The Art of Natural Forest Practice

Celf Ymarfer Coedwig Naturiol


Reviving our woodland culture in the 21st Century



My Woodland Coed Nant Gain

Once upon a time just after the last Ice Age this woodland was untouched by man.  It would have been full of native trees and plants, huge amounts of decaying wood, fungi, the haunt of wolf, bear and beaver, insects galore and symphonic with birdsong.  The forest stretched for miles in every direction.

Over the centuries man has chopped down the trees and reduced the size of the woodland to the fragment we see today.  He replanted with imported trees for timber, such as beech and conifer, took the decaying wood for firewood to heat his house and burn charcoal and lime, and in the last century felled most of the big trees.  As a result the woodland is now but a shadow of its former self.
In spite of this intervention woodland survives with astonishing beauty and complexity. Some has evidently been here since the retreat of the glaciers and is referred to as Old-Growth Ancient Woodland.  This is now in the process of being restored as a demonstration of how the natural forest functions.  From this is emerging an approach towards woodland care that is harmonious with nature and universally applicable.

Natural  woodland  and  practice

Submission to the British Government Panel on Forestry
July 2011

Woodlands and forests are much more than a bunch of trees.  Traditionally they were places where we lived and worked.  As we moved away from the forest and remorselessly exploited its productivity, our understanding of how the forest functioned and thus our woodland culture suffered, so that now we are unable to distinguish between right and wrong in what we do.

On the one hand commercial forestry has succeeded in creating a monoculture of timber, depleting biodiversity, and on the other, conservation concentrates on individual species of fauna and flora rather than the forest ecosystem as a whole.

There is however a third way.  This gives us the best of both needs; economically sustainable woodland and rich biodiversity that is self-sustaining.

This is Natural Forest Practice which works harmoniously with woodland and forest.

We learn by observing how natural woodlands work and how we can give a sympathetic and harmonious helping hand.  We watch how the weather affects our woods, how gales and lightning and snow bring down trees.  We observe how creatures of the wood feed on one another, how they compete for territory, we experience the changing seasons and observe how the woodland replenishes itself, and much much more.

The aim of natural practice is to work in partnership with nature by providing a helping hand.  We take the top out of suppressed trees to make openings in the canopy and, by letting in light, form glades that rejuvenate the woodland.  We leave decaying trunks as a larder for creepy crawlies, birds and mammals, such as badgers.  We encourage the formation of natural cavities in trees to house bats and owls and nesting birds.  We transplant locally sourced natural seedlings to other parts of the woodland where they are needed. 

Inserting glades is how nature rejuvenates woodland and stimulates growth.  We leave fallen branches and trees where they lie, decay and are devoured by insects and fungi so that nutrients are recycle, creating a rich, diverse ecosystem for all growing things in the woodland.

The woodland thus becomes a mosaic of light and shade, rich, diverse, verdant, magical, a prehistoric wildwood in miniature; an exciting adventure to explore and refreshing to experience its peace and tranquillity.  I know.  I’ve done it with my woodland.

True natural woodlands are a resource for the future; productive and spiritual.  As such they must be conserved.  We must act now.  Nature would take millennia to correct our
past mis-management.  It is an honour, a privilege and a great responsibility to own a
woodland.  With a trained eye we can accelerate the process of recovery, substantially increasing richness and biodiversity and thus simultaneously reinvigorate our woodland culture.

Recommendations to the Panel

1.  Bureaucracy must be significantly reduced and opportunity created for individual initiative.
2.  Restoring woodland health, in particular biodiversity, must be our overall primary objective.
3.  There must be emphasis on working with nature by giving a helping hand that is based on Darwinian learning by observation, a skill that must be taught.  There must be an end to imposed intervention.
4.  Training of everyone engaged in woodlands and forests must be based on working with nature and not ‘we know best’, eg forestry students, tree surgeons, students on Woodland Conservation courses, professionals, etc.
5.  Grants must be redirected towards increasing carbon storage and supporting training through woodland seminars.
6.  The role of the Forestry Commission must be in training, seminars and especially research of value to woodland owners (as it was in the 1960s).  Ownership of the state forests should continue.
7.  The more healthy a woodland, the more potentially dangerous.  There must be a change in the law recognising this by absolving woodland owners from Public Liability (private, charity, trust, and government- local and central).
8.  There must be recognition that Ancient Woodlands (400 years old) are special, provide biodiversity and need additional support.  Old-Growth Ancient Woodland (a relic of the Prehistoric Wildwood) must be recognised as of international importance on a par with the rain forests, etc, and given extra care and attention.
9.  Natural woodland in character is but a fragment of the prehistoric woodland and thus generally so small as to question its survival.  The establishment of new woodland as buffers surrounding these woodlands would greatly improve their value and biodiversity and thus their chances of survival.
10.  Volunteers with special skills can make a significant contribution to the understanding of woodland ecosystems; a good example being the recording of woodland biodiversity- mammals, insects, lepidopteron, birds, fungi, ferns, lichens and plants.  Such skills must be far more widely accessible and available than at present.
11.  There is great need for a UK wide woodland survey, a new Magna Carta, so that we know what woodland there is and plan accordingly.  At present woodland that is not part of an agricultural holding is unrecorded.  Amazing!

In Conclusion
You can see how this works on our website www.naturalforestpractice.com  My woodland, (Coed Nant Gain in Flintshire), demonstrates how natural practice works.  I am always happy to show people what I am doing with a Guided Tour.  The public response is gratifying (see Guest Book on our website).  I invite you to come and see for yourselves what can be achieved. These measures if implemented would, I believe, contribute significantly to the revival of our woodland culture as a nation.

Iliff Simey – July 2011