Tag Archives: woodland

24 hours that changed the world of woods

Thirty years ago a fierce storm swept across the South East of England that would change the way that we care for our woods and forests for ever. Millions of trees would be uprooted in a matter of hours and the landscape changed beyond recognition.

Ten years ago, when I was working in the National Trust press office, I spent months pulling together the story for the 20th anniversary of the Great Storm of what happened on that fateful night to places such as Churchill’s home at Chartwell and the wonderful Slindon in Sussex. As night became day on the 16 October 1987 the full extent of the devastation became apparent. Once familiar places were changed beyond recognition. Its estimated that 15 million trees came down that night.

At Toys Hill, the highest point in Kent, more than 90 per cent of its trees had fallen. Most of the trees that had survived were the ancient trees, their roots deep enough to survive the power of the winds. It now looked like a lunar landscape and slowly but surely over the years nature began to re-emerge. Toys Hill became the perfect site for an experiment in natural regeneration; something that we take for granted now, but more of a new way of managing the countryside back in the late 1980s.

Talking to the Trust’s rangers, gardeners and forestry experts you got a real sense of the transformational experience of this night for them. Their love of the places that they cared for and the trees that they looked after shone through. It was a night that would change the way that they work forever with the notion of deadwood, or fallen trees, becoming the currency of woodland management, and our relationship woods re-examined and re-imagined.

Mike Calnan, Head of Parks and Gardens in 2007 at the National Trust, had the vision, twenty years earlier, to get up in a helicopter to capture the devastation across the countryside of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. It was a bleak picture of trees that looked like dominoes that had tumbled over with ease. Twenty years on Mike took to the air again to see what had changed and it was fantastic to see the cover of trees back again showing the power of nature to overcome the odds.

It was amazing to listen to how an extreme weather event had changed the way that we think about the management of words so fundamentally.  There was also a feeling that it revived our love, as a nation, for the trees that have played such an important part in our collective story, showing how much we really value them.

 

Telling our tree stories

At the back of my house there is a tree. I can see it from our kitchen window. Every day it’s a reassuring sight as the seasons come and go. Looking out of the window it’s bare branched architecture frames the skyline. As spring arrives and the foliage starts to burst into life the birds arrive and will take up residency. The sweetness of birdsong will pour forth from its branches during the early arrival of daylight hours. Then its leaves will slowly begin to fall as the days shorten and we head into darker nights.

For me this very familiar tree symbolises how trees are part of all of our stories. They provide the backdrop to our lives but are so much more than that.

meadows

Trees surround us and they are an important part of our lives

In our technology saturated lives as we charge from A to B there is a risk that we forget about the wonderful trees that fill our landscapes and cityscapes. Just take a moment to think about the trees that touch your life every day, maybe on the route that you take to work, in a local park or your back garden. They help to enrich our lives and they’re such an important part of the ecology of the U.K.

The launch of the charter for trees is a timely intervention. Forty plus organisations have come together to collate our stories of trees to remind us all of their importance and create a nationwide storybook that reflects there central role in the fabric of the nation.

The risk that we take trees for granted is a real one. Organisations such as the Woodland Trust and Tree Council do fantastic work in promoting these gentle giants of the natural world. Trees are firmly part of our history: think of the English oak, Newton’s apple tree and the yew in Wordsworth’s poetry.

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One of the wise old wonders dotted around Charlcombe just outside Bath; sustaining an entire community of wildlife

Creating a charter for tree would enshrine in the national mindset the importance of trees. What is also needed is greater and more robust protection for our trees, in the same way as historic buildings and the listings status that they have. This is a very practical measure that can make a huge difference.

So, think trees, tell the story of trees in your lives and make trees part of your everyday life. Our trees need us and we need our trees.

The wonder of wild flowers

So the votes have been counted and the public have had their say – the bluebell is the nation’s favourite wild flower.

Out of the twenty-five shortlisted candidates its not a massive surprise. Bluebells are one the flowers of spring time and they grace our woodlands (and elsewhere) with an amazing carpet of colour every year. I have to declare my hand: I voted for the snakes head fritillary.

Interestingly and just like the general election the bluebell didn’t have all its own way. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland the primrose with its lovely mellow yellow colour topped the flower pops in these three nations. The sheer weight of the vote cast in England, however, meant that the bluebell reigned supreme.

I do love wild flowers. At this time of year they add a wonderous splash of colour to the countryside but also, and I think importantly, our towns and cities. For generations wild flowers were a vital part of our seasonal calendar. However since 80% of us now live in urban areas that connection has diminished.

That is why the work of organisations such as Plantlife and Kew to get wild flowers into parks, roadside verges, roundabouts and our back gardens is so important. A little bit less mowing by local authorities is helping to create more space for meadows. And wildflowers can only be a good thing: brightening the places that we live and creating an important habitat for insects such as bees and butterflies.

