Forest Wise

I was going to entitle this blog Tree Wise, but it is the name and a very apt one of at least 2 arboricultural companies in the UK alone. As ‘Street Wise’ is a term to define a general knowledge, an aptitude of living an urban life, there exists the same sort of sixth sense with regards working with trees or in forests.

I know an Apple Tree Man, whose knowledge is inaccessible if you attempted to write it down or even illustrate or film. He has a connection with an apple tree which when it comes to pruning is unfathomable to a student at first but which 100% of the time works. Watch and listen and eventually you will get it, it isn’t rocket science but it is one of the most rewarding things in your life to finally grasp.

I know many people who simply know their trees, they know what their needs are and no textbook could illustrate why. Described in horticultural mythology as being ‘greenfingered’ I have had to come around to simply accepting that these people have a gift, how or why is impossible to ascertain, but they do. The only common trait I have found is that they usually remain all their lives in one particular landscape.

Indeed if you are of a sporting nature and fancy a stake in a forthcoming village vegetable show yet it is impossible to study form, the best bet is a visit to the parish records to discover who was born there and never moved, better still whose parents were born there and never moved also. They will assuredly beat the likes of Alan Titchmarsh, Chris Beardshaw and Monty Don combined.

So why in policies regarding forestry and the landscape itself do we ignore the wisdom on the ground in favour of yet another as cleverly titled as a Sun headline, glossy, beautifully illustrated brochure / pdf, from a Quango or NGO? Have they been into the woods and chatted at length with ‘Old Bob’ with the ancient chainsaw that seems to be a part of him and whose possible invite into the local houses scares the children into obedience – Of course they haven’t, but Old Bob’s knowledge is literally invaluable.

Traditional skills and knowledge are disappearing as rapidly as Hedgehogs, is there not a link?

Conservationists are knowledgeable, vital assets to the continuation of our landscapes and all contained within it, but they have continued down a line which has disconnected them still further from those they need to speak to, and this is largely due to a belief in the self importance of their expertise, accentuated by PR. The money flowing into NGOs has created corporate identity and there is nothing worse to a farmer, forester or many locals than to see a heavily logo emblazoned, clean 4X4 heading down the narrow lane towards them. Comparable situations of the outsider arriving in a landscape are found in the books of Thomas Hardy, yet the NGO brochures and surreptitiously placed ‘chicklit’ or ‘lads mag’ literature have largely replaced any reading of worth on the coffee tables of the new wave of ‘countryside professionals. I once listened at length to a Quango employee that his job was made impossible because of the ‘language’ barrier, he being unable to understand the local deep regional accent, himself possessing another deep regional accent, but that wasn’t important to him as he lived in the centre of the nearest City, where ‘thank goodness’ there were people who could talk to. It was however very important, how much insightful and vital information about the landscape he was purporting to be in custodianship of had he ignored due a lost in translation scenario?

Every forest, woodland and tree is unique, be they in a Sitka spruce plantation or in an ancient semi-natural woodland, and not in the same way that a fingerprint is subtly unique, the differences are enormous. Every square metre in a varied landscape like the UK is different to the next.

Forestry is not a science it is a combination of the knowledge of many sciences contained within a landscape and landscapes cannot be understood without understanding the locals who live in it as they are why it is a landscape.

Every time I hear the words ‘expert led’ or ‘expert driven’ I fear the image in my mind is not that of wise old local sage with real knowledge, but a 30 something graduate who has managed to attain the right to wear a logo’d fleece.

Learn something from the British Army, learn to take off your sunglasses and listen, truly listen without interruption to those in the landscape you trespass on.

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3 Comments

Filed under Trees and Woodlands

3 responses to “Forest Wise

  1. Great post; your ideas on the limitations of ‘expert knowledge’ reminded me of this, by Howard Nemerov:

    Learning the Trees:
    Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn
    The language of the trees. That’s done indoors,
    Out of a book, which now you think of it
    Is one of the transformations of a tree.

    The words themselves are a delight to learn,
    You might be in a foreign land of terms
    Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,
    Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.
    But best of all are the words that shape the leaves—
    Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform—
    And their venation—palmate and parallel—
    And tips—acute, truncate, auriculate.

    Sufficiently provided, you may now
    Go forth to the forests and the shady streets
    To see how the chaos of experience
    Answers to catalogue and category.

    Confusedly. The leaves of a single tree
    May differ among themselves more than they do
    From other species, so you have to find,
    All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.”

    Example, the catalpa in the book
    Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three
    Around the stem; the one in front of you
    But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;

    Maybe it’s not catalpa? Dreadful doubt.
    It may be weeks before you see an elm
    Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,
    A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.

    Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says,
    Little by little, you do start to learn;
    And learn as well, maybe, what language does
    And how it does it, cutting across the world

    Not always at the joints, competing with
    Experience while cooperating with
    Experience, and keeping an obstinate
    Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.

    Think finally about the secret will
    Pretending obedience to Nature, but
    Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,
    Dividing up the world to conquer it,

    And think also how funny knowledge is:
    You may succeed in learning many trees
    And calling off their names as you go by,
    But their comprehensive silence stays the same.

  2. Great poem

    It is not just NGOs but also Govt Agenices – i was once seeking approval for a new river crossing and i drove the “expert” through my lovely Doug Fir and Larch forest to the site – as we stood discussing the finer points of culverting the expert asked me whether the “trees were natural”……..

    We – commercial foresters – are also v guilty for not engaging, and adopting a Milwall approach “nobody likes us and we dont care!” to consultations. Yes it is hugely frustrating and time consuming but it is valuable, our best adverts for our skill, expertise and knowledge are our forests. By engaging the experts on our home ground it is very easy to demonstrate how we much we know and how much we are responsible for how the countryside looks.

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