Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Oliver Rackham on Woodlands

What a lovely book. It’s number 100 in Collins New Naturalist series. Lovely cover, lovely paper, lovely illustrations and lovely printing (done in Britain, too, by Butler and Tanner of Frome).

And a text that’s sheer pleasure. Oliver Rackham writes beautifully and draws on his knowledge as scientist, historian, teacher, traveller and observer. He seems to have been to most of the world’s environments, poking about wherever there are trees. (Australia comes out as a case on its own: it ‘might as well be another planet’.)

The science appears to be bang up to date, with theories and hypotheses and evidence presented, as well as his own views. He tells us what his students have suggested as explanations of this, that and the other. He gives us a history of woodland in the British Isles (wildwood, wood, wood-pasture, forest and Forest are all distinguished). It never seems to have been dense forest; woodland was often more like savannah – grass with sporadic trees. Everything changes over time – the type of tree, the health of trees (see the Oak Change of c.1900 when oak lost the ability to propagate in existing woodland.) There was probably little more woodland in Roman times than until quite recently. He includes lots of maps and lots of quotations from charters and surveys. He has a good go at the misapprehensions of many conservationists. He’s great on coppicing and pollarding, fire, cattle and deer and royal hunting.

It’s a nature book that gives huge intellectual pleasure. Here’s a sample couple of double pages spreads.

No comments: