With the weather remaining fair, in spite of the onerous musings spouted from the verbal orifices of the meteorological office, getting out at the weekend to explore new sites is still very much on the cards. Today, a group of us went over to Aldenham Country Park in north-west London, to search for interesting fungi on trees; as if a weekend would yield any other result!
We started the day by doing something socially reprehensible: bringing in fungi collections for display. As the below photos show, my collection is growing in extent, though is dwarfed in literal size by another collection, which essentially involves monster brackets that are, in some cases, still clinging to the very substrate that provided them with their life.
Before sharing some finds from today, it’s almost important to share some images of more cross-sectional decay as caused by Ganoderma pfeifferi. For those of you with a memory that stretches back beyond a mere seven days, you might recall a recent post I made showing a decay cross-section on a failed beech. Below, we see how the fungus’ activity within a branch stub of a beech has resulted in zonal decay, which is somewhat comparable to the other example shared recently – particularly, with regards to the rosing pattern.
And so, on with the walk we did, quite early on we wandered past an old poplar stump with some quite extensive Rigidoporus ulmarius decay. Indeed, as is quite routine with this fungus, the internal hollow was clad aplenty with small brackets, whilst the outside sported a much more sizeable fruiting body still in an active phase of its existence. Evidently, a new hymenium has recently been laid down, suggesting that this fungus is soon ready to begin producing spore for the coming season.
Very soon after this sighting, a fallen poplar log with Oxyporus populinus was discovered. I admit to only having seen this fungus twice, of which this find was one, so for me this was particularly exciting. In fact, the single fruiting body was rather massive and easily discernible by the quite brilliant tube layers separated by narrow bands of mycelium. Almost directly adjacent to this was a fruiting body of Ganoderma applanatum, as could be determined morphologically by the very thin cuticle atop the bracket (that is crushed easily and cuts very easily) and the extensive damage to the fruiting body, as caused by the yellow flat-footed fly Agathomyia wankowiczii.
Following the sighting of copious amounts of Daedaleopsis confragosa, our attention was then drawn to a rather sorry-looking beech tree over a well-used footpath. Upon close inspection, both Kretzschmaria deusta and the rhizomorphs of Armillaria mellea could be found, which certainly puts the longevity of this beech as is into doubt. To be honest, in all likelihood it’ll be monolithed, in order to still provide habitat but with the risk removed.
Around the proverbial corner (it was more like a ten minute trundle) from this beech stood a massive stump of an old poplar. In its prime, this would have been a tree operating on beast-mode, though is now far more modest in size. However, to make up for its literal demise, it now is host to the fungus Trametes gibbosa, which can be seen around one of the two stems.
Delightfully, this stump also housed a bird nest, which I found only by pure chance when noticing what looked like chocolate mini-eggs! Tucked away impossibly well within a bark crevice was a small robin’s nest (I think), complete with four eggs. Hopefully, this stump will offer enough privacy to enable the chicks to develop well and not get picked-off by predators.
Once we had come across yet more Daedaleopsis confragosa, which I was busy photographing, a friend spotted a single Sarcoscypha coccinea (scarlet elf cup). Somehow, this is the first time I have seen this fungus and I can understand why it’s such a popular one! An absolute gem.
And then came something I found very interesting: my first ever sighting of the fungus of willow known as Phellinus igniarius. Upon what was either a crack willow or white willow, a few fruiting bodies had grown and the decay had since led to failure of an upper limb, which has since been cut up and left on the ground. The resulting abundance of fruiting bodies on both the tree and sawn logs is a testamenrt to the extensive colonisation of this fungus within the host. The largest bracket, which was a casulaty of the failure, in fact did not senesce and instead reiterated its growth so that the hymenium and tube layer re-grew at an angle perfectly parallel with the ground (known as geotropism / gravitropsim).
To round off, I share a diabolically grotesque example of Ganoderma resinaceum upon Turkey oak. Enough to challenge the gargoyle statues of various catacombs (in both video games and real life, if there exist any!) for the prize of what’s the most vile in appearance, and we’re not talking about the Turkey oak here, this fungus is clearly a shadow of its former self. Nonetheless, it is important we can still identify them in such aberrant form, if we are to appropriate diagnose issues and enact management regimes. Thus, as a sort of encore, I present to you…
Single-celled organisms that may create larger structures as groups in order to reproduce, slime molds, whilst not considered active wood decayers, can be found colonising deadwood (Heilmann-Clausen, 2001). Deadwood of 10-22 years of age, Heilmann-Clausen (2001) alleges, is most optimal for slime molds – at least, for the species observed on the decaying beech logs that featured within the study. This correlates with current understanding of slime molds, which suggests species strongly prefer moist, well-decayed wood.
The presence of wood-decay fungi sporophores, or even simply mycelium within the wood substrate, may also act as a source of energy for slime molds (Ing, 1994). As mycelial networks and their associated sporophores may take some time to develop within deadwood, this may perhaps be a further reason for why slime molds are found in greater abundance on older woody debris. The presence of bacteria, also greater in abundance on older and heavily-decayed wood, may also influence slime mold presence, as bacteria can be utilised as a further source of energy (Heilmann-Clausen, 2001). Lodge (1997) describes some slime molds as “predators of decomposers”. Slime molds may also utilise decaying leaves as a habitat (Ko et al., 2009; Raper, 1941; Raper, 1951; Stephenson, 1989). Therefore, the decaying leaf litter-soil ‘zone’ is another potential niche for slime mold species (Landolt & Stephenson, 1986). Moreover, slime molds may be found upon the bark of living trees (Olive & Stoianovitch, 1973; Stephenson, 1989).
Away from wood, decaying leaves, and soil exclusively, the composition of a forest ecosystem may also have an impact upon slime mold density. Landolt et al. (2006) found that, whilst species diversity did not differ between deciduous-broadleaved and coniferous stands, the broadleaved sites were host to slime mold populations over four times more abundant than coniferous sites. The same study also identified that different species of slime mold would be found at different altitude levels within forests, and suggested different micro-habitats perhaps act as refugia for different slime mold species that may have once colonised greater ranges of forest.
Heilmann-Clausen, J. (2001) A gradient analysis of communities of macrofungi and slime moulds on decaying beech logs. Mycological Research. 105 (5). p575-596.
Ing, B. (1994) Tansley Review No. 62: The phytosociology of myxomycetes. New Phytologist. 126 (2). p175-201.
Ko, T., Stephenson, S., Jeewon, R., Lumyong, S., & Hyde, K. (2009) Molecular diversity of myxomycetes associated with decaying wood and forest floor leaf litter. Mycologia. 101 (5). p592-598.
Landolt, J. & Stephenson, S. (1986) Cellular slime molds in forest soils of southwestern Virginia. Mycologia. 78 (3). p500-502.
Landolt, J., Stephenson, S., & Cavender, J. (2006) Distribution and ecology of dictyostelid cellular slime molds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mycologia. 98 (4). p541-549.
Lodge, D. (1997) Factors related to diversity of decomposer fungi in tropical forests. Biodiversity & Conservation. 6 (5). p681-688.
Olive, L. & Stoianovitch, C. (1974) A cellular slime mold with flagellate cells. Mycologia. 66 (4). p685-690.
Raper, K. (1941) Dictyostelium minutum, a second new species of slime mold from decaying forest leaves. Mycologia. 33 (6). p633-649.
Raper, K. (1951) Isolation, cultivation, and conservation of simple slime molds. The Quarterly Review of Biology. 26 (2). p169-190.
Stephenson, S. (1989) Distribution and ecology of myxomycetes in temperate forests. II. Patterns of occurrence on bark surface of living trees, leaf litter, and dung. Mycologia. 81 (4). p608-621.
