Monday, 4 May 2009

Trees on Box Hill

Reading Oliver Rackham has made trees more interesting. On the heavily wooded Box Hill, which I went up the other day, fallen trees had been left lying and not cleared away. (The pics look much better if you click them.)

Rackham’s right. They grow again from the upturned root.

On that chalk hill a typical underside looks like this – it’s surprising how shallow tree roots often are:

But looking along the length of the fallen trunk the root mass seems like the source of whole new thicket.

David Hockney was sad recently on returning to a small beech wood in East Yorkshire that he regularly painted to find it had been felled by the owner .

Hockney saw this as a permanent loss to the landscape. But one of Rackham’s most insistent points (one also made by some respondents to the article) was that you don’t destroy a wood by chopping it down; only by grubbing out the roots. Provided you keep deer away, fresh shoots grow from the stumps and in a few years you have another wood. Indeed, most woods until a few generations ago were regularly felled because the main need was for the smaller growth that was used for firewood, poles and fencing. This was coppicing (see John Medway's blog on this).

Then the trees were allowed to grow again. Only certain trees were managed for their timber; that is, the mature trunks and branches that provided material for construction (furniture, buildings, carts etc.). The language made a clear distinction between timber and the smaller, more consumable wood that came from the younger growth.

I'm not sure if this is the wood in question – but it’s certainly the artist:

Hockney, of course, went to Bradford Grammar School, but that’s another story.

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