Book review: European wood-pastures in transition

Wood pastures have existed alongside man for many centuries, and have therefore followed man faithfully through various transitions: economic, social, spiritual, and technological, to name but four (of certainly a larger list). Unfortunately, and for a great number of reasons (associated with the transitions noted above), this faithfulness has not been mirrored by man, and wood pastures across Europe have progressively become abandoned, neglected, or over-managed. Evidently, this is a huge problem, that is perhaps only more recently being fully understood.

In response to this problem, research has been commissioned, over the last few decades, in landscapes across Europe, to ascertain and understand the drivers behind the decline in wood pastures, why this decline is an issue (in the cultural, ecological, and historical sense), and what can be done to reverse this decline. This book, edited by Tibor Hartel and Tobias Plieninger, and supported by a great number of contributors who are certainly well-known to many (including Jill Butler and Keith Kirby, from the UK), does a wonderful job at delving into these topics, and providing the reader with a great primer for why we need to care.

Granted, it would certainly be of benefit for the reader to understand what a wood pasture is prior to reading this book, and in some respects I doubt this is a book that a layperson would come across unwillingly, though let’s assume for a second that this does in fact happen. Could it be understood by the reader, and could they finish the book with an invigorated perspective on nature conservation and the need to conserve important European cultural practice? Yes – without a shadow of a doubt. The editors do a stellar job in this regard, by really laying the table for the more technical chapters that follow the introductory one, which in their totality serve to construct a diverse frameowork to which further knowledge can be attached to. The construction of this framework is undoubtedly aided by the structure of the book, which sees chapters segmented into six principal sections (including sections of history and culture, biodiversity, and social values). Never, however, in spite of the holistic assessment of wood pastures, is the reader overburdened with information from any given area – all sections are presented in equal extents, and thus there is little risk of the book being biased towards a specific agenda (of course, asides from the agenda of promoting the importance of wood pastures, which is hardly a bad thing!).

European wood pastures in transition Hartel & Plieninger
A photo of the book.

Speaking personally, I must admit that I enjoyed the ecological section the most. I’d say this is probably because of my educational background, having studied environmental conservation at university. Understanding just how rich and diverse these ecosystems are was very enlightening, and being provided with specific examples specific to local areas (including Hatfield Forest, which isn’t much more than a stone’s throw away from me) absolutely helps with conveying the message. After all, without focussing on certain areas with the use of case studies, there’s a real risk of the message being conveyed lacking the intricate touch that can be so crucially importanr, and particularly when dealing with wood pastures (which vary so greatly, even on a regional scale, in terms of their characteristics).

Of course, that doesn’t mean the other sectons aren’t enjoyable – they are (massively). The section on governance institutions, which I honestly thought would be somewhat arduous to read, was filled with three glorious chapters (I was most fond of the chapter on Germany’s Black Forest, written by Bieling and Konold). Information about the personal opinions and values of farmers and herders from Greece and Hungary was also something I enjoyed getting from this book, and particular kudos goes to Varga and Molnar for giving the book an almost emotional edge by including many exerpts from interviews with rural herders in Hungary. It is a huge shame that these interviewed individuals are a dying breed, as the younger generations are simply not taking up wood pasture management in the necessary numbers. The question here is why, and how can we change this? Certainly, a European identity is being lost, alongside the loss of wood pasture. And what are we without identity?

It’s really hard not to genuinely like wood pastures. I find that, as I read more about them and understand how important they have been for so many generations across so many countries in Europe, there is an ever-growing heartache in seeing these landscapes neglected – either through ignorance, a lack of necessary funding, a lack of human desire to maintain the systems, or a mixture of some / all of the aforementioned. It was particularly galling to learn about how the Common Agricultural Policy was responsible for the destruction or many wood pastures (due to the sheer stupidity of those involved in forming and enforcing the Policy), as was it equally as galling to see governmental intervention on the national scale seek to take these wood pastures from their knowledgeable owners and enforce unrealistic and naive principles of management upon the landscapes (such as with the Saxons losing control of their Romanian wood pastures, after the rise of communism). Perhaps some things will never change.

You can buy this book here (directly from the publisher). If you do purchase it, I hope you find it as enlightening as I did. It is well worth the investment.