The extent of attention as to exactly how critical trees are for fish populations is unfortunately not all that significant (in comparison to the study or trees and birds, for example), though this is not necessarily surprising – this is perhaps because fish spend their lives largely under water, and thus their presence is not necessarily recognised to the degree it would be if fish were land-based organisms. However, there is certainly a healthy array of research that has been undertaken into this relationship of trees and fish within the forest ecosystem, as is demonstrated below.
Many undisturbed pools (areas of slow-moving or still water within in rivers and streams) in forests are either created or enhanced by the presence of deadwood (as either driftwood or sunken wood). Such deadwood presence can also raise water levels locally and create a diverse range of aquatic habitats (Hodge & Peterken, 1998) by damming up rivers and streams, and reducing flow velocity (Barbour et al., 2001; Gippel et al., 1996). Large woody debris (including fallen stems and large branches) is particularly critical in this regard, and research has shown that nearly 30% of pools within a stream or river may be created by such woody debris (Mossop & Bradford, 2004).
Other research has, whilst not focussing on large woody debris exclusively, identified that as much as 75% of all pools may be created from submerged woody debris (Robison & Beschta, 1990a). Through the creation of these habitats, fish populations can increase, as their range of viable habitat increases – notably for feeding and spawning (Harvey, 1998). However, because even the largest of woody debris will likely not persist for over 50 years, there is a need for a continuous replenishment if streams and rivers are to retain the presence of deadwood-induced pools (Hyatt & Naiman, 2001). When pools are instead created by wood jams, which are made of small (and sometimes also large) branches and stems clustered together, their average viable retention time may only be between 2-3 years (Lisle, 1986). Again, a need for a constant supply of such deadwood is necessary, and this should obviously mean management practices retain trees that can constantly provide for such woody material (Robison & Beschta, 1990b).
Driftwood may be particularly beneficial for fish populations, as not only will its presence control flow velocity, but also protect its banks from erosion, create waterfalls and pools, and thus provide protection for fish spawning as well as increasing habitat diversity (Gurnell et al., 2002). Additionally, driftwood can provide hiding places for species of fish, assisting either in their predatory pursuits or in evading predation (Crook & Robertson, 1999; Werneyer & Kramer, 2005).
Sunken (or partially submerged) deadwood, for those fish species which are insectivorous, can also be highly valuable (Barbour et al., 2001). The wood’s provision of habitat for invertebrates means there is a potential abundance of prey for such insectivorous fish (O’Connor, 1992). A study into the effects of deforestation on wood input levels into woodland stream environments there unsurprisingly showed how reduced amounts of sunken deadwood led to reduced fish diversity and abundance (Wright & Flecker, 2004). In such wood-void streams, wood-eating fish (such as certain species of catfish, whilst not ‘true’ xylivores) may also suffer (German & Bittong, 2009; Lujan et al., 2011), though the loss of diversity in a stream (or river) environment, both because of reduced wood presence and the faster flow associated with such a lack of wood, may also have wider implications for fish species overall (Lancaster et al., 2001; Shields & Smith, 2002; Tsui et al., 2000); particularly when it is understood that a lack of (large) sunken wood is indicative of a degraded stream (Shields et al., 2006). It is also suggested that sunken wood may aid with orientation for fish (Crook & Robertson, 1999).
Deadwood that has fallen and become (partially) submerged is also beneficial, as previously ascertained, because it creates pools within a stream or river ecosystem. These pools are areas of a stream or river where the flow is potentially very slow, and in the redwood forests of California downed trunks and branches of trees are considered to be crucial for constituent salmon populations (Barbour et al., 2001). Notably, in areas of steeper ground, this fallen deadwood can create tiers of pools, which actually enable salmon (that travel upstream to breed) to ascend up the river with more ease, as the salmon can ‘leap’ from one pool to another, and swim against a current with reduced velocity (which is critical for the enabling of salmon to conserve vital energy). These pools also reduce bankside erosion and catch up to 85% of sediment (which may amass behind a large branch or stem, though perhaps even more significantly amongst larger wood jams comprised of deadwood of varying sizes), ensuring the rate of sedimentation of the stream or river is slow and sustainable (Berg et al., 1998; Smith et al., 1993; Thevenet et al., 1998). This is important for the salmon, as females nest within the clean gravel beds in the riverbed, and any marked rate of sedimentation would prohibit this (Madej & Ozaki, 2009). These nesting sites may also, in fact, be located within close proximity to large pieces of woody debris (Senter & Pasternack, 2011). The very same deadwood can also support plant life, particularly when a large stem has fallen across a river, and therefore the plants growing atop the log can shade the river and keep the water cooler – this is also critical for the salmon, which prefer cooler waters (Welsh et al., 2001).
Across the United States, in the Appalachian Mountains, research by Jones et al. (1999) has also revealed that the reduction in sedimentation created by fallen woody debris is critical for other species of fish (including the rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss), that spawn in sediment-free riffles within the forest areas of the mountains. Furthermore, their research highlighted that deforestation along riparian zones as little as 1km in length can have massive adverse effects upon the quality of habitat for fish, due to the removal of the source of such critical deadwood. The associated re-growth after the felling, whilst still injecting debris into the water courses, cannot match the size of the debris from older-growth stands, and therefore rainbow trout occur less frequently and at lesser densities (Flebbe & Dolloff, 1995). Deforestation also increases the risk of severe flooding and high flow velocity within the Appalachian Mountains, which can both extensively decimate viable habitat for rainbow trout within the ecosystem. In part, this is because such factors eliminate the fauna that occupy the river bed, which the trout almost exclusively predate upon.
Beyond the realm of deadwood, the beneficial impacts of shading by large trees adjacent to such aquatic environments can also improve the suitability of the habitat for fish (Beschta, 1997; Larson & Larson, 1996). Using the redwood forests as an example once again, it has been recognised that large conifers that reside by a water course cast shade and thus reduce maximum temperatures and the risk of thermal pollution (Madej et al., 2006). Such cooler temperatures, much like how deadwood can support plants that shade and cool waters, protects critical nesting locations for female salmon, reduces the subsequent mortality of juvenile salmon, and improves their growth rate.
Beyond California, the cooler waters created through significant (50-80%) canopy shading are equally as important for fish, for similar reasons (Broadmeadow & Nisbet, 2004; Broadmeadow et al., 2011; Swift Jr & Messer, 1971). Such canopy shade may also enable for rivers and streams to support macrophytes (plants growing in or near water), which can act as a food source for some fish species both directly and indirectly. Similarly, they can provide refuge for fish seeking shelter from predators (Pusey & Arthington, 2003). Therefore, retaining riparian trees is mandatory, if viable habitats for fish are to be protected (Young, 2000).
See part III of this series on state forestry in France here.
This phenomenon of the environmental and social misunderstandings of the peasantry and their forests can be further observed in Indonesia, and specifically upon the island of Java. This is because Indonesian state forestry practices began in Java with the State Forestry Corporation of Java in the 1870s, initiated by the Dutch colonial government, and emanated outward from the island into Indonesia more broadly.
The natural forests of Java have historically been a mix of a variety of tree species, including Altingia excelsa, Elaeocarpus macrocerus, Pinus merkusii, Tectona grandis, and Toona sureni. These forests have been the home of many millions of villagers, with their livelihoods being critically dependant upon the longevity and thus careful management of the forests and surrounding areas. Activities undertaken were rather similar to those undertaken in Uttarakhand, and in relation to construction teak (Tectona grandis) was the most favoured tree. Owned – pre-colonially – by Javanese kings and other elite individuals, villagers were permitted to use these forests under their decree, and often would there be a fair but entirely manageable (financial and free-labour) levy imposed on the villagers to maintain the functioning of the Javanese domains. However, because of the nature of forest communities, which were generally-speaking somewhat isolated from the king or other sovereign, villagers had a certain amount of freedom to ignore particular rules and regulations associated with their contract with the forest owner, though this of course varied with the extent of isolation – not that there were many limitations on how villagers could utilise the forest anyway, with only sparing and well-guarded royal forests and sacred groves being protected.
