Are you interested in how to help save our forests? That’s good, because they need our help. The government recently tried to sell of our remaining forests to private industry, thinking they would be ‘in better hands’. It was only a massive petition by 38 Degrees that stopped them. Despite nearly all other countries having forests remain in public hands.
You may also be interested in the post on why squirrels are not to blame for red squirrels becoming endangered (because loggers are chopping down their pine forests, which is why they are now mostly found in Northumberland and Scotland, where these forests remain). Work with Nature, and she returns the favour.
Check out The Woodland Wife. This is a really nice blog by a woman whose family live in the woods (her husband is an oak framer). Previously a graphic designer, now days are taken up with long walks with dogs and daughters, cooking, taking photos and growing food in their vegetable garden.
So what is a forest? It’s obviously a large area with trees and undergrowth. It’s mostly size that differs woods from forests, with the latter being more than 1.24 acres (around 15 tennis courts to visualise). So it’s pretty big. England has around 13% of forested land, which sounds a lot but it isn’t, as it used to be around 80%. We are way behind most other countries, only marginally better than Ireland and The Netherlands. Compare that with the most forested countries in Europe.
Most of the wood used for our paper and furniture comes from Scandinavian forests (not from here), so that’s not the reason. Is it because we can’t grow forests? No. Experts say that our land/climate is the closest not to Scandinavia, but to the tiny kingdom of Liechtenstein (in the Alps, next to Switzerland). However they have almost half their land covered in forest, and this provides homes to native wildlife and birds of prey. The forests are all publicly owned again, which is why it’s such a mystery why the government considered selling ours to private industry.
Finland has around 73% forest, and the rest of Scandinavia and surrounding countries (like Estonia) all have miles more than us, as does Germany and France. Nearly all the main forests of the UK are in Scotland, though we have Kielder Forest Park (Northumberland), Thetford Forest Park (Norfolk/Suffolk) and of course, the New Forest in Hampshire.
Finland trees are almost exclusively pine, birch and spruce. It also has lots of native wildlife including reindeer, bears, lynx and wolves. In Sweden, forests have doubled in the last few years. And Estonia (next to the Scandinavian countries) looks like fairytale wilderness that you’ve been dropped in, like a Snow White scene.
How to Save Our Forests
No doubt if you go to websites like Woodland Trust, they will tell you how they are planting lots of saplings, and everything is certified sustainable. All well and good – but why do we have less forests than other countries, in the first place? It is true that we never had as much forest as Scandinavia (and a lot of the removal to be fair, was in years gone by, not recently). But even so, it doesn’t take that long to grow a tree, and we’ve had the lowest forested land for decades.
Although the forest charities do good work, the problem like a lot of our charities is that they are so big, the end sight is lost. The Woodland Trust gets millions, and National Trust land is beautifully forested, but you can’t visit if you’re a single mum on a budget, as you would not be able to afford it. Forests should be for everyone, not just those enough rich enough to pay donations for a magazine, car parking charges and a high entry fee. So let’s look at some grassroots ways to help instead:
- Switch to recycled toilet paper (most virgin paper comes from Boreal forests, homes to native wildlife.
- Follow forest rules. Report pollution or litter to Fix My Street. Buy recycled stationery, greetings cards, furniture and toilet paper.
- Tiny forests plants around 600 trees on a tennis-court size plot with organic trees that require little management after the first 2 years. It takes up to 100 volunteers, then 4 to manage. The aim is to attract over 500 animals and plants within 3 years and these can also be used as outdoor classrooms, to help children reconnect with nature. So far over 16 have been planted across the UK, get involved.
- The Conservation Volunteers has local volunteers to plant trees, and look after existing ones. Sign up their Green Gym (free and less smelly than an indoor gym) for warm-ups, cool-downs, training, biscuits and tea.
- There are lots of local charities with volunteers planting millions of trees, to help reduce climate change, air pollution, and to reduce flooding. Air pollution is thought to cause 40,000 premature deaths each year in major cities.
- Rather than releasing balloons (kills wildlife), create memorials to loved ones by planting trees in forests: Life for a Life or Trees for Life (Scottish Highlands).
