Many years ago, most of England was forested. Today, only a few counties have good forest cover (Surrey is one). But forest trees help prevent climate change, and also give homes for many types of native wildlife. The government tried to sell off the remaining state forests a few years ago, only a national petition changed their minds. David Cameron admitted that trying to sell off forests, was not one of the government’s better ideas.
The best way to help forests is to choose recycled paper and wood goods, and pick up your litter, if you are going through a walk in the forest. Also get involved with local tree-planting campaigns. You can create a tiny forest with very little land, which also make good outdoor classrooms. See make your garden safe for pets, to know toxic trees (and mulches) to avoid (fruit pips are toxic to pets, and yew and oak trees are toxic to horses).
A Year in the Woods is by Torbjørn Ekelund, the gifted Norwegian writer. After his beautiful debut book In Praise of Paths, now he decides he wants to leave the city after work and camp near a tiny pond in the forest. He has a family and busy life, so can’t just ‘go off on a trek’.
So once a month for a year, he goes off camping by himself in the woods. A tale of communing with nature in small rituals and reflection. He describes his changing relationships with the landscape as he monthly greets the same trees, rocks, streams and soil. And also observes minute signs of growth and decay around him. And gradually shifts his perspective on his role with the forest, and nature itself.
This author has been described as a modern-day Henry David Thoreau. If you’re not familiar, he wrote the classic book Walden, about his 2 years and 2 months living in semi-isolation by Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Born into a family that made pencils, he attended Harvard University and author Louisa May Alcott (who wrote ‘Little Women’) fondly remembers him teaching her as a child about the natural world. He was a kind man who after capturing a woodchuck who had chewed up most of his bean field, could not bring himself to kill it, so set it free. Thoreau died of TB, just 44.
Finding the Mother Tree is by scientist Suzanne Simard who shares the secrets of a lifetime, uncovering the startling truth about trees: their cooperation, healing capacity, memory, wisdom and sentience. Raised in the forests of British Columbia (where her family has lived for generations), Professor Simard was working in the forest service, when she first discovered how trees communicate underground through an immense web of fungi. Her groundbreaking findings were initially dismissed and even ridiculed, but are now firmly supported by the data. She also reveals how the complex cycle of forest life offers profound lessons on resilience and kinship.
Deer Man: Seven Years of Living in the Forest is the astonishing true account of one man’s quest to immerse himself in nature, and live with wild deer. Geoffroy Delorme never felt he fitted into the human world, and wished to escape to the forest. As he got older, he would disappear into the woods, drawn to the rhythms of animal life, away from the rules of a society he did not understand.
One night, an encounter with a deer changed his life, and he knew he wanted to live among them. In this book, he describes becoming a creature of the forest, working to blend in with deer (not disrupt them) and living without a tent or sleeping bag. Slowly, the deer allow him into their world. He witnesses births, deaths, loves, battles, ostracism and friendship over the cycles of their lives. And the beauty, pain, fear and joy of a life lived within nature, not seperate from it. In the seventh year, he meets a woman walking through the trees. He knows he can stay in the forest and die with his friends – or leave, and speak their truth to a human world that desperately needs to hear it.
Geoffroy also writes that badgers and foxes began to tolerate him, although he was not such close friends. During his time, he made friends with 43 different deer. Daguet was more interested than the others, and would stay around 20 metres away, and then one day he found the deer just 10 metres away, knowing ‘I had the privilege to be accepted by him’. Chévi became best friends with him, and would push him with his muzzle to say there was a daisy to eat. He also said they ran around playing ‘tag’ (the one behind would touch the hoof of the one in front, who becomes the one to chase the others’).
Geoffroy had to leave the forest, due to a forestry company chopping down the trees, to build a road (the herd had to find new territory). He writes ‘People complain that deer come into their gardens and eat their plants. But it is because their natural habitat is being destroyed. If they had enough to eat in the forest, they would stay there. The roe deer were generous and shared their territory with me, even though it was not my natural habitat’.