As far back at 1596, the Dutch, who would go on to rule Java from 1796, placed as important value on Javanese timber – notably teak. Javanese villagers, initially employed by the king or regional sultan under contract from the Dutch, though after 1743 generally directly employed by the Dutch, would harvest this timber, and sell it for purposes including ship building. Similar trade relations were also established with the Chinese. Subsequently, an informal ‘state’ forestry practice had actually begun centuries prior to the creation of the true state forestry department in 1865 (and the associated forest laws written between 1860-1934). However, the pre-colonial rule of Java was, as has been detailed, a relatively passive one, with villagers having a good degree of autonomy over their lives and forests. It was only when state forestry came into being, primarily for the cultivation of teak, that this began to drastically change, as the Dutch government sought to control and limit the relationship villagers had with their forests for the purposes of financial profit.
Notably, the tactics employed by the Dutch went about to usurp the villager and their relationship with the forest. In this sense, villagers had very little influence into the creation of teak plantations and felling operations, despite such operations having a sometimes quite drastic impact upon their livelihoods. One notable impact upon villagers, beyond the loss of forest cover, was their rapidly declining population of buffalo, for the buffalo were drafted by the Dutch to transport felled timber from the site of felling to the river or coast. Some of the largest teak trees, for example, required 80 buffalo to transport, and en route it was not uncommon for 10 of these buffalo to die. Because buffalo were used by villagers for cultivating land for agriculture, their population reduction had very real consequences for local food production.
By the same token, the environmental destruction associated with cleared forest areas, or even sparsely-forested areas after select trees were felled, had adverse impacts upon the lives of the villagers, and this occurred both before and after the onset of state forestry. The forest laws passed, notably those from 1860-1875, also saw large portions of land come under state ownership, which directly opposed cultural norms associated with villagers, in essence, owning the land surrounding their villages. These now state-owned areas were also policed, with quite harsh punishments for seemingly meagre ‘crimes’, which only became crimes – having once been customary villager rights – after the state itself detailed them as so under forest law. For instance, 45,000 people were arrested in 1905 for forest crimes, with most being for stealing wood – wood that was some decades earlier free to take.
Such changing of land ownership also limited the ability for villagers to farm in the surrounding landscape (by 1940, 3,057,200 hectares of land were state-owned), as did it hinder their ability to migrate to flee oppression and other undesirable circumstances, including excessive population growth and poor financial standing. However, with regards to farming, recently felled areas could be temporarily farmed (known as tumpang sari) by villagers with the permission of the state, for a period of between 1-3 years on average – the palette of crops was however limited to ones that would not have adverse impacts upon the trees regenerating within the area (usually teak or pine), either naturally or far more routinely artificially (from planted seed). Of course, this did mean that some villagers had to constantly follow the path of the forestry operations, in order to sustain their way of life; as did it sometimes require villagers to adhere to the demand of corrupt forest officials, who oversaw the allocation of tumpang sari land. Ultimately, the increasing levels of bureaucracy were alien to villagers, who were unaccustomed to such a myriad of regulations surrounding the use of forests.
Such a situation was unfortunately only further exacerbated in World War II, when the Japanese took control of Java in 1942-1945 (Peluso, 1992). In this period state forestry operations, spearheaded by the Japanese Forest Service of Java, doubled in timber output compared to under the Dutch, and a ‘scorched earth’ policy by Dutch foresters and ransacking by Javanese villagers led to the forests deteriorating in quality quite massively in only three years – the effects are still observable today, in the landscape. Then, following Indonesian independence in 1949 (after four years of sometimes violent revolution), the new state only served to continue with state forestry operations (under the banner of the State Forestry Corporation), all whilst using the old Dutch laws (mostly almost verbatim – notably forest boundaries) and some of their foresters, albeit with recalibrated intentions that ‘better’ (a potentially malleable term, in this situation) served the nation’s populace.
In light of this, protest was certainly common from the late 1800s onward, and specifically from 1942-1966. The form a given protest took would however vary, with particular protests being non-violent (migration and ignoring the forest laws) and others certainly more violent (acts of crime, arson, and – more broadly – rebellion). Within the umbrella of protest, there are certain movements that deserve notable attention, however. One pertinent example is what was known as the Samin Movement, which was a social movement borne in 1890 but gained most notable momentum by 1907 when over 3,000 village families had adopted the ethos of the movement. This form of protest, founded by the peasant Surontiko Samin, was non-violent in approach and involved protesters purposely ignoring the instruction of state forest officials, for the purpose of safeguarding traditional customs of the Javanese villagers. However, because of the state’s pursuance of dissenting villagers, certain villager leaders did not support the movement, for fear of retribution if they did indeed show support. Therefore, some Saminists were exiled from their villagers, or excluded from communal practices.
Some decades later, during the second half of the 1940s (after the demise of the Japanese colonial government and at the inception of revolution, which itself ended in 1949), protests began to significantly rise in frequency and became far more organised, due to the adoption of a stance on forest politics by many political organisations. For example, in 1948, the Indonesian Communist Party and People’s Democratic Front attacked buildings and structures owned by the Forest Service, after it failed to amend forest policy in a manner that would more extensively benefit local people. These attacks caused rather extensive damage, and some main routes to transport timber were rendered impassable after bridges were destroyed. Two years prior, approximately 220,000 hectares of state-owned forest in Java was damaged (or destroyed) by protesting groups and individuals, and a further 110,000 hectares occupied by villagers and taken over or stripped for timber and firewood.
Alongside such protests, the Indonesian Forest Workers’ Union and Indonesian Peasants’ Front would support the villagers, in hope of returning Java’s forests to the people. In the few years following 1962, the Indonesian Forest Workers’ Union was most effective is achieving this aim of returning the state-owned forests to villagers; perhaps because nearly 25% (or 5,654,974 individuals) of the adult Indonesian peasantry were members. Granted, organisations did exist that were distinctly anti-communist, such as the Islamic Workers’ Union, who in fact battled with the Indonesian Communist Party over issues relating to state forestry. In the years immediately after 1964, the Islamic Workers’ Union was known to lead communist supporters into the forests of Java, shoot them, and then bury them in mass graves within the forest.
Following on from law changes in 1967, such protests generally begun to adopt a more clandestine approach. Because of the increasing militarisation of the forest service, notably with regards to its four different police forces, villagers were more fearful of reprisal if caught disobeying forest law. Stands comprised largely – or exclusively – of teak were most ferociously guarded. Granted, villagers did sometimes attack the armed police forces, and notably when the police forces were caught undertaking clandestine operations themselves, and also burned the state-owned forests of teak and pine (principally Pinus merkusii). At this time, the forest service also became more centralised, which further alienated a forest service from the villagers that, despite its now Indonesian-run state, reflected distinctly its Dutch ancestral roots, and diametrically opposed the traditional Javanese agrarian lifestyle. As a consequence of villager exclusion, the quality of the Javanese forests progressively declined over the decades because villagers had to resort to ‘theft’ to obtain what they could once gain on a subsistence basis (or to support black market demands for teak, in order to supplement the limited wages they would gain by working for the State Forestry Corporation on an ad hoc basis), which has contributed to sometimes quite severe environmental degradation. Such issues are still pertinent today.
