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Top tree and wood books 2016

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2016 has been a rich sylvan literary year, and for the first time I include some fiction too. Hopefully there’s something here to cater for all interests. In no particular order, these are the tree and wood books that have informed and delighted, surprised and shocked me in 2016. 

Ladders to heaven by Mike Shanahan

Ladders to heaven by Mike Shanahan

Ladders to heaven: how fig trees shaped our history, fed our imaginations and can enrich our future. By Mike Shanahan. Unbound Books. ISBN-1783522364.

The author romps through the history, biology and culture surrounding fig trees with style. Writing fact-packed non-fiction in a way which captivates and enthrals, in language that is accessible to a wide audience, Shanahan reveals a masterful touch. A highly recommended insight into an amazing tree genus.

The wood for the trees by Richard Fortey

The wood for the trees by Richard Fortey


The wood for the trees: a long view of nature from a small wood. By Richard Fortey. William Collins. ISBN-0008104662.  

I had the privelege of sharing the stage with Fortey earlier this year. He writes as he speaks, with quiet unassuming authority in a way that quickly beguiles. The purchase of his own small woodland in the Chilterns prompted him to step from geological history to living nature, a task he achieves with aplomb. We’re fortunate he chose to share his journey of natural history discovery with us.  

The long, long life of trees by Fiona Stafford

The long, long life of trees by Fiona Stafford

The long, long life of trees. By Fiona Stafford. Yale University Press. ISBN-0300207336. 

Delving into the arboreal lives of 17 British trees species, Stafford guides the reader through a sylvan spectacle. Skilfully written the easy prose explores the lives of trees in multiple dimensions. Shame that more species  are not covered, especially walnut, but then I’m biased on that subject. 

The trees by Ali Shaw

The trees by Ali Shaw

The trees. By Ali Shaw. Bloomsbury Paperbacks. ISBN-1408862301. 

A Hitchcockian rustle through a menacing sylvan world. The premise of this book – where trees take over the world – is a refreshing dystopian approach. Surely the best book cover in this list – gorgeous art. 

Trees Ex Libris by Jovis Glans

Trees Ex Libris by Jovis Glans


Trees Ex Libris: a collection of environmental erotica. By Jovis Glans. Environmental Erotica Press. ASIN-B01KR7VAF4. 

I was sent this e-book by the publisher, and I’d never have discovered it otherwise. It’s a book about tree sex, yes you read that correctly, tree sex! For originality alone it deserves inclusion but don’t expect lessons in tree biology. This is no holds barred erotic fiction, and I mean no holds barred. It’s actually intelligently written, even if filthy. Adults only. Available only in e-book format from Amazon

Arboreal: a collection of words from the woods

Arboreal: a collection of words from the woods

Arboreal: a collection of words from the woods. Edited by Adrian Cooper. Little Toller Books. ISBN-9781908213419. 

I’m not so vain as to include my own book in a top list of tree books but I hope I’ll be forgiven for including an anthology in which I’m one of many among dozens of contributing authors. Richard Mabey, Germaine Greer, Ali Smith, Simon Armitage, and George Peterken are just a few of the headline contributors. Hotly anticipated and does not disappoint. A wonderful collection of diverse arboreal prose. 

The man who made things out of trees by Robert Penn

The man who made things out of trees by Robert Penn

The man who made things out of trees. By Robert Penn. Penguin. ISBN-0141977515.

Robert Penn follows the story of the felling of an ash tree in the Welsh Black Mountains and the conversion of its timber to a myriad of wooden wonders. Everyone will learn something from this fabulous book, which captures the beauty and utility of this graceful yet threatened tree species.  Delighted that the Sylva Foundation OneOak project so inspired you Rob!

Norwegian Wood by Lars Mytting

Norwegian Wood by Lars Mytting

Norwegian Wood: chopping, stacking and drying wood the Scandinavian way.  By Lars Mytting. MacLehose Press. ISBN-0857052551. 

A lyrical treatise on firewood that has captured the imaginations of those that never thought wood could be so interesting. The oldest book on this list (October 2015) but impossible to omit. Prepare to be surprised, amused and educated. 

Essential woodworking hand tools by Paul Sellers

Essential woodworking hand tools by Paul Sellers

Essential woodworking hand tools. By Paul Sellers. Rokesmith Ltd. ISBN-0993442307. 

