A Tale of Trees: The Battle to save Britain's Ancient Woodland by Derek Niemann
Ancient British woodland is something very special indeed. It captures our imagination, connects us to nature and fuels our creativity. The British have an almost symbiotic relationship with woodland and most of us have a small local patch where we can get away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. It's hard to imagine life without our native woods, and yet in the 40 years following the war we lost more ancient woodland than in the previous 400. The destruction was large-scale and merciless and by 1985, we'd already lost a third of our ancient woodland. Predictions for the future were bleak: find a way to halt the decline or there will be nothing left outside nature reserves by 2020.
A Tale of Trees examines the causes of the decline and looks at why the war years in particular, had such an impact on our native trees. Niemann explains that the demand for timber for pit props had reached an all time high. This, combined with an increased need for agricultural land for food production meant that ancient woods just weren't seen as having any real value. For many years, the government offered lucrative incentives to landowners willing to flatten their 'useless' old woods and turn them into something considered useful and productive.
Of course, even during these difficult years, there were a few heroes who spoke out on behalf of the ancient woods. Men like Oliver Rackham and George Peterken helped to change public perception of woodland by explaining the social, cultural and historical significance of these wildlife-havens. Slowly, people began to listen and the wheels of change were set into motion. Today, the future of our woodland looks a little brighter, thanks to agencies like the Woodland Trust, Wildlife Trusts and RSPB.
When reading the book, it is clear to see that the author has a great enthusiasm and passion for his subject, which shines through on each page. I particularly admired his dedication in getting to know his local patch of woodland by spending the whole night there, sitting on his folding chair in his hat and gloves, covered in a blanket and a mosquito net! I wonder how many authors would be willing to show that level of commitment to their work?
A Tale of Trees is an ideal read for anyone with interest in the natural world and a love for our precious native trees. Many thanks to the publisher for my review copy.
Derek Niemann also wrote the uplifting and poignant Birds in a Cage, a true story in which four incarcerated prisoners of war find an emotional escape through a shared love of birds.
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