- Download The Woodland Wildlife Toolkit that can assess the condition of your local woods, and give information on how to protect it for biodiversity and local wildlife.
What is Coppicing?
This just means cutting the tree down to the roots, so that new roots can grow. It stops trees from getting too mature, and helps to promote new growth (a bit like pruning or giving the tree a haircut!) It’s been used for years, the wood is then used to make furniture. It’s mostly done in winter when the tree is dormant, and the bark is less likely to tear. It doesn’t kill the tree, in fact it lets in light so that more flowers and plants grow, which often provide food for deer and other native wildlife. The Conservation Trust’s Woodland Handbook has full info on how to coppice and care for woodlands.
Pollarding is similar, but you this focuses on the tops of trees, rather than at ground level. Again this has been around for thousands of years, but you have to be careful not to expose the tops of the trees to disease.
Belonging in an Ancient Forest
The Circling Sky is part childhood memoir and part nature observation, of one man’s journey over a year, to explore the New Forest in Hampshire. Via several journeys, Neil Ansell returns for solitary walks to the place near where he was born. With beautiful sightings and observations of birds, trees, butterflies, insects and landscapes – this is also the history of one of the most ancient natural habitats in England. It’s also a polemic on our collective and individual responsibility to the land and world we live, and how we care for it.
The Benefits of Forest Bathing
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.
Walks in the Wild offers a guide through the forest, with Peter Wohlleben, a forester from Germany who has written several books on what we can learn from nature and wildlife. In this charming book, he takes you on a journey of discovery. You’ll learn how to:
- Find your way in a forest, without a compass
- Which trees are best to shelter in a storm
- How to tell apart a deciduous and coniferous tree
- How to read animal tracks
- What it’s like to spend a night alone in a forest
The Quiet Art of Green Woodworking
Green woodworking involves working with fresh wood, nothing like the dried timber that you have to saw from B & Q. This is far easier to split and turn, so you can set up a quiet cottage business from your garage, without power tools. The Conservation Volunteers says that ‘a skilled green woodworker can walk into the wood carrying a few simple hand tools, and emerge carrying a handmade chair!
Only in England could we have a man called Barn the Spoon. He is one of our best green woodworkers and has just written a book. Wood Craft shows you how to create beautiful objects from fresh green wood by becoming skilled in the arts of whittling, axe-based furniture making and turning. No need for costly materials or machinery, all you need is a fallen log, an axe and a hand knife.
Learn to carve your own bowls, shrink pots, frame stools, side tables and yes, spoons. Plus you’ll learn how to make a full chair with turned legs and back rest. There is also a stool that uses recycled bicycle tubes for the top seat.
In the UK, Ben Law became subject of the most popular Grand Designs episode ever, when he built his little house in the wood. Grand Designs magazine says that whenever asked of their favourite episode, everyone says ‘that guy who built his house in the wood’. The 8-month project cost £28,000 and became a lifelong business for Ben, who now gives walks and seminars, and teaches others how to do the same.
Before that, Ben had lived in a caravan for 10 years. Today he still lives there with his young family, with some added luxuries including a sunken hot tub. He says ‘I love living here. Every day, waking up is a pleasure’. Read his books Woodland Craft and Woodland Workshop with lots of green woodworking projects including a Sussex knee vice and peeling jig (?!)
In the US, Christopher Thomas Knight (otherwise known as the North Pond Hermit) was recently in the news, after being found living in the woods, having gone missing 27 years ago. Discovered in Maine (US), he lived by stealing food from local holiday camps. He managed to survive bitter cold winters, and used a camp stove to cook, and drank and bathed from melted snow. People became so fascinated by his life, that books have been written about him. When interviewed, he said that he had one verbal exchange in all that time; ‘saying hi’ to a hiker!
London Is a Forest (yes, it is!)
You may not think so. But Paul says that indeed, London is a forest, as it has as many trees (8 million) as people, and under UN law, this classes it as a city forest. You may beg to disagree if you live on a treeless housing estate, but it’s a forest city all the same. The most popular trees in London are sycamore, oak and silver birch. They not only are beautiful and help to clear the air, but they also reduce ‘heat island effect’, which means London is often hotter than most areas in high summer. This can make the pavement too hot for dogs to walk on (if it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for their paws).
