The Ash and the Beech by Richard Mabey

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The Ash and the Beech by Richard Mabey

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Category: Reference
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: A delightful, poetic summary of the natural history of the beech tree in Britain.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099587231

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The Ash and The Beech is an updated version of Mabey’s popular Beechcombings, which has been given a new foreword and afterword by the author in light of the recent issues concerning ash die-back, which currently threatens Britain’s ash population. Mabey expands on this topic by examining the history of British trees, particularly the Beech and how it has managed to survive and adapt over the centuries despite threats from war, felling, disease and storms. He raises some important and thought-provoking ideas and questions whether our constant intervention in such cases serves to do more harm than good.

Mabey’s eloquent writing style makes The Ash and the Beech stand in stark contrast to other works on the same subject. Rather than being a straightforward reference book, we have a beautiful amalgam of poetry, history, personal memoir and reflection. Mabey expertly shifts between his personal musings of a childhood running feral through the woodland to the larger picture of woodland change on a national scale.

Mabey is critical of man’s insistence on intervention in the face of what is considered to be a crisis. The perfect example of this is the Great Storm of 1987. Following the storm, armies of eager volunteers swarmed through the countryside, clearing away swathes of both living and dying trees in order to create neat plantations of orderly saplings, lined up in rows. Humans seem to have forgotten that trees have been coping quite adequately by themselves for thousands of years without our pampering, cosseting and zealous stewardship. He argues that we have tried to squeeze the tree into our own image, reducing their status to arboreal pets, humanizing them and giving them names. We forget that trees have their own reproductive systems and can spring up, unbidden in the most unlikely places without our permission.

This is a wonderful book and Mabey’s graceful, flowing style reflects his passion for the subject. This is a definitely a book to read whilst sitting outside on a sunny day, listening to birdsong and the breeze blowing gently through the trees. The Ash and the Beech stands out as something very special indeed and will move the reader to seek out the nearest patch of woodland with newly opened eyes.

For Mabey's unique take on our British weather, try reading Turned Out Nice Again: On Living With the Weather by Richard Mabey

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