Nature Notes

Felling Sticks Walk.

IMG_8210

Bird nesting season and they’re chainsawing the wood.

And not any old wood (is there such a thing?) but ours. Our wood. And they are not just chainsawing it. They are eating it up and spitting it out in random patterns with enormous forestry machinery that looks apocalyptic: giant grabs, shears and winches on huge caterpillar tracks.

They came unannounced, without approach, consideration or enquiry to the wood in the centre of our village, all the way from Frome in Somerset. The wood has many names: Post Office Woods, Greater Great Common, The Sticks Walk (our own personal name) and, perhaps more ominously, The Plantation or The Firs. Once common land, the remnant heath and mixed, deciduous woodland has just two official footpaths running through it. Yet, over decades and generations, the whole wood has been explored, ‘desire paths’ have been created, spots within it named and known. The whole wood has become a much loved, much used heart of the village. Children, children’s children and their children have grown up here, built dens, climbed trees, watched badgers, built bridges over and dammed the stream. My own children included.

IMG_8178

By the time anyone realised what was going on, the entrance to the wood had been clear-felled, the trees dangerous, apparently. All of them? A kite’s nest in an ash tree had gone with it too. I challenged the foresters. All other villagers had been lied to, up till this point; told they were just felling dangerous trees at the front and that the owner was kind enough to plant new ones. I was more persistent. I know how this works. I asked the foreman where the ash tree had gone, with the kite’s nest in it. No birds nesting here, he said, no ash tree, just some dodgy beech trees, holly and a wonky old oak. I pointed the ash tree out to him. I can tell oak from ash as well as I can tell a hawk from a handsaw, even when it is lying on the ground, branchless. Had I known they were coming, I could have gathered evidence. Taken a picture. But I didn’t. No one did.

IMG_8202

There are dormice in this wood. Alerted by a resident in 2011, I recorded their presence, then. But apparently, that record is too old; it needs to be within five years to stop any work that would wreck their habitat. There are adders too – the wood was famous for them years ago and villagers who have been here longer, regale me with tales of ‘adderpits’ of hibernating vipers. There aren’t even those (or dormice) on the Wildlife Trust owned Little Great Common on the other side of the road. But again, all records are anecdotal. I can’t produce them to show the foresters, like a magic trick.

I feel small and insignificant, standing in front of them with my daughter and these wild, bold claims. She, aged ten, has just finished reading the brilliant The Wilderness War by Julia Green and she’s primed for action: ‘we can build dens, treehouses, throw water bombs at them!’ she cries, in her deep conviction that this cannot be allowed to happen. And I have to turn away. I, who have brought her up with such stories. Of how I lay in front of cherry-pickers and breached police lines, stood in front of men wielding chainsaws inches from my face and wrists. But what can I do here?

The foreman urges me to ‘take care of myself’ pointedly, as I leave. I smile a ‘you too’, back at him. He’s been here before, I think. But then. So have I.

IMG_8183

My son and older daughter spot the devastation from the school bus window – take pictures, text me urgently. They too are deeply upset and angry. The beech trees formed a stained glass, vaulted, cathedral-like tunnel here, across the road and my son loved to cycle under it. It was one of his favourite places. The beeches opposite remain, undangerously, breaking into leaf, like grief. The lane looks like the aisle of a bombed out, broken half of a church.

The village and Parish Council get together to see what can be done, but there is nothing. It is a private wood. The forestry company has bought the timber and felling rights legitimately. I am told they will not be clear felling the rest, that a percentage of trees will be removed, that it will be thinned and there will be replanting of a mix of hard and soft woods. For what? For felling when my children have children?

The footpath is not closed. Signs go up telling people to keep to the official paths. At the weekend, I go in with my husband for support to have a look. The wood is unrecognisable. Paths formed and followed for at least sixty years, according to one resident (and certainly, much longer) have gone. Favourite trees too, whilst others remain. There is the smell of rising sap, greenwood and mashed foliage. I look mournfully in the trees and at my feet for bird’s nests. The wood is uncharacteristically quiet. Few birds sing. There is no cuckoo.

