Nov 27 Irreplaceable Woodlands – Book Review By Rich

I was delighted to get hold of a copy of Charles Flower’s Irreplaceable Woodlands. The book is a glorious reference to his 30 year custodianship of a 25 acre ancient woodland – Mapleash Copse. The title is a reminder that woodlands such as these are under threat.
Politicians and developers with big infrastructure project on their agendas seem to consider them as transferable commodities, the loss of which they think can be compensated for with the planting of an equivalent acreage of ‘trees’ elsewhere. They fail to grasp the depth of complexity and length of time the ecology has taken to reach this diversity and this book is testimony to just how valuable to wildlife a well managed ancient woodland is.

The paperback edition I have is adorned with a scene of the woodland at its most picturesque in spring. The book is printed on FSC derived paper with a matt finish which may not do total justice to the wonderful photographs which appear on every page. It does however give it an earthy, organic feel, although I couldn’t help noticing it had come quite a long way from where it was printed and bound in China.
The book begins with an overview of the history of the wood and the management, practices and demands for underwood and timber which would have shaped the way the wood is today. The archaeology of any woodland is fascinating and this is no exception, however I did find it a little difficult to follow the text alongside the schematic drawings. I felt that better maps with clear orientation and notations would possibly make this section easier to read.

The following section is a fascinating look at the medieval period and in particular the crafts and timber that were once produced from the wood. The author then gives us an outline of the principal trees and shrubs of the wood, how to estimate their age and notes on the wildlife which rely on each of these species. The chapter on hazel restoration is interesting and really demonstrates the amount of hard work and tenacity involved in bringing a hazel coppice back into a viable rotation.

The middle chapters look in more detail at the flora and fauna, ranging from the fungi and all important dead wood, to wildflowers ferns, mosses, the insects, spiders and finally the birds, reptiles and mammals. All the pages are beautifully illustrated with some fine close up photographs, which give a real insight into the range and diversity of wildlife the woodland supports.

Realising that taking care of a woodland like this is work never finished, in his penultimate chapter, the author lays out his list of priorities for its management. Heading up the list is the control or exclusion of deer and squirrels, the former which make coppicing such hard work and the latter able to truly decimate younger trees making it difficult to achieve a diverse age range of trees in the wood. A final chapter looks at opportunities to help provide the conditions for wildflowers to colonise newly planted broadleaf and gardens.

The book is pleasing mix of reference material, wonderful photography and the author’s personal experience and passion for managing his woodland. It is a book that you could easily read from cover to cover or dip into occasionally as a reference book. It is one that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and one I would recommend  to anyone with or without an ancient woodland and a lifetime’s work ahead of them.

It s published by Papadakis, ISBN 9781906506537 RRP £25.

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