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Book review: European wood-pastures in transition

Why are veteran trees important?

I recently wrote an assignment on veteran and ancient trees, and thought I’d share the section on why such trees can be considered very important. Below are twelve reasons, though there are, of course, many more than that!

1. Veteran and ancient trees can be, and are, incorporated into modern-day developments; particularly urban parkland. However, they may also be found within urbanised environments, existing as a relic of the olden times. In such an environment, their presence may spark interest in an otherwise largely sterile and synthetic environment, and they may be, and usually are, intentionally retained for their romantic and valuable properties.

2. Such well-aged specimens have a high cultural and historical importance, perhaps locally or even nationally (such as Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, and the Tea Party Oak in Ickworth Park). Books are dedicated exclusively to such veteran and ancient trees, and they are featured in an array of paintings and poems, and in lore. Further to this, their presence signifies past land use. Known as ‘working trees’ in instances where past management is evident, they may be found as old pollards where they were used for fuel-wood and timber, or as old coppice stools. Certain specimens may also mark old boundaries, having once been part of a hedgerow that has since been otherwise removed and may, or may not, be visible as a ‘shadow’.

Tea party oak Ickworth
The Tea Party Oak at Ickworth Park, Suffolk, UK. This tree is thought to be over 700 years of age and has a girth of over 9m.

3. Their ecological importance, given they are the last remnants of deadwood habitats that once existed throughout the ‘wildwood’, is paramount to the survival of a huge array of species, ranging from rare fungi, bacteria invertebrates, lichens (and other epiphytes), birds, and bats. Their structural complexity provides many habitat niches that are not, and perhaps cannot be, present on younger specimens of the same species. Many of the species reliant upon such a habitat are now recognised as endangered.

matureoak1
This line of lapsed oak pollards form an old boundary line, which has since been removed from the landscape.

4. Trees of such stature and age possess inherent, unrivalled value, and are objects of respect within their own right. Their ability to fascinate onlookers through their sheer presence is not something that can be achieved easily. Certain specimens are revered and may even be religious icons of sorts, thereby making them sacred symbols or shrines.

5. Ancient and veteran trees can occur in many different forms ranging from a maiden tree, old coppice complete with multiple stems, lapsed pollard, shredded tree, and beyond. As there is no set rule for how an ancient or veteran tree should look, their diverse characteristics set them aside from younger specimens and can add to their visual appeal.

fsylvcoppard4
A massive cluster of stems of a single beech tree, in Epping Forest. This morphology may have manifested after grazing lapsed, and the beech tree, which once grew as a multi-stemmed shrub, developed into a monstrous tree.

6. They can act as tourist attractions, thus providing revenue for the owner whilst also educating the tourists about veteran trees and their importance to the natural environment, their indication if land-use in the past, and otherwise.

7. Such old specimens possess an aura of stability in a world that is otherwise dynamic and changing – they remain as bastions; unmoving, almost timeless, amongst a world that is anything but.

8. Very old trees are more likely than younger trees to be descendants of the trees of the natural wildwood that colonised Britain after the last ice age. This makes them a reserve of important genetic material, which may be critically important for scientists looking to research genetic lineages of plant species, and for botanists and scientists looking to collect seed from very old specimens to continue forth the genetic lineage; or research how they differ from seed of much younger specimens of the same species. As these trees have lived for such long periods, they are obviously very robust and resilient to the forces of change that they have been placed under throughout their lifetime, and their seed may therefore be of use in propagating specimens that are perhaps seemingly resilient in such a changing environment.

9. Ancient and veteran trees can be very personal to many. Whilst their presence may be of religious importance and may fascinate, certain people, particularly those who live near to such an old tree, may form a strong attachment to it, to the point that they almost become friends with the specimen.

10. The annual rings of old trees are historical records in their own right. They illustrate past climate changes or cutting treatments, and the chemical nature of the wood is a potential resource for research into past climates, pollution levels, etc. However, the decay process removes the rings as the tree becomes hollow, research is not always possible back throughout the entirety of the tree’s life.

