This article first appeared in the Living Woods Magazine, Winter 2016.
British children learn about tropical rainforests and deforestation in schools, as part of the national curriculum, but are taught virtually nothing about our own forests. In an increasingly urban world most young people, except those fortunate enough to experience Forest School, will leave education with little understanding of the natural world round them. It’s perhaps unsurprising therefore that the sound of a chainsaw in a British woodland is often associated with destruction rather than rejuvenation.
I’m increasingly convinced by the power of art, in all forms, in helping tackle what Richard Louv coined ‘nature deficit disorder’. I’ve run a number of projects at Sylva Foundation (which I co-founded in 2009), for example the OneOak project, that have combined science and art to introduce forestry to wider society. On a personal level I’ve chosen to write widely on the subject, both in my forestry blog and in books; my first being The New Sylva, Bloomsbury Publishing 2014.
My latest book is an eco-parable short story, and a sequel to Jean Giono’s 1954 classic The Man Who Planted Trees and Grew Happiness. Giono aimed to popularise tree planting, and his allegorical story contrasted the benefits of environmental restoration with the futility and destructiveness of war. His popular book certainly played a part in helping make tree planting not just a social norm but a ‘good thing’ celebrated by individuals and families, and corporates looking for good PR. Yet 60 years later harvesting trees is still associated with exploitation and destruction.
My aim in writing The Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted Life is to help illustrate how foresters care for woodlands over multiple generations, and explain how managing forests and harvesting trees can equal good environmental stewardship. I include a short poem in the foreword Philosophy is Forestry’s Child, and the Sustainable Forestry Song in the back of the book, which I’ve had fun developing in the classroom.
Philosophy is forestry’s child
When a tree falls in a lonely forest, does it make a sound?
It rings in the labouring forester’s ear,
Yet resonates for all the human race
In nature, so much more profound.
Can we love a forest, yet fell a tree?
The forester sees beyond herself.
Harvesting one, breathes life into more;
More trees, more life, and a future for you and me.
Ask not which came first, the acorn or the oak.
We came as children of the forest;
First our wooden cradle, then our kindling for industry.
Instead think forward — trees will shelter us from ourselves.
Gabriel Hemery, December 2016
My thanks to Living Woods Magazine for granting permission to republish my article here.