I understood at a very early age that in nature, I felt everything I should feel in church, but never did. Walking in the woods, I felt in touch with the universe, and with the spirit of the universe. Alice Walker
The Power of Trees is a book to deepen our understanding of ancient forests, re-affirm our dependence on trees, and celebrate their ability to survive human-caused climate change. Trees can survive without humans – but we can’t live without trees. Whatever happens to our planet, trees will return. They always do – even after ice ages, catastrophic fires, destructive storms and deforestation. It would be nice if we could be around, to see them flourish.
This book describes astonishing discoveries on how trees pass knowledge down to succeeding generations, and their ability to survive. The author is also unsparing in his criticism of those who wield economic and political power – who plant trees just for the sake of logging and ruthlessly exploit nature.
This is a love letter to the forest, and a passionate argument for protecting nature’s boundless diversity. Not only for the trees, but also for ourselves.
Trees have wisdom. So does Peter. He warns us that tree planting is usually a ‘giant PR operation’. Instead, the world needs the quiet magic of natural forest restoration. We must stand back and let them grow. Fred Pearce
About the Author
Peter Wohlleben runs a forest academy in Germany, and teaches adults and children about the many wonders of the forest. Translator Jane Billinghurst is a master gardener who lives in Washington (US) next to 2800 acres of community forest lands.
Forest bathing is the Japanese tradition of shinrin-yoku. It involves using nature to heal our relationship with the non-human world. You don’t always have to be in a forest to practice this technique, but it helps!
So what’s the difference between walking through a forest, and forest bathing? It’s the difference between a few deep breaths and a long meditation. For forest bathing, you switch off your phone (unless an emergency) and completely immerse yourself in your surroundings. Take long breaths and look at the rustle of the trees, listen to the birdsong and just be.
Sit quietly and watch squirrels scuttle up trees, study the colours of the changing leaves, and absorb the smell of the rich damp earth. Your Guide to Forest Bathing is by Amos Clifford, who shows you how to forest bathe in the forest or woodland, public park or just your own backyard. Use time in the woods as a form of meditation, a mindfulness in nature.
The Little Book of Forest Bathing is a guide to the simple act of being among trees. With their restorative properties and ability to heal and calm us, trees are the natural remedy to our high-speed lives. Discover the art of forest bathing (an ancient technique from Japan) with this book. It contains guidance on how to immerse yourself in the serenity of the forest, to set you free from the everyday, and rediscover your natural rhythm.
How to Save the Tropical Rainforests
Want to know how to help save the rainforests? It’s good to protect our forests, but the rainforests are ‘the lungs of the planet’ and once lost, difficult to grow back again (the land is not that fertile). If it were a country, the Amazon rainforest would be the 10th largest country on earth (it’s around the same size as Russia). It’s also the world’s main defence against climate change, as there are so many trees that absorb carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. This keeps our temperature stable and play a role in maintaining fresh water (if trees are cut down, this removes the moisture released to the air, so it rains less).
Life Lessons from the Amazon is the tale of an epic 3-month adventure through unexplored jungle terrain, that might even change your life. Fuelled by a zest for life and the desire to explore the world around her, Pip took on a world-first challenge: following Guyana’s Essequibo River from source to sea. With the help of guides from the Waî Waî indigenous community, she and her teammates journeyed through the rainforest, facing persil each day. They kayaked rapids, traversed waterfalls and hacked their way through the mountainous jungle of the Guiana Shield, before finally reaching the Atlantic Ocean.
Survival skills and a flesh-eating parasite weren’t the only things Pip took home from the rainforest. From contending with snakes to learning the value of community, forgiveness and self-belief – Pip shares the pearls of wisdom that we can all apply to our own lives. Her hard-won insights invite us to embrace the wildness within ourselves, and live more each day.