I watch as a pair of treecreepers shin up the side of an old birch tree and try to be philosophical. The wood may benefit from thinning, woods do: though it is actually quite ‘open woodland’. They haven’t clear felled the lot. They have left particular trees and will replant and put right some of it. It will recover. And we can reclaim it again. Perhaps, I think ambitiously, perhaps we could buy it for the village, in perpetuity? Reclaim the old Common?

IMG_8097

But I am angry. I am angry at the way in which it’s been done. The subterfuge. The sudden arrival for which no one could prepare. The complete disregard for local people. They have cynically driven down one of the oldest, most established paths with signs up that say ‘Forestry operations, please stick to the official footpaths’. Most of all, I am angry at the timing. Why now? Why, in bird nesting season, when the migrant birds are arriving? Surely, that is illegal? It’s not. There are ways around what we all believe is the law.

‘The Law allows birds which are not specially protected to be disturbed, or their eggs or nests to be destroyed, provided it is incidental to a lawful operation and could not have been reasonably avoided’. 

Over the hill, another example of this is taking place. A little acre of ash, hawthorn and cherry has been completely clear-felled this same week. It is home to one of the last two remaining populations of willow tits in the whole of Berkshire. Felling this wood, at this time of year is an act of extinguishing the almost-extinct. The other willow tit area, just a field away is protected ancient woodland, a SSSI and I hope, safe. I do wonder. It’s remote. The owner (no connection to ‘our’ village wood) owns whole villages and thousands of acres across our three border counties, and is no doubt oblivious (as his Foresters probably are) of the existence of this rare little bird, hanging on by a thread.

I hurt for the children and all our memories of this place and I hurt because I can’t stop it for them. It will recover, yes. But the wood, its familiar paths and the way they swing this way and that, over that old fallen tree, past the one struck by lightning, the way another is worn by so many hands swinging round it – all this is in their blood, set down in their making like rings of grain and rooted here.

Just when the tenderest leaves are unfurling.

Everything is sacred. Nothing is safe.

IMG_8182

Advertisements

27 thoughts on “Nature Notes

  1. I am filled with inchoate rage. It will grow and solidify, like a lava flow – apparently cool, but hot within. The injustice of this, the legalised destruction, are beyond words.

    My immediate reaction is to question the exception to the Wildlife & Countryside Act; I think the key lies in “which could not reasonably have been avoided”. Surely the choice of season is flagrant, surely the trees could have been felled at some other time of year. And what about badger setts?

    I salute your courage in facing those involved. I salute your writing, too.

  2. So sorry to hear this Nicola… the phenomena you describe is happening it seems around the globe, in varying degrees, with similar and sometimes devastating results, as I’m sure you are aware…. wildlife habitat displaced or destroyed and long- standing community landscapes forever changed. When it happens close to home it really must resonate though. Another effect of the ongoing unravelling of a landscape fabric shared across generations is the attendant amnesia regarding what had even existed in previous times…
    those memories of pathsways, trees and wildlife embedded within a particular place, yet not experienced by ongoing generations as the natural world erodes. I can imagine how difficult this situation must be to explain to children… They are fortunate to have an example of a parent who has fought and will continue to stand up for the natural world. Thank you for sharing… I hope there is a way for these losses to be mitigated in future. As you so eloquently note; ‘everything is sacred. Nothing is safe.’ Examples of logging as has happened in your wood recently are appalling, yet I still have great faith in what can be accomplished by individuals and communities who stand together in the fight to retain these cherished places. In solidarity…xx

    • Thank you so much for your lovely message, Jo. It means a great deal and I do feel your solidarity and am comforted by it. Still looking for ways to mitigate this now and in the future. All the best, x

