Things are cut for a rea­son

Rick Saun­ders a vol­un­teer with the Berks. Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) ex­plains why he cuts down trees

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GREEN SPACES -

MY FRIEND Robert looked at me askance. I’d been telling him about my work as a BBOWT vol­un­teer, cut­ting down in­va­sive wil­low scrub and small birch trees.

He com­plained that I al­ways seemed to be cut­ting things down. Surely, he said, I should be work­ing with na­ture, not against it! It’s a very good point and one fre­quently en­coun­tered by my fel­low vol­un­teers and by BBOWT staff.

The ex­pla­na­tion lies in the na­ture of na­ture, namely nat­u­ral suc­ces­sional forces and the im­pact of farm­ing on our land­scape.

Oliver Rack­ham gives an ex­cel­lent ac­count in his book, The His­tory of the Countryside, of how the mod­ern Bri­tish land­scape has evolved since the end of the last Ice Age, about 12,000 years ago.

Open tun­dra dom­i­nated by grasses was colonised from main­land Europe by pioneer trees of birch, pine and hazel fol­lowed by slower colonis­ers such as oak, lime a elm.

These ‘wild­woods’, through which our Mesolithic an­ces­tors hunted and gath­ered, cov­ered much of low­land Bri­tai although it’s now thought the wood­lands may have been more open and var­ied than pre­vi­ously sup­posed.

The ar­rival of farm­ing in Bri­tain led to set­tled so­ci­eties. Use of lo­cal ma­te­ri­als, such as tim­ber

for tools and dwellings, be­gan the process that be­came large-scale wood­land clear­ance to cre­ate ar­eas for crops, mead­ows and pas­tures, lay­ing down the an­tecedents of the farmed land­scape within which we now live.

Wood­land clear­ance con­tin­ued through­out the Bronze and Iron Ages, and by the time the Domes­day Book was writ­ten, only about 15 per­cent of Bri­tain was wooded, less than that of mod­ern France.

The nat­u­ral process of suc­ces­sional change never goes away. I’m out work­ing in mead­ows, quarry floors, fens and heath­lands where patches of thorny scrub can quickly de­velop, and would even­tu­ally re­vert to wood­land. Of course, some scrub pro­vides a valu­able habi­tat for wildlife.

One of the great sat­is­fac­tions of be­ing a vol­un­teer is that we ac­tively con­trib­ute to the con­ser­va­tion of all this wildlife, as well as hav­ing the plea­sure of work­ing out­doors, in spec­tac­u­lar countryside. But when we cut things down, we do so for a rea­son!

Find out how to be a BBOWT vol­un­teer: www.bbowt.org.uk.

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