Walking through a woodland full of bluebells is one of the joys of life. Its something that makes me feel so good every time that I do it. Or spotting a little bluebell wood hidden from the general gaze of people driving past, such as a nice woodland area in Swindon near to J16 of the M4.

However – we do need to remember that there is more to life than bluebells and that there is a whole range of wonderful wild flowers out there. That is why polls such as this one help to raise the profile of the diversity of flowers but also the important role that we all have in terms of celebrating them and looking after them.

Celebrating everyday green spaces…

You can hardly call it a wood really, more of a patch of woodland at the top of a sloping green space. And yet in this area, sheltered by trees and thick with ivy and saplings, is a magical world, which could be miles from anywhere and yet is surrounded by housing.

Summerfield wood, as I’ve grandly called it, is at the end of a terrace of Victorian houses; and you’ve guessed it, it’s called Summerfield Terrace in east Bath.

Its a place that is passed by countless people everyday and yet it remains and feels like a hidden gem. Visible to the passer by as they wander past oblivious to its natural wonder. I probably walk past it a handful of times a week and I always think of the importance of this placed to nature and for the people that do use it whether to walk a dog, try to climb a tree or run down its gently slope.

During the winter months this small everyday green space is defined by the architectural brilliance of the naked branches of trees. The scrubby cover that mammals and birds love doesn’t exist and with a little rain it becomes wet under foot. It’s packed full of character, which is easily missed.

But when you get to autumn a lone mature apple tree, weighed down by the fruits of the harvest, hints at a possible agriculture past or perhaps a garden long gone, the only visible footprint of its existence this quintessential of English trees. 2014 was a good summer for this fine tree thick with a bounty of apple richness waiting to be harvested and covered in lichens and mosses in fifty shades of green.

On a visit to this woodland last summer, barely half an acre in size, I observed the comings and goings of a speckled wood butterfly seeking out its patch of warm sunshine to bathe its weary wings. Something that will live long in the memory, feeling as though it was exclusively for me.

So many places like this exist in Bath, in England, in the UK. They remain un-noticed by the many but hopefully loved by the few. And that is why we need to open our eyes to see places and make sure that we protect and care for them; otherwise that could be gone in the blink of an eye.

For me its these green spaces littered with trees, teaming with insects and home to the high pitched squawks of magpies that are the really special places. An oasis of calm and a place to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life in the city; a kind of paradise potentially lost here in Fairfield Park in Bath. And with views across towards the world famous Solsbury Hill and a steep tree covered hillside which come alive when drenched in beautiful morning sunlight.

You can create your own footpath through the dense undergrowth the cracking of the sticks as you make your way through, the laughter of my children as they hunt for ladybirds or snails to add to their collection. This very urban wild time as rich in sensory experience as any trip to a nature reserve. A place to discover the richness and intensity of nature on your doorstep; a place to return time and time again. Each passing season brings a new discovery and a reason for returning – making its a destination or place to call in on a journey.

A secret natural place

 

Sometimes when you come across an undiscovered gem of a place you want to tell everyone about it.  But then you have a double take in case your secret spreads too far and wide.  Part of you wants to keep this special place just for the lucky souls that have stumbled across it.

 

I’ve just found such a place.  It’s not that far from the beautiful city of Bath and yet you could be a million miles away.  The first time that I came across it was as daylight was turning to dusk on the last day of 2013.  A majestic sunset made this discovery even more magical as the last day of the year began to fade over Solsbury Hill. 

 

It’s a place that I’ve passed often.  It’s somewhere that intrigued me for a while: a place that I wanted to discover.  And yet it was a casual thought of what to do on a slightly damp day with the heavy December rains so dominating the festive season.  This new favourite place became so by accident.  It wasn’t some long planned trip – it was finally discovered as a result of looking for somewhere to go and the deep recesses of my mind homing in on this secret green space.

 

In winter you see a place in its rawest state: there is nowhere for it to hide from your gaze.  It gives you the freedom to imagine its natural bounty in the seasons of plenty when the weather is hopefully that much kinder and nature comes alive. And yet the starkness of winter can give places a feeling unique to the season that we tend to tolerate rather than love. 

 

Strolling through the freshly erected gates we headed for the woodland.  The paths were drenched from days of persistent rain but the sticky conditions failed to deter us from stumbling into a woodland that fires the imagination and has wildness and untidiness that attracts the human eye and lifts the soul.  Trees were awash with rich mosses and lichens and numerous fungi clung to the deadwood.  You could immediately fast forward through the four seasons to get a flavour of the spring woodland flowers creating a tapestry effect to the lushness of canopy full of summer leaves.

 

Natural springs trickled into crystal clear streams and you had to stretch and duck to make your way through the network of trees.  Reaching the common you felt alive and excited about the prospect of coming back to this natural wonder.  And we have been back re-tracing our steps and extending our range of discovery.  When you do come across a new place that you instantly connect with it’s a very special moment to be treasured for life.  If you think for a moment you’ll have somewhere that feels as though you’ve always known it; a place away from the treadmill of life and a place to be close to and immersed in the natural world.