Honna, J. (2010) The legacy of the New Order military in local politics: West, Central and East Java. In Aspinall, E. & Fealy, G. (eds.) Soeharto’s New Order and its Legacy. Australia: The Australian National University.
See part I of this series on state forestry in Burma here.
Focussing predominantly on the western region of Zimbabwe that is known as Matabeleland, where teak forests (otherwise known as gusu) – that were comprised of species such as African teak (Baikiaea plurijuga), African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon), African mahogany (Guibourtia coleosperma), wild teak (Pterocarpus angolensis), and mongongo (Schinziophyton rautanenii) – covered approximately 2,000,000 acres of land and were the home of 65,000 Africans before 1890, one can observe how the advent of colonial rule markedly altered the indigenous African’s relationship with the forest.
Prior to the era of British colonialism that began during the late 1880s to early 1890s (cemented by the coming-to-power of the British South Africa Company in 1890), indigenous Africans (including the Ndebele, Nyai, Shangwe, and Shora) had markedly close associations with their forests – notably the poor. Varying across different peoples, gusu was used for a variety of reasons, including for food (fruits and nuts, though also for sheltering game, grazing cattle, and enhancing soil fertility where shifting cultivation was routinely practiced), water, construction timber, firewood, medicine, and worship (through sacred groves, sanctuaries, and any shrines contained within). Such reliance upon the forest – which was communally-owned or privately-owned as a homestead, with vested interest from a king or chieftain – was not limited in any discernible manner, and communities were thus able to rely upon the forest to any potential degree.
With specific regards to shifting cultivation, this practice was a staple activity in many communities. Shifting cultivation would involve areas of gusu being cleared for agricultural purposes, for a period of only a few years, before the nutrient profile of the soil would deplete enough to demand land abandonment (alongside subsequent secondary woodland regeneration) and clearance elsewhere for the same reason. Oftentimes, forest areas adjacent to rivers were cleared on sporadic rotations, for such areas harboured enough soil nutrients to make such shifting cultivation feasible. In this sense, areas of gusu that were fertile supported indigenous Africans to a far greater extent that infertile areas of woodland away from sources of water.
Undoubtedly, this use – particularly as populations grew – though also the other demands upon the forest, led to some ‘core’ areas of fertile forest land becoming degraded, and thereby deforested. However, it must be noted that, on the whole, forest conservation was a mainstay of pre-colonial life for indigenous Africans. Ultimately, because they relied upon the forest – either partially or wholly – for their means of existence to be sustained, it was not in their interests to see the forest decline to a condition that would render its longevity infeasible. More broadly, a myriad of economic, ideological, and religious needs and views, dictated sustainable forest practices, and a pursuit of essential ‘harmony’ with nature was evident between man and the forest. Crucially, this highlighted that indigenous Africans had the ability to responsibly manage their forests, and with a logical rationale – a rationale that the colonial government would certainly come to completely ignore.
However, the rise of the BSAC in 1890, particularly after the victory of the British over the Ndebele in 1894 and then again in 1897, saw forest management practices change. Principally, the BSAC, who became the governing body of Zimbabwe, actively sought to segregate fertile land from indigenous Africans, for the economic benefit of white settlers who could then manage such fertile lands. In this sense, areas of gusu and fertile land were cut-off from the native communities, who were pushed into Reserves (including the Gwai Native Reserve and Shangani Native Reserve) of largely infertile land set-up by the BSAC to specifically house such communities. The state (or private organisation, including the BSAC, Rhodesia Railways, and Goldfields Company) would then assume ownership of forest land outside of such Reserves, as supported by the Private Land Ordinance of 1898. Such segregation also stood on the premise that the forests of Matabeleland were void of human activity prior to 1890, and that the native’s association with the forest was akin to Paganism – a religion much maligned by Christianity, which was the religion of Europe at the time. Unsurprisingly, some natives refused to leave their historical homes within the gusu, thereby rejecting the new imposition of Western state ideology on their manner ofexistence.
As natives were being excluded from their forests, the BSAC hurriedly began to assess the forests of Matabeleland for their commercial value. With the help of foresters from British-ruled South Africa, the BSAC initially identified four tree species that had the potential to be commercially profitable. However, the imperial wars of 1894 and 1897 hampered the ability of the foresters to determine the value of gusu, and therefore their reports fell foul to short-sightedness. However, from 1898, felling within these forests began, and up until 1908 the sole contractor responsible for legal felling operations was the Matabele Timber Trust. However, illegal felling was rife, and therefore, whilst legal felling was rather limited, when illegal felling was added into the equation the extent of deforestation became far more significant. During this period, much timber was used by the mining organisations within Matabeleland, who consumed timber at quite alarming rates to fuel their operations; much forest clearance was also undertaken for the purposes of agricultural expansion. At the beginning of 1909, the BSAC commissioned further reports into the economic state of the gusu. This time, reports came from the regional level, and were supplemented by a national report (The Sim Report) undertaken by Sim, a South African forester. This time, 24 species were recognised as possessing retail value, and this assessment subsequently became the crux of all future forestry developments in Matabeleland. The 1909 Private Location Ordinance also assisted with pushing natives into Reserves, such as the GNR, so that the state could harness the value of the gusu for its own ends.
This new perception of the gusu as being far more economically fruitful quickly led to the BSAC prohibiting shifting cultivation altogether, because of its observed destructive consequences with regards to forestry. Unfortunately, the state did not recognise the variety of ecological and cultural benefits of the practice, in making this decision, and it therefore was not surprising that the state also entertained prohibiting forest use by natives altogether. It was perhaps only a result of the protest, from the indigenous Africans and also some white settlers and state commissioners, that didn’t see such an extensive ban being enforced. Certain state commissioners and settlers even disagreed that shifting cultivation was a serious concern, remarking that mining operations were far more destructive, and some also attributed its prohibition to inciting unwanted unrest amongst the native communities. Additionally, this more preferable economic understanding of the gusu even led to native communities being driven out of areas of the Reserves they were pushed towards, which caused further tension between the state and indigenous Africans. In essence, natives were aghast at the glaring double-standards exercised by the state: the state had concerns over deforestation caused by shifting cultivation, to only then permit even greater deforestation for economic gain.
The year after, in 1910, when state-permitted forestry operations began to gain serious momentum (of which much still went to the mining organisations), the Forest Branch was created within the Ministry of Agriculture. This new Forest Branch was tasked with the responsibility of dealing with forestry-related issues, and ensuring the gusu was managed with conservation in mind. Unfortunately, because the Forest Branch lacked any forest officer or other dedicated member of staff prior to 1920, and the fact that the state was eagerly pursuing short-term and quick-win strategies to forest management that involved massive amounts of felling, forest conservation was barely even practiced – if at all. During this ten year period, in 1917, the BSAC government also signed a deal with the Hepker brothers (Rhodesia Native Timber Concessionaires) that essentially monopolised the gusu. Initially an eight year agreement that would end in 1925, it was extended to 1935 two years into the contract, albeit with two other companies also gaining access to state forests. These organisations, particularly the RNTC, swiftly began recklessly felling high quality trees en masse. For example, stumps were left at 3-4ft in height, and as much as 50% of felled timber was left where it was cut.
