Book review: A Year in the Woods, Colin Elford

A friend bought me ‘A Year in the Woods: The Diary of a Forest Ranger‘, by Colin Elford. I picked up the book with a certain apprehension – the second-hand bookshops’ natural history shelves are stuffed with glossy tomes under that kind of title; giving accounts either uncomfortably twee or tediously focussed on shooting, fishing, horses or birds. The cover gave me some hope, being a gentle New Naturalist-style linocut rather than a breathless photo of some generic deer in the leaves.

A Year in the Woods, Colin Elford

Once I began to read, my concerns evaporated within a few paragraphs. For this is a direct book. Colin Elford writes succinctly, writing as much as he needs to and no more. The reader can almost feel and smell the forest and its hidden life as Elford’s measured voice describes it with the kind of understated eloquence that one might be more accustomed to hearing from David Attenborough. Continue reading Book review: A Year in the Woods, Colin Elford

Iranian forestry practices… not unlike our own

People and trees, the same story, the world over. It almost always comes down to some sort of neighbour dispute, and in this particular case the Ranger thinks that he has identified what must surely be the biggest ever neighbour dispute over trees. From Iran Daily 16 February 2006:

Last week’s removal of a large number of trees in Lavizan Forest Park of Tehran caused a barrage of criticism to rain down on Tehran Municipality… a host of nature lovers and environment support NGOs have been asking why the Parks and Green Areas Organization, which is in charge of conserving greeneries of the megacity, should give the green light to such clearing. About 8,000 pine trees were cut down a week ago in an attempt to flatten the southern section of the Lavizan Forest Park for construction of a highway in east of the capital.

Sounds a little like the Newbury bypass.

Oddly enough, the Daily Telegraph has a different take on the same story several weeks later on 6th March 2006:

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have taken the extraordinary step of cutting down thousands of trees in Tehran to prevent United Nations inspectors from finding traces of enriched uranium from a top-secret nuclear plant… According to western intelligence sources, more than 7,000 trees which may have contained incriminating nuclear traces have been lost in a popular parkland area in the city near the Lavizan atomic research centre.

The Ranger congratulates those western intelligence sources on being able to read the ‘Iran Daily’ website. It’s somehow comforting to know that people in Iran reacted just as people in this country would have. People love trees, and they hate to see them felled. But big projects often sweep aside such concerns. It’s almost certain that the bulldozer drivers who cleared up the fallen trees and grubbed out the stumps would have stood about chatting at the end of the day and said something like “It’s such a shame all these trees have to go… I love trees, myself”. Maybe even the foremen and the engineers in charge thought the same thing – although they’d have been less likely to say it. But still the trees went. This seems to be the pattern of such projects in all cases, and there is no reason to imagine that it was any different in Tehran or Tewksbury.

It is because of this experience of tree-destruction by gung-ho developments that the Ranger is cynical about the Telegraph’s take on this story, especially the assertion that the Revolutionary Guards were out there with their chainsaws. There seems to be a range of tales as to what really happened, with the Telegraph saying that “The official explanation for the destruction of the trees was to create a national park.”, Iran Daily saying it was “for construction of a highway” and Iran News, yet another source, saying that “felling of Lavizan’s trees, which resumed on Wednesday in the presence of deputy Tehran mayor, Ahmad Donya-Mali, was halted by a court order”. What is not in doubt is that a good few trees were felled, probably more than 7000, and many people in Iran were very cross about it and made these feelings abundantly clear. Just as we would have. The Ranger rejects the conspiracy theory. In any case, it would be more or less impossible to remove all evidence of organic life from the soil surrounding this former nuclear facility. Felling trees would have no benefit if a cover-up were indeed the object. The simplest explanation is that a big engineering project went ahead in the way such projects always do. We’ve seen it before and we will no doubt see it again. Perhaps before they get too excited about this ‘cleansing’, the IAEA should recruit a few arboriculturalists to tell them the way it is.

Ivy on trees… kill it or cherish it?

At this time of year our thoughts turn to holly and ivy… and sometimes we encounter one of the ‘old chestnuts’ for debate that just seem to go on and on. Is ivy on a tree a good thing or a bad thing? Should we take ivy off trees, or leave it on? The world seems to be divided sharply into two on this matter. The Ranger, for what it’s worth, is firmly in the ivy retention camp. Ivy (c) ScoobygirlI well remember a Christmastime some 15 years ago when on my rounds in the woodland I managed I encountered the work of an ivy vigilante. Some clever dick had gone along the woodland ride and cut about 10cm out of the big stems of ivy on the oak trees, killing dozens of ivy plants. I was furious, and for years afterwards the dead ivy lurked in the oak branches, accusingly. Of course, it grew back, but that’s not the point. Ivy provides good shelter and food for wildlife, it is a native plant, and it does not harm trees. No, it doesn’t. A weak tree may succumb to ivy infestation, but this is because it was on the way out anyway. It’s also nigh on impossible to get dead ivy out of a tree.

So why do people hate it so? My theory is that it’s a gardening thing. Of course, in a formal situation, such as a park or garden, it’s quite proper to take ivy off trees. Indeed, because ivy is so successful as a plant it can certainly be seen as a weed in some contexts. So gardeners and those who like tidy gardens, like to remove it. The problem comes when they extend this principle to natural and managed woodlands, and assume that ivy elsewhere is also a problem. Not so. I’m happy for gardeners to pick off as much ivy as they like – in a garden. But if ivy is a weed in one context, it cannot be assumed that it will be so in all others. So please, if your secateur trigger finger is itchy, don’t go into your local woodland and cut the ivy stems imagining you’re improving matters. Clip off a few jolly ivy boughs instead, decorate your home this Christmas with this fine, festive plant, and learn to enjoy it in its place.