Pip Stewart is a mother, partner, writer and chronic over-thinker. She has a degree in history and politics from Oxford and a Masters if Journalism. Pip has cycled halfway around the world and completed a world-first paddle through the Amazon jungle. On one adventure she got too up-close-and-personal with a sandly, and found a flesh-eating parasite munching through her neck as a result. After contracting leishmaniasis, she now campaigns to raise awareness of neglected tropical diseases.
Does Beef Production Destroy Rainforests?
Yes, but so does a lot of the soy industry, so always buy local and organic. So which of the big companies still use beef from rainforests? It’s not clear (same with soy). What is concerning is that the McDonald’s website appears to be self-policing. Its palm oil meets regulation for the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (deemed as ‘useful as a chocolate teapot’ by Greenpeace). And its beef sourced from Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meets requirements of the ‘McDonald’s Deforestation-Free Beef Procurement Policy’ and the ‘McDonald’s Commitment on Forests’. Obviously outsourcing to independent bodies is not part of the deal.
If you want honest reporting, visit Rainforest Action Network (these are the world experts), who write that ‘massive corporate green is driving the destruction of rainforests’. They say the main culprits are industry for beef, soy, palm oil, paper, timber and cocoa. And banks that fund these industries.
Over and Under the Rainforest is a lovely book for children to meet slender parrot snakes, blue morpho butterflies, toucans, pale-billed woodpeckers, capuchin monkeys and slow-moving sloths. Yet rainforests cover just 3% of our planet. And we are losing them at the rate of 40 football fields a minute: mostly due to rainforest beef farming, soy (often used to feed livestock) and timber logging. Here are ways to help:
- Give up palm oil (food & beauty products)
- Use recycled stationery, greetings cards & gift wrap.
- Buy recycled furniture (or at least FSC-certified)
- Buy sustainable perfumes (without rosewood oil)
- Ensure eucalyptus oil (toothpastes, cleaning products) is from certified organic and koala-friendly resources, as some koalas have been harmed, during harvesting in Aussie rainforests.
- Eat meat? Try some fakeaways, instead of supporting companies that farm livestock or soy
- Buy shade-grown coffee that protects songbirds & native tribes (same for chocolate and nuts).
- Buy recycled jewellery
- Ensure crystals are sustainably-mined.
- Use green building materials (straw bale, cob)
- Choose willow or banana leaf coffins (over mahogany)
- Ensure musical instruments are from sustainable wood.
- Buy ‘native crafts’ free from fur, feathers, tortoiseshell etc.
- Report suspected bones (rhino, tiger) in herbal medicine to National Wildlife Crime Unit (you can do this anonymously).
Fun Facts about Rainforests
- Sloth bears can teach us to slow down. They have poor digestion so can’t move very fast, and mostly live in trees.
- ‘Veiled stinkhorn’ fungi smells like rotting food!
- Asia’s durian fruit (loved by orangutans) smells so bad that there are laws not to take it on public transport. People differ in describing its taste – from vanilla caramel cheesecake to vomit-flavoured custard! Food writer Richard Sterling says the odour is like ‘pig-sh*t, turpentine and onions – garnished with a gym sock!’
- South East Asia’s rhinoceros hornbill bird has a horn so big on its head, it looks like an extra beak.
- Black howler monkeys (Latin America) can be heard for miles.
- The ‘Jesus lizard’ is so-called, because he can walk and run on water. Just like Jesus Christ!
- The capybara is the world’s largest rodent. If you’re scared of rats, wait till you see this guy: he’s about the same height and weight as an older child and roams in groups of 20!
- Aye-ayes live in Madagascar. These lovely creatures are unique, yet do no harm (their main predator is humans).
- The glass-frog is so-called, because he has a see-through tummy. Dart frogs often wrestle each other, for 20 minutes.
- Pink dolphins get their colour from blood capillaries, near the skin surface. They have 40% more brain capacity than us. They swim in smaller groups than most dolphins.