Subsequently, when Henkel became the first part-time forest officer of the Forest Branch in 1920, he likened the situation to that of mining, and was quoted as exclaiming that the “forests [were] simply being mined”. Notably, Baikiaea plurijuga and Guibourtia coleosperma were “doomed to extinction”. However, with the Forest Branch only possessing Henkel and five other members of part-time staff, it was still unable to fulfil what it was tasked with fulfilling, and thus it was perhaps not unexpected that the BSAC government declined to increase its staffing levels after appeals in 1921 – it simply was not ‘in favour’. However, it did start to mark up protected forest areas, and by 1923 some 774,422 acres of forest in Matabeleland were classed as forest reserve. Many species of tree also became scheduled, and thereby were protected wherever they stood. These areas did not permit native access or utilisation whatsoever, thereby prohibiting any and all acts that were once seen as entirely acceptable. Ironically, such areas could still be felled for mining organisations, where there was a pressing need for accessible timber.
When the BSAC government ceased to hold power following national elections during 1923, and the Responsible Government took over rule of Zimbabwe, it assumed control of the state’s forests. In 1925, the Lands Commission advised the government on forest matters, and 90% of all gusu was marked as a forest reserve by 1930. Even the Reserves set up for the indigenous Africans suffered further erosion by the state, with up to 70% of their total extent being lost during this period. A tax of 10 shillings on all natives within the Reserves was also established in 1931, and all adult males also had to pay a 50 shilling tax, per month. As a consequence, natives were further excluded from their surrounding and already limited forests, and this led to many communities suffering from outward migration, as the quality of life dropped for many. Some forest tenants, as they were now known, were also evicted from the shrinking Reserves, for not paying their tax – some refused to leave, in protest. These migrants and evicted tenants would then pursue work elsewhere, even if it was for the RNTC or other forestry-associated organisation. However, such organisations favoured workers from other areas of Africa, as they were less prone to leaving to see family either temporarily or permanently. Therefore, only 20% of the total workforce was native to Matabeleland. Also in 1925, the RNTC signed a revised agreement to harvest the gusu with a near monopoly once again, which was granted. Protest by indigenous Africans meant that, in 1926, the RNTC was mandated by the state to gain permission from the native communities within the Reserves if they were to log within gusu found within those areas. Soon after, in 1927, after the RNTC ignored this rule, and through lobbying pressure, the state overturned such a requirement.; even in spite of protest internally, by the Forest Branch. Throughout, natives also ignored the state’s laws, and continued to use the forest as they historically had done, though for entirely different reasons to the RNTC.
It was only in 1934 when the Forest Branch was granted its first full-time officer, in John Wilkins. Subsequent to this, it was far more able to effectively promote forest conservation, thereby challenging the RNTC’s monopoly over the gusu, as well as helping restrict African access to the gusu. Such an appointment could not have come any later, in fact, for much of the gusu was so damaged by unrestrained logging that the volume of timber had fallen by as much as 80% within stands, and mature Baikiaea plurijuga had nigh disappeared altogether – even within the Reserves created for the indigenous Africans. Therefore, after Wilkins submitted his report to the government, the RNTC’s push to gain even more control over the gusu was rejected, and more strict measures on the felling of trees were enforced, with no trees below 12in in DBH being allowed to be felled legally, in addition to no felling of trees above this size leaving stumps higher than 15in. Within the Reserves, any trees felled were also to be taxed as they stood prior to felling, and any such proceeds would go towards improving the quality of life for natives living within the Reserves (notably the GNR and SNR), under the scheme known as the Native Reserve Trust.
Around this time, the Forest Branch also relied upon the help of indigenous Africans to help police the forests as forest rangers (otherwise dubbed Special Native Constables), though as the staff of the Forest Branch were seen as the flagbearers of state control against traditional relations with the gusu, natives were wary of assisting at all, and at times even committed acts of arson on state forest land in protest against such intervention measures. The poor wages, if the natives were even paid, probably contributed to this stance, also. Despite this, natives were also on hand to fight these fires, and protect forest from harm more generally – when they were willing to do so, of course. When such forest rangers did find individuals breaching forest regulations that included acts of arson, and who were usually natives (but not at all exclusively – white settlers also breached forest rules), then these natives would be prosecuted in response. However, a successful prosecution was not a given, and in one year alone 600 of the 804 natives pursued for forest offences were found innocent, in retrospect. Without doubt, this barrage of arrests and pursuits of prosecution led to a rather tumultuous relationship between the indigenous communities and the state.
Inside the Reserves, the Forest Branch also began to create Native Forest Areas, during the 1930s and early 1940s. The GNR took centre stage in this regard, as the Forest Branch saw it as highly viable in the commercial sense, and its longevity to provide hardwood timber was critical for the state. Within the Reserves, land was segmented into fragments denoted as residential, farming, grazing, or forest land, and thus the use of the land within Reserves such as the GNR became markedly differentiated. However, as much of the forest land came at the expense of farming land, communities within the Reserves were left with progressively declining areas of land in which they could farm; all whilst supporting greater levels of population – which too was a problem, and this resulted in the Forest Branch evicting some people from the Reserves, in an attempt to keep population levels down.
Individuals were also barred from cutting native trees without a license granted by the Forest Branch, as were they mandated to aid in reforestation efforts of both native tree species and exotic ones. A quota system was also introduced, thereby limiting the amount of timber that could legally be extracted during a given period of time, and this affected natives, logging and milling companies, and any private land owner who wished to fell his or her trees. In many instances, native individuals thus resorted to illegally obtaining timber, at the risk of being imprisoned. For the large companies undertaking forestry operations, the Forest Branch also began attempting to rigorously monitor all operations, in addition to limiting the extent of forestry operations; as did the Forest Branch seek to limit cattle grazing by natives in Reserves, as such grazing endangered regeneration. In response to this measure, some natives chose not to comply, though in fact many were responsive to the demands, in spite of their increased precarious situation having lost potentially many heads of cattle.
Despite such progress towards the forest conservation ideal, on behalf of the Forest Branch, the Second World War acted as a significant dampener to these goals, and in many an aspect reversed all advancement towards this end. Simply put, output from forestry returned to the wildly unsustainable and un-regulatable levels that existed before the mid 1920s, in order to fund the war machine. The RNTC was a major player in this scenario – of course, there were many other organisations that also helped to create the revival of intense forestry (legally or illegally); as did indigenous Africans grasp at the opportunity, and partake in illegal felling. However, as the Second World War came to a close and logging levels remained high, the indigenous (and settler) outlook towards the forest changed somewhat. Instead of being averse to forest conservation, there was an increasing demand for its conservation – perhaps, because of the sobering situation the forests of Matabeleland were in, during this period. This led, therefore, to the first piece of governmental legislation relating exclusively to holistic forest management, and was entitled the Forest Act (1949). Within the Act, sections included forest demarcation, controls to timber rights, the practice of forest conservation, protection of forests from fires, and penalties for committing forestry offences. Evidently, the forests of Matabeleland, and those who used the forests, were now subject to a much more formalised level of scrutiny, and potentially subject to the greater wrath of the state.
Consequently, during the last few years of the 1940s and into the 1950s, the Forest Branch became more militant in its pursuance of protecting the gusu from fires by making them void of forest dwellers, who were considered a major risk against forest conservation. Even those who lived in the forests legally were becoming marginalised by the state, as the Forest Branch proceeded with its end game of total fire protection – much to the distaste of those living within the forest, who saw their value as being lesser than that of a tree. The situation was compounded by the strong lack of desire, on behalf of the Forest Branch, to allow for schools, trading stores, and other buildings to be built within the forests, because such community hubs might increase the risk of fire – even though there was a very evident native demand for such services, and notably schools. Similarly, road networks were few and far between, and the use of such roads was limited to those that were given permission to use them, by the Forest Branch; where buses could transport natives through the forest, rarely were bus stops found within the forest itself, for similar safeguarding reasons. However, because such residents of the forests of Matabeleland were generally the source of cheap forest labour, their presence was considered both positive and negative for the longevity of the gusu. This was a particularly pertinent point of consideration, given foreign labourers were distinctly lacking after the war, for reasons including that their native countries were retaining them for their own purposes.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Forest Branch, which became the Forestry Commission in 1954, after the Forest Amendment Act of 1953 came into force, further continued in its quest for absolute forest conservation and protection. Not only did the RNTC lose its essentially absolute control over the gusu of Matabeleland, with a further six logging contractors being introduced in a bid to help conserve forests and promote more responsible logging complete with reduced wastage, but it continued to evict native Africans from the gusu. The reason behind such eviction was, in part, due to growing population levels placing strain upon the gusu, as natives frequently obtained timber and other forest products illegally, though also to protect the forests from fire. Consequently, illegal settlements continued to remain rife, and ‘freedom farming’ (known locally as ‘madiro’), which involved clearing gusu along fertile river banks for cultivation, was practiced as an act of defiance against the state.