In this book, Paul follows a number of trails through the rich diversity of London, to closely look at the urban forest, and discover the stories and secrets it holds. You’ll discover some of the species found here, and the people who helped to shape this remarkable environment over many centuries. Discover:
- The London Plane
- Oaks, Cherries & Hornbeam
- The rare Wild Service Tree
- The Tree of Heaven
Author Paul Wood is your city’s resident tree expert. After spending many years working in the technology industry, he switched outs and founded the Urban Tree Festival and Tree Walk, and is patron of Street Trees for Living.
Food From Your Forest Garden
A food forest grows trees alongside food. Agroforestry is carbon negative, but you need good skills due to lack of strong sunlight so it involves canopy cover. Read Food from Your Forest Garden on how to grow often unusual crops for your little forest haven.
Many plants in this book (like hostas) are toxic to pets. See make your garden safe for pets to know toxic plants, trees, herbs, mulches and other items to avoid near furry friends.
Some of the unusual foods featured include:
- Hawthorn fruits
- Bamboo shoots
- Beech leaves
There are over 100 recipes for over 50 species (presented by season) with raw food options, and information on each plant’s nutritional value, with advice on harvesting and processing. And if all sounds a bit advanced, you can also use the book to preserve the forest fruits, and turn them into jams or fruit leathers. The book is by Martin Crawford (Director of the Agroforestry Research Trust) and Caroline Aitken (who once travelled around Europe and Morocco on a bus made from vegetable oil).
If you can’t afford conventional furniture, consider cardboard furniture. These items are made from cardboard that is easy to move and recycle, and strong. Keep away from heat and flames, smokers use a Boodi personal ashtray, to extinguish cigarettes.
Chairigami (US) is made from strong yet lightweight 3-ply corrugated cardboard: tables, desks and seating. The cardboard sofa is just 18 pounds but can take 3 big men, and flat packs away.
- The Paper Hive is a pop-up cardboard desk, which packs away in 20 seconds, and has a pre-cut hole for cables. Made from 85% recycled materials, this water-resistant desk complies with home fire regulations (they recommend you do a full risk assessment).
- CUBIQZ (Europe) makes cardboard furniture for home staging, for sale or property developers. Much cheaper and easy to move, you can even display ‘cardboard washing machines’.
Don’t Have Room for a Desk?
Dragonfly Bamboo Laptop Stand sets up in seconds to prevent neck ache or shoulder pain. Invented by a digital nomad, this is ideal as it has 2 height settings.
This is a good idea, if you have some recycled wood and a few DIY skills.
- The Handbuilt Home is by Ana White, an Alaskan wife and mother who wanted IKEA furniture, but could not afford it. So she learned to make things herself, and now runs an empire: this book and her website packed with simple projects. There are 34 versatile projects from beginner-friendly tables and media centres to storage solutions. All you need is some off-the-shelf lumber, a drill, a saw and some hand tools.
- Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects is by carpenter Spike, who shows you how to make easy items (similar to IKEA) using a few simple tools.
- Made with Salvaged Wood offers tutorials for simple projects including desks, shelving units, side tables and storage ideas. There is a side table made from the slice of an old tree trunk, on-trend air plant holders (see toxic houseplants to keep away from pets.) and a table made from scrap wood.
- The Reclaimed Woodworker offers 21 projects including a sliding barn door, a modern desk and more upcycled building projects. Learn how to source eco-conscious wood to build your own furniture.
- Building with Secondhand Stuff shows how to salvage all kinds of junk for free, then build tables, install vintage hardwood floors and salvaged windows, and mason-reclaimed stone walls. Make a pallet chair, pallet table, chalkboard message door, door-backed island and reclaimed greenhouse.
Build Furniture from Wood Pallets
Old wooden pallets are free so great to make furniture. Make sure they are free from chemical treatments and sand/remove rusty nails, for safety.
