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Posts tagged ‘silvology’

FORESTRY – pride and prejudice

May 9, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

I’m a Chartered Forester, and very proud to be so.  I believe passionately that forestry and professional foresters have a more important role in society today, than at anytime in modern history.  As a forester I recognise that my profession encompasses so many and diverse social, environmental and economic dimensions.  Foresters think long-term as perhaps few other professionals do, or need to, given that they care for trees that will be flourishing for our children’s children.  Forestry exemplifies sustainability.

Not everyone agrees with my sentiments of course.  Two years ago I stood up publicly for forestry when The Guardian newspaper published a story about a woodland that was felled while it was being featured in a series of paintings, unfortunately work in progress, by artist David Hockney.  Both the original article and some of the online comments that followed the publication of my response letter in the paper, illustrated perfectly the degree of misunderstanding and sometimes prejudice in the public about forestry and the role of the forester:- they make for an interesting read.

A common response when I’m asked of my profession is “Oh, you cut down trees then!”  I don’t think I’ve ever been asked instead about how many trees I’ve planted, how many landscapes I’ve enhanced or water and air purified, how much habitat I’ve provided for wildlife or carbon I’ve locked-up, or timber produced for someone’s front door, roof joists or kitchen cupboards.

“… forestry” is often seen by the public, environmentalists, media and purist academics as synonymous with dirty boots, deforestation, clear-felling, rape of the earth, displacement of indigenous humans and loss of other species.”

“The forest law [historical] was very harsh and was enforced by a hated body of men called ‘foresters’, whose activities were called ‘forestry’.  They were the villains of popular literature …”

Burley (1997)

The quote  above comes from a fascinating article1 by the former president of IUFRO – the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations.  Professor Burley proposed a change in the ‘F’ within IUFRO from Forestry to Forest.  Burley was concerned about falling membership numbers and wondered whether this was in part because so many research scientists (e.g. those engaged in anthropology, climatology, ecology, entomology, geography, hydrology, pathology and soil science) did not necessarily feel part of traditional ‘forestry’.

So it seems that forestry is a term not only misunderstood by the public but also by leading scientists.  IUFRO changed their ‘F’ to Forest in 2000 but winning the hearts and minds of the public is surely a harder battle.  While deforestation continues in the less-developed world, despite the sustainable nature of modern forestry in much of the developed world, perhaps forestry will continue to have a poor reputation in the public conscience.

Gabriel Hemery


Burley, J. (1997).  What’s in a word?  IUFRO News,  26, 2. pp.1-3.  International Union of Forestry Research Organizations.  ISSN 02256-5145


April 25, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Silvology: the study of forests and woods, incoporating both the understanding of natural forest ecosystems and the design of silvicultural systems.

I wrote previously about my personal search for a description of my profession, and how I arrived at the term silvologist.  It may not be a perfect term for etymologists as it mixes Latin silva or sylva (forests, woods) with Ancient Greek ology (study).  However, it perfectly describes the study of forests and woods, which no other term achieves, for example:

  • dendrology – study of trees (i.e. not forests)
  • silviculturist – managing the culture of forests (i.e. not the study of forests)
  • forester – managing forests
  • arborist – managing individual trees

I don’t lay claim to having coined the term silvology but I aim to promote it.  I believe that it was used first by Roeloff Oldeman over 20 years ago1 but has never been widely adopted.   He described it as the science of forest ecosystems “without the usual division of man and nature”.  He sought a single science for forestry, that integrated the study of forests and forest ecology, from single tree autecology to complex natural forest systems.

Gabriel Hemery

1 R. A. A. Oldeman (1990). Forests: elements of silvology. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. 624 pages. ISBN 0-387-51883-5. (see

silva, sylva, silvan, sylvan, Silvanus, silviculture …

April 25, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

On my homepage I write that I aim to celebrate the ” silvan” world: here’s an etymology.

Silvanus God of forests

Silvanus God of forests: statue at the Museo Nazionale Romano

Silva or sylva is a Latin word meaning ‘wood or forest’, with silvan or sylvan meaning ‘of the wood or forest’.

In forestry we use the word silviculture, meaning literally culture of forests. Foresters are sometimes called silviculturists.

Silvanus was the Roman God of forests, and also fields and boundaries. A Roman farmer would regularly conduct a sacrifice and conduct a tour of the estate’s perimeter to protect it from natural and supernatural hazards by lustration, or ritual purification.

In the modern world it is the root, excuse the pun, for many tree and forestry organisations including my own Sylva Foundation.  I like to describe myself as a silvologist: someone who studies trees, woods and forests.

Gabriel Hemery

A dendro-etymological dilemma

April 23, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

I’m a forester.  That’s a simple description of my profession without much room for misunderstanding – or so you’d think.  Therein lies an etymological dilemma for me and my fellow tree professionals.

As a forester I practice forestry, which is the management of forests.  In the public mind the term ‘forester’ is often instantly related to ‘chopping down trees’, even though forestry includes the creation of forests and their ecological management and protection,  landscape design, environmental protection, wildlife management, and recreation provision for people.  In my mind forestry is the union between trees and mankind (read more) but the fact that this is often (wrongly) seen exclusively as an economic relationship, weakens its relevance to my professional work.

I also refer to myself a forest scientist as this rather aptly describes my research activities regarding their growth, ecology and management, although it’s far from perfect as I also focus on trees as well as forests.  The term forester does not normally include an element of research or study per se.

I am also a silviculturist as I practice silviculture, or the culture of forests (from the Latin silva for forests, woods and trees).  If I were to focus more on individual trees I may prefer to call myself an arboriculturist or arborist, as I would be practicing arboriculture.  So silviculturists and arboriculturists are closely related to agriculturists or horticulturists.

I also have an interest in tree biology so I could be an ecologist, or more accurately a botanist, or more precisely a dendrologist as I study trees or woody plants or practice dendrology (from the Greek dendron meaning tree).  Or would xylologist be a better title?

All this ological discussion leaves me rather unsatisfied however, as none of the above quite fit the bill for me.  My work relates to individual trees, as well as woods and forests,  and my studies extend from tree science to the forest ecosystem.  I rather like the idea of being a silvologist and of practicing silvology.

Gabriel Hemery

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