Other forest crimes that occurred during the 1950s were the ever-population acts of arson, trespass, illegal felling, the construction of trading stores, and the over-grazing of land with cattle. Such defiant acts were perhaps more abundant and – in the eyes of the state – ideologically venomous, due to the rising nationalistic outlook of Africans in Matabeleland. The Forestry Commission’s iron rule over the gusu, to the detriment of the natives, was a perfect embodiment of the natives’ struggle against colonial power, and therefore they ensured that they did their best to undermine its authority as an organisation.
Unsurprisingly, come 1960, the progressive alienation of natives from the gusu became a principal factor in why guerillas battled the state within the forests of Matabeleland. As political instability became ever more tumultuous, tensions further ignited and civil war broke out in 1966. The onset of the civil war meant that the Forestry Commission could not effectively enact its forest policy, which led to the gusu being utilised more liberally by natives. In essence, there was a temporary return to the times prior to forest regulations; albeit amongst a fiery climate where different organisations were wrestling for political power. However, after fourteen years, in 1980, when the British decided to grant Zimbabwe independence, the now native government did little to change forest policy. In fact, it very much continued in the footsteps of the British, and arguably even more eagerly pursued economic gain, in order to fund governmental projects. Therefore, in spite of achieving macrocosmic independence, at the more minute level indigenous Africans were still no more free than they were before independence – forests were still heavily regulated, and natives were excluded from the gusu.
The politically-fuelled backlash against commercial forestry efforts by governments (often initiated in the past by Western colonial governments) is an interesting aspect of how trees can wander into the realm of politics. Traditionally, forests have been at the centre of many human civilisations over the millennia, enabling forward progression through the sustainable utilisation of forest resources (for construction, fire, husbandry, and so on) under the jurisdiction of the local community (or communities). In this sense, there is a marked link between traditional man and the forest. Subsequently, the intervention of governments in order to commercialise forest management practices so to increase state revenue – originating in Germany, when the University of Freiburg was the first university to offer a formalised education on forestry practice in 1787 – has routinely been met with backlash in many regions of the world, as this usurpatious shift in forest management directly challenges cultural identity. Over the next few blog posts, a few rather lengthy case studies (written over the past six months) will outline how state forestry has brilliantly collided with historic custom and agrarian lifestyles. I truly hope you enjoy them, and if you want a list of all state forestry books I know of (I have a good dozen, from memory) please just ask!
State forestry in Burma (Myanmar)
Prior to Burma becoming a British colony in 1824, the Burmese monarchy had – in spite of the portrayal by the British – a sound forest management regime in place. Principally, because of Burma’s desirable forests of teak (Tectona grandis), which is a timber that is well-suited for the construction of naval vessels, and also buildings, there had been both internal and external demand for such timber for centuries. As a consequence, there was much potential profit involved for the monarchy, and therefore the harvesting and transportation of felled teak was carefully regulated – particularly when such harvesting was for-profit purposes; for the rural forest peasant, regulations were not necessarily as applicable, because of the subsistence use of the timber and the isolation of rural settlements from the (literally) centralised governance of the monarchy. Additionally, in the uncommon instances where the monarchy did seek to enforce forest regulations upon the peasants, such enforcement was met with backlash. Therefore, before the entrance of the British, rural Burmese peasants suffered little intervention from any form of large governing body, and the teak forests were managed with – at least to a degree – their long-term conservation in mind.
Upon the arrival of British rule however, such state-peasant dynamics altered – albeit, not too drastically to begin with. When the British gained control of the region of Tenasserim in 1824, because of the large scale deforestation of Great Britain, the fact that teak was a better timber for naval uses than oak (Quercus robur), the waning importation of oak timber from the Balkans, and the concept of deforestation being synonymous with industrial progression, the British undertook – and also permitted – large-scale deforestation of Tenasserim’s teak forests. Dubbed laissez-faire forestry, felling operations were not at all rational and were in fact quite frenetic, and therefore by 1856 Tenasserim’s teak forests had been irreparably damaged; notably by private organisations who regularly escaped the ineffective enforcement of the basic forest regulations put in place by the British. Such a laissez-faire approach had little impact upon the native peasantry, as they were free to undertake their practices as they did under the rule of the monarchy. In fact, many peasants benefited from this approach economically, as locals were employed to harvest timber, transport it, and also enforce basic forest rules.
However, in 1852, having learned from the grave mistake that now plagued the teak forests of Tenasserim, when the British secured the southern province of Pegu, they swiftly moved to enforce much stricter rules upon the management of forests. Spearheaded by Lord Dalhouise, in 1853 all teak forests were declared the property of the state, and extraction of teak was forbidden without explicit permission. Soon after, in 1855, Dalhouise wrote the document entitled Minute of Forest Policy of 1855, and appointed Dietrich Brandis as Forest Superintendent, who formed The Burma Forest Department one year later in 1856. At its core, this new organisation would oversee man’s interaction with Burma’s forests (a panoptic pursuit), and employ the more rational and scientific approach to forestry that had been developed in Germany and France some decades before, with the purpose of significant economic gain from harvesting teak and other tree species. Also at the core of this alteration in direction was the observed wastefulness of the peasantry, in the eyes of the British. Evidently, according to the British, Burmese peasants could not be responsible for managing their forests, as they openly used it inefficiently, or destroyed it unnecessarily.
Whilst the new Forest Department lacked much authority in the years immediately following its inception, by the mid 1860s it grew in potency and by 1885 had tripled in size from its size of 1861. During this development period, the department began to significantly erode the traditional rights of the Burmese peasantry, and from multiple angles. With regards to the practice of shifting cultivation, which saw a peasant farmer routinely clearing new patches of teak forest for cultivation and using the burned remains of the teak as fertiliser, because of its direct impact upon the efficacy of teak harvesting by the state, and its alleged antithetical positioning compared to scientific forestry, the practice was essentially outlawed from 1856 – it was seen as not being an intrinsic right, with only settled agricultural practices being a right as defined by the state.
Subsequently, peasants undertaking such a form of cultivation protested in two ways: through avoidance and resistance. For example, peasants would flee Pegu permanently, or only temporarily after clearing an area for cultivation and crossing the border to Siam when forest officials were in the area, as would they clear teak and entirely destroy evidence of teak ever being there. More boldly, they may simply plead ignorance to forest regulations, if questioned. Such a state of affairs led to, in 1869, the state adopting what was known as taungya forestry, which allowed peasants to clear land for cultivation and, upon such clearance, cultivate their crops within an area of teak that had been planted at the same time. Then, after a period of some years, as the teak regenerated, the cultivators would move on to another forest patch and undertake the same operations.
