Britain loves its woods. When the Government proposed selling off public forests, more than half a million people signed a petition in a matter of weeks to declare their opposition. We go dewy-eyed at the thought of bluebells. We adore our mighty oaks, wild cherries and limes. There is mystique and reverence for woods that have existed since Domesday and before.
So how was it possible that, only a generation ago, we managed to destroy half of our ancient woodland? It’s said we cut down more woods in 40 years than during the previous 400.
This is the subject of Derek’s third book – published by Short Books in 2016. It asks these telling questions, but this is not an academic volume. It’s mostly about people and personalities. It tackles the issues, politics and economics from a human perspective, looking at motivations and the drivers of what we now know to be misguided decisions. People were of their time and we should not ridicule them with hindsight.
At the heart of A Tale of Trees – a book that ranges widely over ancient woodland throughout Britain, is the story of Derek’s local wood, one that was all but cut down. One third of Waresley Wood in Cambridgeshire survives, rescued by determined individuals from the Wildlife Trust. Derek’s explorations through Waresley draw out just what makes an ancient wood special.
And we end by trying to see the woods from the trees. What is the future for Britain’s woodlands? Can we save them from diseases such as ash dieback? Can we revitalise them as economic assets, without trashing what made them unique in the first place?
In case you need reminding just how wonderful woods are, on this page are a few of Sarah’s photos taken in Waresley Wood, illustrating its irresistible beauty.