11. They demonstrate the hardiness of nature and its ability to withstand any length of tumult and still prevail, and can therefore provide arboricultural experts and scientists with first-hand data on the processes a tree goes through as it ages, and can give us indications of recognising and caring for future ancient and veteran trees the coming generations will venerate as such as we do ours.

Japanese pagoda tree Kew Gardens
The Japanese pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum), planted in 1760, at Kew Gardens, UK. It is now being supported with bricks and metal props, so that it doesn’t collapse entirely.

12. Their fragility, even in spite of their normally visually dominant presence, creates an alluring paradox of sorts, which can generate emotional ties with onlookers. Even in spite of their lengthy journey through time, they balance carefully on the edge of existence, having formed a perfect equilibrium over many decades to suit their context. A contemporary threat that may challenge the fragility of such an old tree, that of climate change, is a principal potential threat to very old specimens.

Why are veteran trees important?

Canada and trees – the early 20th century (pt. 3)

Here is a link to the second part of this thread, in which there is a link to the first part. Again, jumping right into this post, we shall be. This is the third and final part of this post series.

Manitoba

In lumbering: “Northern Manitoba is forest-clad as far north as the 60th parallel. The eastern portion shares the forest growth that covers Northwestern Ontario. Birch, spruce, poplar, jack pine, and tamarac flourish in a virgin forest, and supply the sawmills which have been established at many points. In the west and southwest there are timbered areas on the hills and along the river banks.

On sport: “Considerable number of elk, moose, and jumping deer are found in the Province, and in the forests and hills the bear, wolf, lynx, fox, marten, beaver, and other fur-bearing animals have their haunts.

Saskatchewan

On the Province as a whole: “North of the rolling prairies are extensive forest tracts, thinning off as the northern boundary of the Province is approached.” / “A little further north [from the southern strip of the Province] are the park lands; and well they deserve their name. Even here there is plenty of open prairie, where the new settler can put in his plough and run a long furrow without having to clear anything away first; but there are also innumerable little ‘bluffs’ or coppices of birch and poplar, which are very useful not only in providing fuel, but also in sheltering the house and live stock, and to some extent the crops, from the wind.

Saskatchewan 1920s rural road
A picturesque spot near Regina, Saskatchewan.

On lumbering: “The lumbering district of Saskatchewan lies north of Prince Albert. Spruce, larch, jack-pine, white and black poplar, and white birch are the most common trees. Much of this timber is used for railway sleepers and to meet the demand of the farmers and settlers throughout the Province. In the northern section of Saskatchewan the Dominion Government has set aside a number of large areas as forest reserves, not only with the purpose of conserving the timber supply, but also ‘of keeping up a permanent supply of water at the fountain-head of streams which radiate from various centres in every direction’“.

On fur trading: “The forests of the north still abound in fur-bearing animals, the principal being bear, otter, beaver, marten, wolf, and mink. Prince Albert and Battleford are the leading centres of the fur trade. The annual output is valued at over $1,620,000 (£324,000).

On sport: “Northern Saskatchewan is still largely the haunt of the sportsmen. Lakes, rivers, and forests abound, and the keen hunter finds rare sport in this home of the fur-bearing animals.

Alberta

On lumbering: “Building material and fuel in unlimited quantities are procurable in the forests of Northern Alberta, for the timber lands extend hundreds of miles on the north side of the Saskatchewan River. The poplar, birch, pine, white and black spruce, Douglas fir and larch, are among the trees contained in these great forest belts. South of the North Saskatchewan the timber is principally cottonwood and poplar, except in the foothills and river valleys, where considerable spruce is found. Sawmills are located at various points. Over 26,000 square miles of territory have been set aside as forest reserves and Dominion parks.

Valley of the Ten Peaks Rocky Mountains 1920
The Valley of the Ten Peaks, Rocky Mountains, Alberta.

On sport: “In the mountain section of the Province large areas have been set apart by the Dominion Government for forest and game preservation and for recreation. Good roads have been built through these reservations and they are carefully guarded against both fire and illicit hunting.

Alberta cow grazing trees 1920
There are many places in Western Canada similar to this, where nature lends attractiveness and offers useful shelter, water and feed.
Edmonton Alberta Canada 1920 aerial view
Bird’s eye view of Edmonton, Alberta. (Look at all the trees!)