The peasants who did not practice shifting cultivation were also impacted by such state regulations in Pegu. Whilst such regulations did not initially impact the general populace, both because only teak extraction was regulated and the Forest Department lacked man power and expertise, by 1875 the state’s classification of other tree species (a total of 14 other species, including Dipterocarpus tuberculatus, Lagerstroemia speciosa, Pterocarpus macrocarpus, Senegalia catechu, and Xylia xylocarpa) as protected from unlicensed felling led to unrest amongst the peasantry.
In essence, not only did this now marked limitation on timber harvesting conflict with the traditional Buddhist way of life, which saw timber used for construction felled only under specific auspicious circumstances, but it also limited their ability to use the forest both as a source of income and for subsistence purposes. Granted, the state did permit peasants to use the forest for reasons to do with subsistence, but such an exclusion from the forests of Pegu at large resulted, unsurprisingly, in backlash. Forms of such backlash from the peasants included illicitly felling trees for their timber, harvesting trees and selling them on the black market to native timber traders, resorting to felling only those trees not protected by the state (which took place to quite significant levels, in some instances), and destroying the property of the Forest Department.
As the Forest Department grew, it also adopted an ever-increasing scientific approach to forestry; this translated over into those employed by the department. Originally, the aim had been for the department to employ local people, though the lack of expertise and associated shortcomings in forest enforcement led quickly to attention being diverted to Europe – notably Germany and France, where forestry was being taught quite rigorously. Therefore, as the department grew in size from 1861 to 1885, whilst local foresters were still locals employed by the state, the higher paid forest conservators and other officials were not native Burmese individuals, which led to unrest even within the Forest Department. In essence, the Burmese foresters were unhappy at the evident glass ceiling within the organisation, and this resulted in the foresters defrauding the Forest Department and falsifying reports.
Come 1881, the state had passed the Burma Forest Act. This new piece of legislation enabled the colonial government to more readily establish ownership of forest lands, and to denote forest reserves where it was deemed pertinent to do so – in essence, the Act allowed for a more extensive and effective state consolidation of Burma’s forests. In Pegu, this led to most of teak forest being classified as a reserve, by 1990. Further north in Upper Burma, which came under British rule following the 1884-86 Anglo-Burmese War, reserves were similarly established (in a bid to standardise forestry practice in Burma), and come 1900 a total of 51% of teak forest area was classed as reserve. Other species of tree, such as Senegalia catechu, which was harvested for its water exudes used for tanning and dyeing, were also protected through the designation of forest reserves.
Unquestionably, because these reserves prohibited traditional practice, such as grazing, shifting cultivation, burning, and the harvesting of timber and collection of firewood, this pursuit of forest brought with it civil unrest amongst the peasantry reliant upon the forest. By-and-large, both the intentional burning of reserves, and then subsequent refusal to co-operate with the extinguishing efforts, were the methods of protest adopted. Furthermore, because Upper Burma had already experienced forest management prior to British rule, the contractors and rulers undertaking forestry operations at the time of a change in the ruling elite – namely the powerful Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Limited (BBTLC) – were uneasy at the desire for the British to remove their rights to harvest timber (notably teak), and therefore after much pressure it was decided that, at least for the BBTLC, private operations could continue under state supervision. Rulers, including the Sawbwas of the Shah region, were marginalised, and thus lost access to their extensive forests.
As the 19th century approached its close, the Forest Department had gained power over much of Burma’s forests – almost all forests had been inventoried. Therefore, when the Burma Forest Act of 1902 was passed, it came as little surprise that the state had begun to further pursue control over forests. Based heavily on the principles of scientific forestry being applied only in exiting forest reserves, allowing those non-reserved area to be maintain by the peasantry at their own discretion, the Forest Department opted to principally use five different European contractors – including BBTLC, though no longer with a monopoly – for forestry operations, on fifteen-year leases. In this sense, the Forest Department would oversee a return to privatisation of forestry, much how it had been prior to 1856.
Unfortunately, by 1909, native contractors accounted for only 23% of the total output from state forestry operations, because of the more favourable stance the European contractors were seen in when it came to issuing leases for forestry operations (mainly because they were larger companies, meaning the Forest Department didn’t need to oversee so many contractors), which led to much animosity between Burmese contractors and the state – this was further exacerbated by 1924, when native contractors were responsible for only 5% of output. Compiled with the almost entire outlawing on shifting cultivation by the 1920s, because of its perceived associations with soil erosion, flooding, and a poor teak crop, and the designation of lowland forests as reserves because of their declining extent within the plains of Burma (agricultural production had increased so markedly – from 800,000 acres in 1982 to 6,000,000 acres in 1906), the situation during the this period led to much protest – namely the illegal extraction of timber, and illegal grazing of cattle. In some cases, 90% of all recorded crime came from the lowlands, where the demands on what little forest remained conflicted with the state’s classification of these forests as protected reserves.
The plight of those in the plains was also picked up by nationalist political movement, such as the General Council of Sangha Sammeggi, who supported local nationalist organisations known as wunthanu athin. These local movements aired the grievances of the plains peasantry, with regards to their inaccessible forest reserves, and their affiliations with national movements gave local voices a national audience. In turn, by the 1920s, nationalist politicians and the middle class were in support of the peasantry in the plains.
In response to this demand for forests to provide the peasantry with what they require, the state came to recognise that commercial forestry operations in reserves could not constitute the exclusive use of the reserved forests of Burma – notably in the lowlands. Therefore, in 1923, after the British colonial government provided the Burmese with partial rule of their country during 1921 and the Whyte Committee subsequently assessed the situation with Burmese forests at length, the Forest Department was handed over to the Burmese, and by 1930 the post of Forest Secretary was filled by a native individual. Thus began the process of ‘Burmanisation’ within the Forestry Department.
However, the actual amount of influence the Burmese had on the Department was slim, at this time – decisions relating to leases to forestry contractors were made in London, and only British officials had the power of appointing new people to the Department. As a consequence, unrest persisted, and forest crimes peaked during the mid 1930s. Come 1937, at the enacting of the Government of Burma Act of 1935, the power of the Burmese to regulate the use of their own forests was accentuated however, though this did not curb protest completely and in 1940 the Forest Department even began a propaganda campaign detailing the benefits of forest conservation through reserves.
A few years later in 1942, such power granted in the 1935 Act was further augmented after the Japanese acquired Burma during World War II and aided with integrating Burmese individuals into the Forest Department under the absence of the British. Having granted them ‘independence’ soon after, upon the return of the British after the end of the war 1945, the state was unable to implement scientific forestry again because of the huge amount of ‘lawlessness’ (relating to what was deemed a forest crime under British rule) in the forests. Notably, many forest reserves in the planes were cleared to make way for agriculture, during this three year period, though more broadly enforcing forest law effectively was simply not feasible; in part, because the Japanese simply ‘looted’ the forests of their timber to fund the war effort – an act which the peasantry mirrored all too zealously, in some scenarios. Curiously, even the Burmese who worked in the Forest Department during this time tried to enforce forest laws, and even sought to ensure that forests were managed as they were prior to the war’s impact on Burma.
After 1948 independence, which marked the conclusion of the period of Burmanisation, forest protests continued; albeit under a different political catalyst. Initially, until 1953, because of significant civil unrest across Burma, the Forestry Department had no forests to maintain – all were in the hands of insurgent groups, and only under armed guard could forest officials practice even the most basic of forestry tasks. Therefore, during this period the Department sought to instead simply plan its approach of once again employing scientific forestry as the core means of forest management following the calming of unrest, after the now entirely Burmese Forestry Department determined the scientific approach introduced by the British was in fact highly beneficial for the state. Soon after in 1954, having witnessed the persistent deforestation of Burma’s forests during this period of unrest (and before), the government sought to – with help from the Forestry Department – reforest 200,000 acres of forest in the more politically stable plains of Pegu.
