Originally published on: jerwoodopenforest.org/journal
Last week I visited forests in the Sherwood area looking at Forestry Commission sites as part of initial research for my Jerwood Open Forest project. My starting point is a search for ‘lost’ trees, but the forests are full of tangential paths.. they lead to stories eventually but by a circuitous route.
Community Ranger Amy Chandler kindly takes me on a tour of her beat – which includes ancient fragments of Sherwood Forest, 20th Century conifer plantations, and several ‘pit woods’ – new woodlands planted on reconditioned colliery tips. Ollerton Pit Wood is now a green hill rich with wildlife, with young plantations growing up – it’s hard to imagine how the landscape looked 20 years ago. Amy shows me a photo from the mid 1990s and it strikes me this landscape is undergoing a reverse process to other energy-rich areas, such as Tar Sands in Canada where the boreal forest is being destroyed in large areas to access oil.
As we drive between sites, we talk about trees, diseases, forestry research and history. Amy tells me more about the origins of the Forestry Commission, which was initiated as a response to a huge loss of forests in the timber-hungry First World War. She also tells me about Sherwood Forest and the reason certain trees and woodlands have survived. Many of the ancient woodlands that still exist were protected as royal hunting grounds and are still the property of the Nottinghamshire Dukeries. So there’s a relationship between aristocratic pleasure grounds and the conservation of ancient woods. As Amy points out, humans have always used forests, and it’s this land use that shapes what we see today. As commercial forestry was introduced from the early 20th Century we began to see new plantations both on open farmland, but also overlaying older forests. In between the neat rows of conifers you still see wonky oaks. Amy has a pragmatic explanation for their survival – the ones that got left behind are the ones that weren’t seen as useful.
The following day I meet Amy and her group of regular volunteers at Birklands Wood. We join them for some ‘rhodey bashing’ as they call their committed battle with rhododendrons that creep through the forest – a remnant of an enthusiastic Victorian Duke’s planting scheme to impress his guests. From prestige planting to pest. At this time of year the bright purple flowers act as beacons marking out our foe. It’s hard work digging them out and seems to result in me falling over a lot… on my back underneath an uprooted rhododendron, I think how rich and various a forest can be.