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