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Observations placeholder

Tree, Isabella - Wilding - The fallacy of reforestation



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Isabella Tree – Wilding

Isabella makes the point that people who blithely talk about 'reforestation' as the answer to ‘say’ climate change, have not considered the full picture.  In the first place we have the wrong idea of what the UK’s forest actually was:

1.      The medieval Latin term ‘forestis’ from which we get ‘forest’ first appears in the 7th century as a legal concept in the deeds of donation of Merovingian and Frankish kings.  It relates to uncultivated, uninhabited wilderness and is most likely derived from the Latin ‘foris’ referring to areas outside the civilised domain of settle and tilled fields.  It applied to wilderness in general and to wild trees, shrubs, wild animals, water and fish in particular.  This ‘forestis’ was anything but closed canopy woodland.

In the second place deforestation has been taking place for years, but we have the wrong idea of which trees were felled and why.  It is a common fallacy, for example, to believe that trees were felled to build ships in the Middle Ages] 

2.      ‘See that limb there’, said Ted ‘split in two that makes a matching pair of timbers for the hull of a ship.  And the genius of it was, that you didn’t have to kill the tree to do it.  You just took the limbs that suited what you needed them for’.

In the third place, few seem to realise that it was government intervention via the Forestry Commission after the war that did the most damage to our woodland.  It was managed on commercial lines with no ecological input.  The result of course has been the unremitting planting of conifers for wood pulp and building timber, the removal of old growth deciduous trees, the destruction of bluebell woods and other wild flower sanctuaries and the creation of tree deserts unsuited to any wildlife, including birds and mammals

3.      The Second World War utterly transformed …. everywhere in Britain.  Woods were certainly felled …. [to grow food], but, the UK lost more ancient woods – tens of thousands of them – in the forty years after the Second World War than in the previous four hundred. 

A German, Heinrich von Cotta, pioneered the concept of ‘modern’ forestry.  In man made plantations thorny scrub became a hindrance and without thorny scrub to protect the young saplings, grazing and browsing animals caused devastation.  Livestock and wild ungulates such as deer then had to be kept out of the plantations using ditches and fences around a man made boundary.  Soon the role of thorny shrub in the regeneration of trees was forgotten altogether.  Without it, trees – as dictated by modern forestry – could never naturally regenerate in the presence of grazing animals.  The forest had become a place of trees; pasture a place of grassland without trees and the dynamic between wood and pasture was lost

In the fourth place few realise that the loss of hedgerows and the removal of hedgerows after the War, also had the effect of removing trees and furthermore removed the protective scrubby vegetation that had previously provided a nursery for new trees

4.      Between the beginning of the war and the 1990s we lost 75,000 miles of hedgerows.  Included in these hedgerows were thousands upon thousands of trees that, down the centuries, had been allowed to grow out and above the hedgerow for fodder, fuelwood, timber and shelter, the vast majority of them oaks….. the loss of ancient open grown oaks from Britain is an unacknowledged catastrophe.

Finally, in the fifth place reforestation is being tackled as though our woods were like vast plantations without animals.  Although the Knepp experiment has shown that thorny scrub, trees and animals mixed together are the more sustainable solution, reforestation programmes are not based on it

5.    Fortunes are spent each year buying bare root ‘whips’ – young saplings grown in nurseries - to restore woodland.  Looking after young nursery trees is far more challenging than is generally realised.  The whips are vulnerable and can easily dry out and die before or even after being planted.

They are not as well connected to the soil as naturally established seedlings and often lack the appropriate fungal associates. They can be bruised and damaged and open to infections [and introduce infection].  If neglected the tubes can rub against the saplings’ etoliated stems and inflict yet more damage.

They have to be individually protected by tree guards, invariably carbon intensive polypropylene cylinders attached to tanalised wooden stakes with plastic ties – another financial and environmental cost; another labour intensive process.

Even if the area to be planted is fenced against deer, tree guards are poor protection against wind, flooding and disturbance from rabbits, voles and badgers.  And high moisture content inside the cylinder can induce rot and mildews and harbour insect pests.

Whether the trees survive or not, there is the labour intensive task of removing the tree guards from the site and the carbon cost of disposing or recycling them.  Most tree guards are supposed to degrade with exposure to sunlight but in practise this doesn’t seem to happen.  If the trees have grown well, the tree guards are not exposed to enough sunlight; if they die, the cylinders simply topple over and are subsumed by thickets of grass.  Even if they do decay they leave polluting plastic residues in the soil.

The source of the experience

Tree, Isabella

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Communing with nature