OAK AND ASH AND THORN: THE AN­CIENT WOODS AND NEW FORESTS OF BRI­TAIN

BY PETER FI­ENNES ONEWORLD, £16.99 (HB)

Countryfile Magazine - - Lazy Days -

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

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