Oak and Ash and Thorn: The Ancient Woodlands and New Forests of Britain Oak and Ash and Thorn: The Ancient Woodlands and New Forests of Britain by Peter Fiennes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If we were asked to imagine what the UK would look like way back in the Bronze age, people tend to think that there would be a canopy of trees stretching from coast to mountain with gaps where people had felled trees to grow crops. It wasn’t like that though, but there was a significant amount of forests and copses that provided food, shelter, fuel and livelihoods. The love of woodlands is deeply ingrained within our psyche and have contributed to countless legends, myths and fairy tales that have permeated our culture too. In 2010 the government at the time thought it would be a good idea to sell off the Forestry Commission; they didn’t quite expect the reaction that they got from the public who were vehemently against the sale of the woodlands and the plan was shelved.

In this quite delightful and whimsical book, Fiennes taps into that deep love that people have for their forests and local woodlands, mixing his own experiences as he visits ancient woodlands, including one quite dark and creepy moment in a woodland at dusk. He explores the reasons why that even though we have the lowest amount of forest cover of any European country, we have the greatest number of ancient trees, and how London is technically a forest. His ‘Short History of Britain’s Woods in 3508 Words’ is a quite spectacular piece of writing.

His passion for our forests and copses is evident when you read this, but this is a practical book too. He has a great list of 30 achievable things on an action plan list we can do immediately with regards to planting trees and improving our woodlands. They are all simple things and they would make a significant difference to the quality of our natural environment. Definitely a book to read for those who have any interest in woodlands. We cannot rest on our laurels as ancient forests are always under threat from all manner of sources and the more that people are aware of their local woods and use them the better their chances of survival. Would also recommend reading this in conjunction with the excellent A Tale of Trees: The Battle to Save Britain’s Ancient Woodland by Derek Niemann.

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