Woodlands have always been essential to humans; for millennia we have used them as a source of food, shelter, medicine and warmth. This all changed with the arrival of cheaper fuels and imported lumber and sadly the historic use of our woodlands steadily declined. However, the forest is still deeply rooted in our psyche. This was proven when back in 2010 the government announced that it intended to privatise the forestry commission, including many ancient woodlands and royal forests. This led to such a public outcry that the classic political U-turn was executed, and thankfully they remain in public ownership.
That woods and forests still matter to us is the fundamental point of this pivotal collection of essays, poems, meditations and art. They have been drawn together from 38 different writers, poets and artists and thinkers as a literary memorial to the late Oliver Rackham. Woods are the roots of a lot of our folk tales, myths and legends, but this book does not dwell in the past; the collection of voices brings a range of fresh views, contemporary perspectives and a serious look at the future. As well as the thought provoking essays, poems and thoughts on coppices, the book includes stunning images by Ellie Davies, photos of my favourite artists work, Andy Goldsworthy, and the collection of postcards sent by David Nash after the storm of 1987 to inform people that a fallen tree has as much to offer the woodland as a living tree.
Cooper had the unenviable task of pulling together all the contributions to this tome, and in all honesty he has done a fantastic job. Not every essay works for me, but that is not unexpected as each writers point of view is different. What we do have though is a collection of some of the best natural history writers currently writing including Jim Crumley, Sara Maitland, Philip Marsden, Kathleen Jamie, Tim Dee, Richard Mabey and Paul Evans, but the inclusion of others like William Boyd, Simon Armitage and Richard Skelton make this so much richer. It is a fitting tribute to Oliver Rackham and a fine collection of thoughts on just how vital woodlands and the natural world are to our well-being and balance, and how they resonate with us still today.