- Pallet Style includes instructions to deconstruct a pallet before use. Find projects to make a display shelf, a herb box planter (see toxic herbs to avoid near pets), a log ‘basket’, a kitchen recycling centre, key hooks and a breakfast tray.
- Pallet Craft has 20 projects including a corner garden sofa, a boot rack, a coffee table, a bed headboard, and a dog bed (ensure no chemicals or nails, with a comfy blanket in the sanded bed).
- Pallet Wood Projects for Outdoor Spaces shows you how to make a beautiful porch awning, an outdoor kitchen unit for veggie BBQs, plus functional benches and tables, side tables, a work bench and storage.
How to Protect Wild Wolves
Wolves abound in North America and Eastern Europe. England no longer has wild roaming wolves like the 17th century, although a few ‘roam free’ in Bristol’s Bear Wood (but the project is owned by a Bristol Zoo which Born Free charity has questioned over bored animals and small enclosures, so the jury is out on that one. But we can still help wild wolves in Europe and North America.
Dogs are not descended from grey wolves, as often said. They are evolutionary cousins, so similar, rather than directly related. Wolves in the wild keep deer moving (trying to hunt them) so prevent overgrazing of tree seedlings, and can therefore turn grasslands into forests. If you leave nature alone. Most wolves get along with feral dogs, although of course this would not work with domestic dogs. Wolves do attack lambs, which is why it is not good to introduce them into the wild in England.
Living around the same age as dogs, wolves live in packs and take care of pups. They howl (rather than bark) and roam up to 12 miles a day. They are very powerful but like dogs are scavengers, preferring to eat large sick and injured animals, and tend to hunt together in packs. Just like dogs, they have pack leaders and will defend their territory, when under attack. And yes, wolves howl. But as a social call, not at the moon!
How We Can Help Wolves
- Wolves need a lot of space to roam, and are miserable in zoos, so don’t support them. Packs have been shot dead in the UK, after trying to escape. Freedom for Animals reports that out of several animals culled in zoos, this included a whole pack of wolves (their social structure broke down) and two cubs and a female adult (selective culling). If you want to help endangered wolves, give to a small charity instead: Born Free (Ethiopian wolves), Wolf Watch (rescues captive wolves in Europe), Wolves and Humans (helps wolves survive in the wild, and helps farmers protect sheep with fencing) and UK Wolf Conservation Trust (keeps wolves in the wild).
- If you see a wolf (or other zoo animal) that looks distressed or unwell, report it to the police and tour operator. You can send a Red Flag Report to Born Free, who will try to help. Contact Freedom For Animals with any concerns.
- Run a clothes shop? Put a free sticker in your window to show you are a Fur Free Retailer. Some ‘fake fur’ has been found to be real fur in DNA tests (wolves are used for fur). Donate old fur coats to your wildlife shelter who will use as surrogate mums.
- Help charities in British Columbia to ban the annual cull. Just like badgers, wrong science has led to wolves being shot from helicopters (left to die in the snow), but it did not recover caribou numbers.
- Only choose responsible wildlife-watching holidays. Responsible Travel run wildlife-watching tours, and have strict criteria on what they won’t sell, so it’s the best bet. Or volunteer at a wolf sanctuary.
Wonderful Books about Wolves
- Bringing Back the Wolves is the story of how in 1926 (with no wolves left in Yellowstone Park), the landscape was in distress. So in 1995, the government brought wolves back and a remarkable restoration took place. Accompanied by beautiful nature art.
- A Wolf Called Wander is the story of Swift, a wolf who lives with his pack in the mountains until one day his home and family are lost. Alone and starving, does he stay on the borders of his old hunting ground, or find a new home? Inspired by a true story.
- Spur: A Wolf’s Story has a gentle message to help wolves worldwide. Spur is a young brave wolf who is looking for food with her brother, when suddenly a flying beast appears. What was it, and where did her brother go? The next time the helicopter appears, she knows what she must do to save her wolf pack, and reunite with her brother.
- The Wisdom of Wolves is a beautiful book on what wolves can teach us. A naturalist draws on 25 years of working with wolves in Yellowstone Park to draw draw comparisons with humans. Wolves care for their elderly, play with their children and put family first. Can we learn something?