British Columbia

On agriculture: “The fruit growers of the Province have won distinction by the size and flavour of their products, and the fame of Southern British Columbia as a fruit country is now world-wide. Apples, grapes, apricots, peaches, and plums are grown to perfection; also strawberries, cherries, and many other small fruits.

British Columbia orchard trees 1920
Orchards in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, one of the most productive fruit-growing districts in the world.

On lumbering: “In timber British Columbia has its greatest asset, for, however rich a country may be in mineral wealth, the latter is always a definite quantity and is subject some day to exhaustion, but properly conserved and developed, timber is inexhaustible. The value of the manufactured timber is over $55,365,000 (£11,073,000), and the forests are growing about four times as fast as they are being cut. The present commercial stand of timber exceeds 336,000 billion feet.

British Columbia trees and islands 1920
Where mountain peaks and island-dotted placid lakes form a delightful environment.

Throughout the coast region, and in a lesser degree the wet belts of the interior, there are great stands of Douglas fir, hemlock, red and yellow cedar, spruce, larch, and commercial pines. The hardwoods, such as oak, maple, and alder, are inconsiderable and commercially negligible. The coniferous trees grow to unusual size and height. Douglas firs, cedars, and spruce eight to ten feet in diameter are not unusual in the coast regions, while there are individual specimens, 300 feet high, with girth from 50 to 55 feet.

British Columbia giant cedars 1920
Some giant cedars in British Columbia, a province with billions of feet of commercial timber.

Sawmills are located all over the Province, both on the coast and in the interior. There is a constant demand for British Columbia timber in the Prairie Provinces, and large quantities are exported to the United Kingdom, the Orient, South America, Africa, and Australia. The cedar cut is mainly manufactured into shingles, which form an important part of the export trade. From the spruce is manufactured pulp and paper, an important industry.

Yukon and Northwest Territory

On lumbering: “Much of the Territory is well wooded with fair sized timber. The principal trees are white and black spruce. The timber cut is used for home consumption. There are three large forest zones, and a treeless area along the Arctic slope.

Source: Anon. (1930) Canada: Descriptive Atlas. Canada: Houses of Parliament.

Canada and trees – the early 20th century (pt. 3)

Chicken of the actual woods

Having found some chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) in the urban setting just the other day, I thought I’d try my luck in a nearby woodland that is, in parts, comprised of lapsed sweet chestnut coppice and oak standards. Usually, such woodlands are pretty good for finding this fungus (as well as others, such as Fistulina hepatica), and despite it being early in the season I thought it’d be a good opportunity to see some chicken in its earlier growth stages. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed, as can be seen below.

On this trip, I also found plenty of Trametes versicolor (mainly on ash and birch), a fair bit of Daldinia concentrica (on ash), a tier of very degraded Ganoderma resinaceum (upon oak), the ever-present Piptopirus betulinus (on birch), a solitary Enteridium lycoperdon (on a fallen oak stem), and a few Daedaleopsis confragosa (all upon a single coppice stool of a sweet chestnut) – excluding all the previous blushing brackets I have seen in the woodland upon birch and goat willow.

Laetiporus sulphureus Castanea sativa chestnut woodland 1
A sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) coppice stool host to a young chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).
Laetiporus sulphureus Castanea sativa chestnut woodland 2
A closer look reveals how decayed the wood already is, though that isn’t bothering this fungus.
Laetiporus sulphureus Castanea sativa chestnut woodland 3
From this angle, it looks a bit like an ice cream cone! Where’s the chocolate flake?
Laetiporus sulphureus Castanea sativa chestnut woodland 4
Closer still, and an ant alongside to compare sizes.
Laetiporus sulphureus Castanea sativa chestnut woodland 5
A downed sweet chestnut log was also host to chicken of the woods.
Laetiporus sulphureus Castanea sativa chestnut woodland 6
Again, we can see the sporophores are quite young, and that the wood is already significantly decayed (lacking bark).
Laetiporus sulphureus Castanea sativa chestnut woodland 7
A fuller colour, in this image (had the flash on).
Laetiporus sulphureus Quercus oak woodland 1
Here, we have an extensively damaged oak (Quercus robur) with both new and old sporophores.
Laetiporus sulphureus Quercus oak woodland 2
Half way up on the right are last year’s chicken tier, and this year’s are further up on the left. Interesting how the location of fruiting is very different.
Laetiporus sulphureus Quercus oak woodland 3
Again, the wood is very markedly decayed.
Laetiporus sulphureus Quercus oak woodland 4
In fact, we can see these chicken are popping up from behind the bark.
Laetiporus sulphureus Quercus oak woodland 5
A little closer, complete with the zooming-in haze.
Laetiporus sulphureus Quercus oak woodland 6
Can you still see the sporophores amongst the haze? Of course! How can anyone miss these things? They’re so obvious!
Chicken of the actual woods