During the following years, plantations were therefore created with help from willing locals; of which 4,000 were full-time employees and 20,000 part-time employees. In this sense, state forestry provided many local peasants with employment, during a time of political tumult, though such employment was often both mandatory and unpaid. Furthermore, shifting cultivation was once again outlawed in Pegu, with fixed agricultural practices being promoted in its place. In remote hilly areas this enforcement was not successful however, as insurgents resisted the will of the Forestry Department. It wasn’t until 1975, when the Burmese army cleared these hills of insurgents, that the hill forests were regained by the Forest Department, and scientific forestry could once again be practiced and shifting cultivation more effectively prohibited.
Evidently, the hills of Burma were of a different political climate entirely. Owned by insurgent groups, these areas were largely off-limits to the Forest Department, and only at the hands of the army cold they be regained. Because forests were highly valuable assets, notably in terms of their consistent provision of revenue, they were fiercely protected by insurgent groups, and in some respects these groups acted akin to the Forest Department – peasants were taxed for using the forest, and timber was sold to sustain the existence of these groups. For instance, the Karen National Union of Kawthoolei used the forests within the region as their main source of income from the 1960s, and the Kawthoolei Forestry Department created by the Union rivalled the state’s Forest Department, who themselves expanded within the region from a mere handful of staff in the 1950s to 463 during the early 1990s. The battle in this case was for territory, and the territory was the forest.
Following the violent military coup of 1988, spearheaded by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which overthrew the socialist government of the time, the forestry agenda again altered. The desire for short-term profit, because of Burma’s dire financial situation (which had largely persisted from 1948), meant that large-scale forestry operations were politically necessary for SLORC, who swiftly agreed a deal with neighbouring Thailand to log the Thai-Burmese border forests. For Thailand, this deal was also of marked benefit, because in 1988 the state banned all logging within the country after its forests had suffered massive losses at the hands of loggers over the preceding decades. The contractors for such logging activities were all Thai in origin, and therefore Burmese contractors lost out on any potential income from this venture. However, come the close of 1993, because of the sheer extent of illegal activities committed by the Thai loggers, the agreement was suspended and logging halted. Curiously, where Burmese loggers had been given contracts by SLORC and the Forest Department elsewhere in Burma around the same time, illegal logging was also an issue and this led to such agreements also being terminated by 1994. Compiled with the continued encroachment upon Burma’s forests by the peasantry who still sought to ignore forest law, Burma’s forests were still under threat.
At this time, the SLORC government also passed the Forest Law of 1992, which supported the incorporation of social issues into forest management, in addition to broader conversation aims – this new Law was supplemented with the National Forest Policy written by the Forest Department in 1994, which echoed the sentiments of the 1992 Law. However, forest conservation was still the prevailing issue, as was the need for the forest to provide revenue for the state, the Law thus allowed the state to begin doubling the number of forest reserves in the more remote regions of Burma, which had recently been relinquished of insurgent groups and their rule. This aim was supported through the state at the time signing Burma up to various organisations promoting forest conservation, including the International Tropical Timber Organisation. Subsequently, taungya forestry, and shifting cultivation in general, was once again to be outlawed, because it directly conflicted with the aims of rational and scientific forestry, thereby igniting peasant-state tensions for another time. Similarly, the use of forests beyond cultivation was to also be controlled, signalling to any outsider that state forestry and peasant use of the forest are at two ends of a political spectrum associated with resource access and control.
More recent years have in fact seen further bans of forestry within Burma, and to this date the state has banned logging in some areas for the benefit of the forests. In addition, the Burmese Army has set fire to plantations owned by small communities after the communities failed to provide forced labour. This details how the forest is still critical, to this day, and that an attack on the forest is an attack on the community.
Source: Bryant, R. (1997) The Political Ecology of Forestry in Burma. UK: Hurst & Company.
With fungi still about in good numbers, not a day goes by when I don’t come across some ephemeral specimens. Below, I showcase two very unique-looking fungi, which are both saprotrophs of wood. It’s likely that – at least, if you’re in the UK – that you have come across both before. If not, then now’s the time to look!
Abortiporus biennis (the blushing rosette)
This dude is weird, and is so impossibly distinctive from other polypores that occur on dead wood (I have seen it on actual stumps and fruiting in grass, where it is feasting on roots below ground after the stump has either rotted away or been ground down) that you don’t even really need a microscope to discern it to the species level. In spite of its common name however, it doesn’t always look like a rosette and can instead adopt a quite obscure morphology where pores are on the upper surface and it stays as a whitish blob (sometimes exuding red liquid – notably when young). Thankfully, when it does achieve its ‘potential’, it becomes a very pretty polypore and releases a white spore that can be found to dust any leaves or blades of grass caught beneath the fruiting bodies.
For ease of understanding what I am on about, I have included both examples below so to illustrate the variability of this fungus. Also note that, when fruiting in grass, the roots it is devouring beneath the surface often leads to the fruiting body protruding out from the ground on a rather long stipe, which I have seen reach lengths of over 10cm.
I have not observed this species in a woodland setting as of yet. Instead, examples have all been limited to urban areas (including parks) where canopy cover is either non-existent or very sparse.
Rhodotus palmatus (the wrinkled peach)
This gilled mushroom is found generally on elm, though can also occur on other hardwoods in the UK. Unfortunately, since Dutch elm disease battered our elm population, it has become a rather uncommon sight amongst the landscape. However, it can still be found, and in this instance I spotted a few of them growing on a cluster of downed elm stems.
This mushroom has a rather pleasant smell, is very soft and moist (almost akin to oysters), and when young has quite the artistic form (as we will see below). The stipe is usually offset, and the cap is a very soft pink (though fades with age, in this example).
It has been rather quiet on the blog front this past week, because I have been spending much of my time out-and-about. I was down in the New Forest this Sunday just gone, at Hatfield Forest the weekend before, and have also attended a conference or two – all in addition to my day job! Thus, much of my spare time has been spent deep in books, and notably fungi ones. After all, it’s the season to see them at their best, with many fungal species kicking into life, and because many associate with trees it’s important to know what you’re looking at – at least, to the genus level.
I could spend forever-and-a-day posting what I have found over the past few weeks, and thus to whittle it down to just a few to share here is darned difficult. Thus, the ones below are the more interesting ones that may not be seen every day, or fungi that are common but in this instance adopting an interesting form or state of decay.
I had the chance to explore a common this afternoon, on my lunch break, and in the small area that I managed to traverse in the space of an hour I came across many earthballs (Scleroderma spp.). Delightfully, they were all mature, and some had begun to eject their spores via natural means – the ones that hadn’t quite got there, certainly were by the time I had finished taking photos! A brilliant ‘puff’ of sooty spore filled the air, when any decent amount of pressure was applied by my finger (or foot) to the ripe fruiting body. Awesome to witness, and the inertia generated by the pressure ejected the spores a good few centimetres up into the turbulent air currents. Other spores were then carried around by me as I paraded half a earthball around for a good few dozen metres, before realising holding onto it was a sure-fire way of looking like a part-time chinmey sweeper…
As this is a blog, and you all clearly come here for the pictures, now bear witness to the venerable earthball. The lack of a discernible pseudostipe (false stem – like the stem that holds up an agaric) probably makes these Scleroderma citrinum. Note these are mycorrhizal fungi, and associate notably with beech, birch, and oak.
Trees are cool. So are fungi. Together, they’re also cool. Thus, here’s some pictures of a few fungi that I came across this week on and around trees, given that autumn is upon us and things are now coming out into action.