  3. Words fail me. I’m glad the other two comments echo what I would say, too. Commiserations to you and your family for the sadness this has clearly made you feel. I would be inclined to publish an article in the local press about the appallingly brutal underhand way this ‘logging’ operation has been done. There is no excuse for it and I doubt what they did would fit ‘lawful
    Operation’ or ‘reasonably avoided’ . I wonder where else this company have been operating. Your words were as ever eloquent.
    Very best wishes,
    Genny

    • Thank you so much Genny for your kind and heartfelt words. I published an edited (but no less angry) version of it in the local paper. My son is planning to print it off and pin it on the logs for them to see! x

  4. Sorry for the pain that has resounded as a result of this. The concept of wilderness in the U.K. has never been one that is familiar to me, as I have gradually come to terms with how our countryside is as shaped and managed by man as our urban spaces are. It does hit you hard though, when you are reminded of how it is managed, with little to no regard for wildlife and the people that base their existence around it. Hope you see the light again.

  5. I am so saddened, and shocked, that this lovely wood filled with a rich ecology, and a special place of the local people wasn’t afforded better protection. From afar (Scottish Borders) my heart goes out to you. I can only imagine how it would feel if it were my local patch of much loved woodland. Stay strong, and thank you for writing about the injustice and injury to woodland, wildlife, as well as to local people. Perhaps by this means it is a good starting point for conversation and action against the people who behave so callously.

    • Thank you so much for your kind, genuine and deeply-felt words and sympathy. It means a great deal. And yes, you are right. It does give it voice and gets it ‘out there’ and shows that people do care a great deal!

  6. Wonderfully put Nicky, elegant, factual, poignant and so very evocative and emotive! I can’t bring myself to go in there I’ve had a look and walked away full of anger and sadness, some of my strongest most treasured memories of the kids are in those woods, on those trails and with those trees!
    I feel guilt for not having seen it coming nor capable of doing anything to stop it! A huge loss.
    I ventured out on the bike last weekend and saw the devastation at Linkenholt, again speechless at why they’ve felled that little wood, ironically before I reached it I’d heard the Marsh Tits lower down the trail alerting the wood to my presence! I do hope the Willows prevail!
    Phil

  7. A similar situation occurred near me, went to visit the bluebells in a quiet place in the wood, only to find a huge scar where the bluebells should have been, forestry clearance, very sad, it’s all in the name of cold hard cash. Hopefully trees will be replanted and the wood – and bluebells – will recover.

  8. I still can’t believe this is happening! I’ve not seen it in person, but others had mentioned avoid ‘Inkpen Woods (our name for it) is being churned up and trees felled. I didn’t realise the scale of it until now. It’s one of our absolute favourite places to go! Full of possibilities to fuel the children’s imagination as they explore nature…dinosaur food, mud pie ingredients, fairy cities and the rest. Heartbroken.

    • Thanks for your message Debbie – it is heartbreaking for so many of us, isn’t it – and in a place we thought safe from such things! Tried to find my way across it at the weekend, but all the old paths are gone. We will have to reclaim it … x

  9. Pingback: A heartbreaking read about a much loved woodland…. | Potter and Pootle

  10. The crucial word here is “private” woodland. You and your children, friends and neighbours see and experience a place of delight, full of memories of spring green leaves and the first wild flowers, dens and hideouts through to stark skeletal winter branches and frozen puddles; the owner sees a cash crop which he no doubt harvests when he can get the best price. These woods, fields, rivers, streams and downs are never ours even though we feel such an attachment to them, they are often permissive paths where we have access on the whim of the owner(s). It is so hard, especially for children, to accept this (we have also found it difficult to take our local favourite walk past flailed hedgerows and slashed and broken branches and felled trees) but your first instinct was the best one – it will recover, it won’t be the same, but maybe orchids or other wild flowers will grow now the canopy is lighter. Your children have been taught resilliance by you and your husband, they will come about, make new memories, undertake new projects and will feel sympathy for the owner of this precious wood who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing and will never know what it is like to stand with his children at dusk and listen spellbound to the magical song of the Nightjar – how very very sad – for him. He owns the woodland but you and your children and neighbours possess it. May you all enjoy many, many happy days in the future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s