Fairies and deadwood – the saga continues

If you actually bother to read what I write here, you may recall that just over two months ago I stumbled across a fairy house within an oak tree. Yes, you read that right – a fairy house. Quite amazingly, it’s still there – and with some major improvements! Clearly, the local press coverage and the huge increase in visitors had enabled the fairies to acquire more land and more material possessions, as there is now not only a cobbled area that hosts a washing line, but numerous little beasts that live around and within the oak, some reading material, a gym, and extra residents. I’m a little concerned that the oak tree alongside, which is dead and host to Ganoderma resinaceum, will be felled due to health and safety reasons, because the owner of that tree is afraid of the risk of the tree falling. We will, of course, see what happens, on that front.

Anyway, not wanting to rant and rave too much about retaining standing deadwood, I have included some photos below of the new-and-improved fairy house. I admit, the green landscaping is very good – some municipalities and local authorities could learn a thing or two from them.

fairy house tree oak 1
Welcome to this humble and modest abode…
fairy house tree oak 2
…where we have books,
fairy house tree oak 3
…a seating area,
fairy house tree oak 4
…a washing line (!?),
fairy house tree oak 5
…a vicious beast that guards the upper echelons of the tree,
fairy house tree oak 6
…and a guardian Santa Claus alongside a talking fly agaric and Mario (plus some tiny little cars).
fairy house tree oak 7
Book now, for only £500 per night, per person.
Fairies and deadwood – the saga continues

Chicken of the urban woods

I’ve grown tired of seeing Ganoderma, Rigidoporus, Perenniporia, and so on, over the winter. Give me some annual brackets! Thankfully, after seeing others find chicken of the woods all over the darn option, I’ve found some as well. Not necessarily exciting for most, though I’m a huge fan of the fungus, and mostly because of its versatile morphology and brilliant colours (from the active phase though to the inactive phase). I wouldn’t even attempt to eat one of the sporophores from an urban setting, because of the pollutants in the air and so on, though I’m generally more than happy to just inspect in place of eat. After all, the sporophore is usually a great home for flies, which need the food more than I do.

Anyway, I’m indebted to a few trees of the genus Prunus for today’s finds. They never fail to provide on the fungal front, after all – granted, because they’re usually battered and bruised by topping cuts and mower damage.

Laetiporus sulphureus Prunus cerasifera Pissardii 1
Look up… look down…
Laetiporus sulphureus Prunus cerasifera Pissardii 2
Evidently the bottom sporophore on this Pissard plum got a little bruised!
Laetiporus sulphureus Prunus cerasifera Pissardii 3
But the one in the crown is fine.
Laetiporus sulphureus Prunus cerasifera Pissardii 4
…and it has begun to hug a twig. Fungi are tree huggers, too.
Laetiporus sulphureus Prunus cerasifera Pissardii 5
Caught this one fresh! Probably not even that old.
Laetiporus sulphureus Prunus cerasifera Pissardii 6
It’s literally tiny. Maybe 3-4cm in diameter.
Laetiporus sulphureus Prunus cerasifera Pissardii 7
As we can see, it’s coming out from an old branch pruning wound.This fungus certainly does like to produce its sporophore on exposed herartwood.
Laetiporus sulphureus Prunus sp. 1
This ornamental cherry is still ornamental, albeit in a different way.
Laetiporus sulphureus Prunus sp. 2
Such vivid colours on these two. The rich orange-yellow makes this fungus so attractive to the eye, and also impossible to miss.
Laetiporus sulphureus Prunus sp. 3
A bit of a side profile.
Chicken of the urban woods