- Green anacondas are some of the largest snakes in the world. Although clumsy on land, they quick and nifty underwater. Even the babies are 2 feet long. Yet although they could – apparently there is no evidence of this snake eating humans.
- Mountain gorillas live in African rainforests. The giant silverbacks are pretty solitary, but make excellent parents.
- The Lantern Fly has wings that look like the eyes of a jaguar, if he needs to defend himself. He can also squirt a foul liquid into your face!
- The rhinocerus beetle can lift over 800 times its own weight, he’s the strongest creature on earth!
- The bullet ant has the most painful bite (like being shot).
- The hairstreak butterfly is protected by ant soldiers. To thank them, if an ant taps the caterpillar on its bum, it will release some sugary nectar!
More Reading on Rainforests
Kapok trees are the giants of the rainforest, which can grow up to 200 feet high (growing 13ft in one year). Often featuring thorns and spines, many species live here, although it sheds all its leaves each season. It also has pink and white flours that emit a foul smell that bats love! They then pollinate the forest, and spread seeds and fruits everywhere. The fruit does not sink in water, which is why the tree was able to float to other lands, as far away as Africa. When it dies, the wood is often used for canoes, and oil can be made into soap. Some native tribes use the tree for medicine (Maya cultures believed that this tree stood at the very centre of the earth). Did you know that there are so many trees in a canopy, that it can take 10 minutes, for a raindrop to hit the ground?
The Amazon Basin is drained by the Amazon river, and lies lower than the sea, starting in Peru and Ecuador. It’s one of the world’s most important ecosystems.
People Who Have Died Protecting Rainforests
In 2019, Brazilian ‘forest guardian’ Paulo Paulino Guajajara was shot in the head by armed loggers. He said before his death ‘It makes me so mad to see this forest destruction. These people think they can come here, into our home, and help themselves to our forest? No. We won’t allow it. We don’t break into their houses and rob them, do we? My blood is boiling. I’m so angry’. His life was taken at just 26 years old.
Rainforest Warrior is the story of Chico Mendes, an environmental activist who fought tirelessly to save the Amazon rainforest, and fought for people’s rights. A Brazilian rubber tapper (from the age of 9), he was assassinated for protecting these rights. The tale also includes information on why rainforests are important for biodiversity, and helping to combat climate change.
Dorothy Stang was an American Roman Catholic nun, who lived her final years in the Amazon rainforest, where she fought for the rights of local people, to protect their land from logging. She was murdered by two gunmen, and apparently prayed for their forgiveness, as she died in front of them.
At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees. Then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Then I realised I was fighting for humanity. Chico Mendes
I don’t want to flee. Nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers, who live without any protection in the forest. They have the right to live and work with dignity, while respecting the environment. Dorothy Stang
Destroying rainforest for economic gain, is like burning a Renaissance painting, to cook a meal. E O Wilson
Life Lessons from the Amazon is the tale of an epic 3-month adventure through unexplored jungle terrain – and it might even change your life. Fuelled by a zest for life and the desire to explore the world around her, Pip took on a world-first challenge – following Guyana’s Essequibo River from source to sea. With help of guides from a local indigenous community, she and her team mates journeyed through the rainforest, facing peril each day. They kayaked rapids, traversed waterfalls and hacked their way through the mountainous jungle of the Guiana Shield, before finally reaching the Atlantic Ocean.
Survival skills and a flesh-eating parasite weren’t the only things Pip took home from the rainforest. From contending with snakes to learning about the value of community, forgiveness and self-belief, she shares pearls of wisdom that we can all apply to our own lives. Her insights invite us to embrace the wildness within ourselves, and live more each day.
About the Author
Pip Stewart has a degree in history and politics from Oxford, and a Masters in journalism. She has cycled halfway around the world and completed a world-first paddle throug the Amazon jungle. On one adventure she got too close with a sandfly, and found a flesh-eating parasite munching through her neck, as a result. After contracting leishmaniasis, she now campaigns to raise awareness of neglected tropical diseases.