‘A culture is no better than its woods’ W.H.Auden
2011 is the UN’s International Year of Forests, celebrating people’s action to sustainably manage the world’s forests. This recognises the importance of conserving forests in tackling all the Millennium Development Goals, in particular mitigating climate change. Forests are the primary habitats for biodiversity. The sustainable management of forests helps tackle poverty. People need access to forests for their wellbeing and they are vital resources for outdoor learning. They are also important sites of cultural heritage too.
Unfortunately, the UK Government sees fit to introduce a policy of selling off all of the forests looked after by the Forestry Commission. This includes prime heritage forests such as the Forest of Dean, New Forest and Sherwood.
I’ve always loved trees, and am addicted to photographing them. There’s nothing that makes me feel happier and more well than a walk through a wood. That in itself is a good enough reason to visit forests but I want to learn more about their stories, their heritage and ecologies. So, as a kind of resolution for a creative project, I want to spend the year celebrating the UK’s forests. I’m going to plan one weekend a month when I (or we as a family) visit a UK forest, camping or staying in a youth hostel. I’ll advertise the dates here in case anyone wants to come with us and join in the celebration, photographing, filming and writing about the forests. In particular, I want to record the ways that people are sustainably managing the forests and also to explore how children feel about them. Do get in touch if you have suggestions for places to visit, places to stay, any great visitor centres or festivals, the best times to go, and people to talk to who have special knowledge about trees. In the meantime, I’m going to read Wildwood by Roger Deakin, as an inspiration for my own writing about forests this year.
And to end with a tiny bit more from another poet: “…And Forest, Great-Breathing-Spirit, rooting to the very end for the life of this planet.” Grace Nichols, From For the Life of This Planet.