Red squirrels at Allan Bank

Allan Bank above Grasmere in the Lake District is an unusual National Trust house: unfurnished and deliberately informal in a way that puts some NT properties to shame. You won’t find volunteers telling you off for getting a smartphone out to look something up (“No phones here young man!”) or even worse a camera (viral marketing by happy visitors passes them by…) No, at Allan Bank you can pull up a chair, get one of the board games out, try the paints, help yourself to coffee. When you arrive they really do tell you to make yourself at home. Which is nice, because it’s in area with active red squirrel conservation and the animals are easy to see at the feeders on the lawn and in the surrounding woods.

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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.

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.

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Weeding the forest

What does “mismanaged woodland” mean? It’s very like saying “a weed”. It all depends on what you’re hoping will grow.

Gardeners complain about weeds and go to great lengths to eradicate them. But in other contexts, the very same plants are crops or part of natural, even protected, ecosystems. “A weed” has no botanical meaning. It’s a judgement we make, based on our objectives, plans, and even dreams for the ground in question.

People often talk about “mismanaged woodland” in the same way, often without realising it. It becomes a shorthand for woodland that is neither Ancient Woodland being preserved nor other woodlands being managed to produce timber or coppice products. But again, those are judgements we make.

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A Green Man for the Log Cabin

I can’t remember when I first became aware of the Green Man – a figure of a human face made of or surrounded by leaves. I think my parents pointed them out in the 1980s, along with the similarity between fan-vaulted church ceilings (like Kings College Chapel) and the canopy of trees in the forest. They both seem to be medieval attempts to bring the wild wood that everyone knew into the sacred space of the church. For me, the Green Man is sometimes a personification of nature, but sometimes he is a symbol of mankind as part of nature and that’s another way of representing the idea of rewilding ourselves.

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The Black Wood of Rannoch

The Black Wood of Rannoch is a thousand hectare area of ancient Caledonian Forest which has been continuously forested with native species for the last 10,000 years or so. People have harvested the trees in the past, but they’ve not been replaced by human replanting rather than natural regeneration, as is the case in the adjacent forests and most woodland across the island of Great Britain.

Earlier this month I was able to visit and photograph the wood, and I’ve already posted some pictures of a root plate in a blog post about that. Below are some more pictures with a wider range of subjects.

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Root plates

I really love root plates. They’re the disc of earth, stones, and roots that you often see when a big tree falls over. They reveal something otherwise hidden: a snapshot of what was going on a bit underground, directly under the trunk itself. The most surprising thing is just how shallow they are. Twenty metres of substantial tree trunk laid on the ground but only a foot or two of substantial roots.

Root plates naturally have a mention in Oliver Rackham’s magisterial “Woodlands”:

“until 1987 few English people understood what a tree’s root system looked like; some thought roots went as nearly as far below ground as stems above it. As the great storms of 1987 and 1990 showed, most trees in England are shallow rooted. It may be argued that deep-rooted trees were never uprooted, but anyone digging holes in a wood seldom meet roots more than 3 feet (1 metre) down. A giant beech can have a root-plate only a few inched deep, much less than the diameter of the trunk.”

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“Feral”, Rewilding, and Hutting

feral

Some books I pick up and march straight through in a quick campaign, forcing short or long engagements at every opportunity until the matter is concluded. Others I pick away at in a form of guerrilla warfare. Now I mostly read on a Kindle app, the temptation to neglect one book for another is greater too. George Monbiot’s book “Feral” has been subject to my hit-and-run tactics since I started it last year, after the publicity surrounding the launch of Rewilding Britain in July. This month I devoted some proper time to it, and now I’ve finished it I thought it would be interesting to look at the book from the point of view of hutting.

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