It’s a great responsibility and a privilege owning (or being in charge of) a woodland or forest. You cannot simply do nothing. All woodlands are special and must be cared for, understood and protected. I own a magical woodland, Coed Nant Gain (CNG), at the top end of Wales in the British Isles. It is remarkably rich and diverse in spite of man’s intervention over many centuries, indicating that the woodland has been here since the retreat of the ice-age 12 millennia ago.
My prime concern is to restore its health as a demonstration of how the forest ecosystem works as a whole, rather than being tree focussed. Through first-hand observation, techniques are emerging which, together with my experience elsewhere, are forming the basis for working in harmony with the natural forest. Thus the concept of Natural Forest Practice is developing which has fundamental and broad application. This website gives an insight into how this functions. However a visit to CNG is necessary to see how it works in practice (click- Visit CNG).
My memories of forests abound exerting a great influence on me, in particular; the exceptional and beautiful old growth ancient woodland in Wales where I grew-up and which originates from the retreat of the glaciers 12,000 years ago; the trees I planted and forests seen in Africa, in Eastern Europe and especially the old-growth forests of the American Pacific Northwest experienced through the eyes of local Ecoforesters.
Trees are but the visible part of the forest, the scaffolding on which everything hangs supporting a diverse community that is growing, decaying, recycling and re-born which is governed by the soil, water, air and climate, supporting a huge diversity of birds, insects, plants, ferns, mammals, lichens, fungi and much more. Forests (which we experience at first-hand) are more complex than the universe, yet we understand less about them than we do of our own galaxy (which we view from afar). The diverse and complex forest is pure architecture, excelling even the Gothic cathedrals for their spatial, interlocking mosaic of light, colour, sound, texture and life, ever changing, year on year, never the same twice.
If medieval man were to return he would be appalled by our neglect of this treasure; the loss of fauna and flora, skills, knowledge, experience, the exploited woods and forests that could not now provide for re-roofing the village church, build farm houses, construct the great ships for fighting the Armada, nor heat our houses, provide edible fungi, bark for tanning, and so much more. Careful inspection reveals the stumps of great trees hidden in hedgerows; how different the countryside must have looked even just a hundred years ago! Our woodlands are the product of millennia of intervention by us, much of it to the detriment of woodland and forest. Our woodland culture has all but died.
How I unlearned everything I ever knew
Our response has polarised; Silvaculture and Conservation are the result. One is tree focused the other preserves specialist habitats, management has become obsessional replacing knowledge and experience gained first hand working and living in a productive forest. This prevents us from thinking, questioning and recognising the neglect before us. Forest health is never mentioned yet should be at the heart of all good practice. Nature thrives on diverse, complex systems that to us look very untidy (the remarkable last paragraph The Origin of Species)! Thus when nature intervenes in what we have done, we should not see this as destructive but as putting right our mistakes- mono-cultures that do not respect the need for diversity, trees blowing-over that rejuvenate the forest, brambles protecting the soil, fungi aiding decay and recycling, the lessons are endless.
Observing and learning in the forest is the basis for Natural Practice the study of which is the purpose of this website. Ancient woodland and old-growth forest demonstrate how the forest works, teaching us how to work in harmony with natural systems to maintain a holistically healthy self-sustaining forest. This applies not just in our ancient woodlands in Britain but universally to all types of forest; broadleaf, coniferous and planting, here, in America and worldwide. You'll find more about the techniques in Preaching Revolution.
The public I observe are very responsive, they come to enjoy the peace and tranquillity, relieve stress and once here sense something intrinsically right in what they see (you should see my visitor's book!). There's a woodland amphitheatre with brazier (many children have never experienced a living fire) for toasting marsh mallows and an interactive mobile (experimental at this stage) strung between trees illustrating the complexity of the forest community. The ancient woodland entices children to explore having deposited their parents by the fire. The opportunity for education is limited only by our imagination, everyone has something to contribute (see credits in footnotes to Creative Observing pages). Owning a woodland is a great responsibility and should be a wonderful pleasure.
This website is new, small and growing; there are more than 50 pages in preparation- from natural selection, to monitoring,
glades, logs, carbon storage, rainfall, recording, Deep Ecology and transplanting. I will endeavour to add something new every month. This site is aimed at you, owner, public, adviser, arousing awareness of a new woodland culture unique to this the 21st century.