The cedars of Lebanon and the Temple of Solomon

The cedar of Lebanon was well-regarded and certainly well-respected in ancient times, and was therefore used for the most prestigious of developments that would have been fit for royalty. Therefore, when looking at the accounts regarding the construction of the Temple of Solomon (used to worship Yahweh and to hold the Ark of the Covenant, amongst other things) and some surrounding buildings, during a period in between the decline in the power of the Egyptian Empire and the rise of another, it is not at all surprising that the timber of this tree featured so readily.

The temple, it is suspected, was erected, near to Jerusalem, during the tenth century before Jesus’s birth (999-900 BCE), under decree of Solomon, who was, after his father David, the king of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The period in which father and son reigned was a politically stable one that lacked any marked superpower, and thus the construction of the temple was feasible. Originally, the idea had been his father’s, though as David had been unable to built the temple in his era, Solomon was responsible for overseeing the project.

Probably not surprisingly, the temple and outbuildings were to be made generally from stone, as stone is incredibly durable. However, the roof and the cladding works (in the interior and exterior), as well as the doors and columns, and other furniture, needed to be made from wood. Geographically, the area in which Solomon reigned was in possession of a bountiful supply of timber, largely cypress and pine, though the wood of these two species lacked the importance fit for a true king. Therefore, Solomon sought to source the wood of a more fitting tree species, and the cedar of Lebanon ticked all of the necessary boxes. The only problem was that the area didn’t have any cedars of Lebanon, and therefore Solomon turned to his friend, the king of Tyre, for assistance.

At the time, the king of Tyre controlled the area of Sidon, where the cedar of Lebanon’s most southern range extended to. Therefore, the timber could be sourced from there (and would be felled by Sidonians), and transported to the construction site of the temple near Jerusalem, by river. Indeed, this was the agreement, though the King of Tyre requested that, in return for this assistance, Solomon provide food for the king’s household.

Forest of the Cedars of God
The Forest of the Cedars of God, a forest full of Cedrus libani. The forest has a long history of being used by man for timber. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Solomon also had specific requirements for the dimensons of the timber. Because the temple was to be 90 x 30 x 45 feet, and the vestibule (a hallway between the outer entrance doors and the inner temple doors) 15 x 30 feet, the timber had to be cut to size. This was, it is suspected, done by the men of both the King of Tyre and Solomon. Sizes did of course vary, as planks had to be cut to size to construct the roof beams, though also the interior and exterior walls, largest doors, and the altar within the temple to support the Ark of the Covenant. Outbuildings were also to be furnished with cedar wood, and the aptly named House of the Forest of Lebanon, which was actually larger in size than the temple itself, at 150 x 75 x 45 feet, was to be constructed with the timber (as well as stone). Nearby, another building known as the Hall of Judgement was also clad with cedar wood panels. Beyond these buildings, it is suspected that Solomon obtained the timber of the cedar for other important buildings, such as stables for horses and store houses for chariots.

Beyond the wood of the cedar, the temple and outbuildings were also furnished with the timber of other tree species. Timber of the cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) was, for instance, used for the floor boards, though there is also a possibility that the flooring was instead furnished with the wood of the junpier. The wood of the wild olive was also used in the temple, for making the door frames, and also producing two 15 foot high cherubiums within the temple’s inner sanctuary, where the Ark of the Covenant was held.

Temple of Solomon overview
An overview of how the Temple of Solomon and the other buildings would have been dituated. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Unfortunately, the construction of this temple and its outer buildings was very costly, and the investment into the Jerusalem area was to the detriment of the rest of the kingdom. Furthermore, as the cedar wood was all imported from Sidon, there was a risk of the buildings looking less Jewish and more Phoenician (the region in which Tyre was a city). Of course, this didn’t really matter (long-term) as the temple was destroyed a few centuries after, following the fall of the city of Jerusalem in 587 BC.

Source: Meiggs, R. (1982) Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World. UK: Oxford University Press.

The cedars of Lebanon and the Temple of Solomon