OAK AND ASH AND THORN: THE ANCIENT WOODS AND NEW FORESTS OF BRITAIN
BY PETER FIENNES ONEWORLD, £16.99 (HB)
It is a precarious time for Britain’s woods and trees. The UK languishes at the bottom of the European league for tree cover along with Ireland and the Netherlands.
Peter Fiennes spent a year visiting mostly English woodlands, ranging from ancient mixed forests to bleak conifer plantations. The resultant book is a lament for their decline and the animals that used to live in them. It documents how we have become isolated from trees in our normal daily life. But it also explores our historical, deep-rooted connection to the woods; their beauty, spirituality and power to inspire myth, folklore, poetry and fear.
With literary allusions throughout, the book contains many anecdotal asides, including Fiennes’s reminiscences when revisiting childhood walks. It is full of fascinating facts, sometimes justifiably scathing, but at heart this is a highly personal assessment of the health of our woodlands. According to Fiennes, there has never been a worse time for woods than now. They are threatened by new diseases, climate chaos, population increase, and an obsession with development and growth. We mostly appear oblivious or uncaring. But set against this, Britain has the highest number of individual ancient trees in Europe, some up to 5,000 years old, and there is now a move towards gradually replacing sterile conifers with diverse native trees. The book ends with the uplifting story of the new Heart of England forest planted by Felix Dennis.
This passionate book should inspire readers to plant more trees, support woodland campaigns and participate in active conservation. There is still hope. Stuart Graham, outdoor writer
Prehistoric woodland such as Wistman’s Wood in Dartmoor, Devon, is a rare sight in today’s Britain