nearby is a composting toilet with another water-carrier wash hand basin. We do have a digital radio for the cabin which we can play music from our phones through too, and it runs off 12V batteries charged by a solar panel.

Once it’s getting dark after we’ve finished whatever forestry or tinkering or sitting in the sun we’ve planned for the day, entertainment in the cabin has been a mix of reading, listening to music, cooking and eating and drinking, listening to the radio, and above all talking to each other.

It’s hard to explain but really simple things like keeping the stove going and boiling a kettle become interesting: when it’s more than just flicking a switch and waiting for the click, because you have to split the logs you set aside a year ago, then keep an eye on how they’re burning, and wait for the slow build up of the whistle. Everything in the cabin is at a slower pace and we manage to enjoy doing nothing in particular for hours on end.

But as I said, last week we had television as a guest for an hour. It was like having one of the visitors that come to the wood, say hello, have a chat, and then head off  in their car as soon as they can. The ones that don’t want to get muddy and wander off through the trees.

So we finished watching “Shed of the Year” then put some music back on, and later the radio. Radio seems to “get it” somehow. It doesn’t expect you to look at it when you’re messing around with the hotplate from the stove for a start. It’s usually our only connection to the outside world while we’re there.

Sunday was the day of the Greek bailout referendum and we tuned in to hear what was happening. No fancy graphics and footage of leaders getting in and out of cars. Just one person at a time talking to you over the airwaves about what’s going on. Very fitting for the log cabin again. Before the midnight news on Radio 4 was Mark Tully’s “Something Understood” about “Desire Lines”. It included Peter Seeger singing “Little Boxes” in 1963 which starts:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

Which is very much what we’re not about too.

Woodland cabin in C4 “Amazing Spaces”

amazing1This year’s series of George Clarke’s “Amazing Spaces” features a log cabin being built in a woodland clearing. In the first episode, shown tonight, George visits this larger riverside cabin in the Lake District, built with larch logs taken from the surrounding forest. This is the plan with the smaller cabin he’s going to build, and there was a mention of identifying diseased trees to take. (Ramorum?) This episode also has a house built around a wooden railway carriage, and a couple of amazing locations (pod on a mountainside) and recycling (private jet body turned into a living space.) People in the UK should be able to view the episode for the next month on Channel 4’s 4OD catch-up service.