Sticking with the wood theme, I’m lucky enough to know Paul quite well and to have witnessed his craft. What comes through in this hefty tome is not just his craft in great detail, but his zeal for passing on his skills to others. He likes the ‘amateur’ moniker which I can understand as his informative approach is down-to-earth and accessible, but never confuse the term with unskilled! This book is a woodworking bible. Available from Rokesmith direct


Read more about my books

The man who harvested trees and gifted life by Gabriel Hemery

The man who harvested trees and gifted life by Gabriel Hemery


The Man Who Harvested Trees And Gifted Life is a sequel to Jean Giono’s much-loved 1954 classic, The Man Who Planted Trees And Grew Happiness, and a compelling short story in its own right. Available as an e-book on Amazon

The Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted Life

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The Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted Life
The Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted Life. A short story by Gabriel Hemery

The Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted Life

I’m looking forward to the forthcoming release, on October 8th, of my first short story book.

A remarkable true story sows a seed in a young girl’s mind which grows into a lifelong relationship with a forest and its trees, yet she develops an affinity richer than she could ever have imagined.

The Man Who Harvested Trees And Gifted Life is a sequel to Jean Giono’s much-loved 1954 classic, The Man Who Planted Trees And Grew Happiness, and a compelling short story in its own right.

Written by environmentalist Gabriel Hemery, author of The New Sylva, this modern eco-parable encourages us all to seek a stronger affinity between humanity and the natural world.

Available as a kindle book on Amazon from October 8th. Pre-order now.

The Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted Life

Environmental change: awareness, actions, aspirations

September 1, 2015

Gabriel Hemery

Environmental change is impacting Britain’s trees and forests with increasing frequency and severity, caused by human influences and/or natural ecological processes.

Somerset owner William Theed replanted with different conifer species when Japanese larch in his woodland was the first in the UK attacked by Phytophthora ramorum. Photo Gabriel Hemery.

An important national survey about environmental change is seeking to explore awareness, actions and aspirations among all those who care for trees. It is open until 15th September and I encourage all those with a deep interest or professional connection with trees and forestry to take part.

If you can spare about 20 minutes you will be guided through a set of questions tailored to your role (namely woodland owner, professional forester or arboriculturist, tree nursery owner etc.). These cover the following broad themes:

  • What do you think about environmental change?
  • Have you been affected by environmental change?
  • What are you doing about making our trees and forests more resilient to environmental change?

Survey co-ordinators the Sylva Foundation report that over 1000 responses have been received to date (see Twitter), which is impressive, but more responses will mean more powerful science and better informed policies. This is an opportunity for many new voices to be heard on a very important subject.

Please take the survey


More about the British Woodlands Survey 2015

The national survey is aiming is to help understand progress in awareness and actions in adapting to environmental change among woodland owners and managers (including agents), tree nursery businesses, and forestry professionals.

The information gathered will be used by organisations, policy makers and researchers to help improve the resilience of the nation’s forests. The results will inform the government’s National Adaptation Programme.

The British Woodlands Survey 2015 on Resilience is supported by a very wide number of organisations, with funding provided by the Forestry Commission and the Woodland Trust. It is hosted and co-ordinated by the Sylva Foundation.

The survey is live from July 31st to September 15th 2015.

Take the survey: www.sylva.org.uk/bws

A new dawn – a new year

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A new dawn - a new year
A new dawn - a new year

A new dawn – a new year. Lumix GX7, 300mm, f8, 1/8000sec, ISO125.

Wishing all my readers a happy and fruitful 2014.

New Year’s day was pretty grey and miserable in rural Oxfordshire. The forecast for this morning however was good, so I woke at dawn and visited a nearby landmark. Having planned beforehand using the Photographer’s Ephemeris, I headed straight to a predetermined location where I knew that the sun would rise directly above a prominent stand of beech trees. This image is one of a number taken in landscape and portrait as the sun rose.

You can see more of my photography at www.thetreephotographer.com

Birch in the Scottish Highlands

December 7, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

Day two of our Scottish drawing expedition took us to the southern shore of Loch Rannoch. We were in search of a treescape that would enable us to feature birch and water together. We had a specific place in mind for where the drawing will feature in the book.

The weather was cold, as it was yesterday when we visited the Black Wood of Rannoch, but it was sleeting too and the sun didn’t appear all day. Sarah worked from the shelter of a tent, as the paper had to be kept dry at all times. She developed the drawing first with pencil, allowing the various elements of the treescape to be brought together.

Sarah Simblet working in pencil

Sarah Simblet working on the pencil under-drawing before adding ink

Gabriel Hemery working on The New Sylva

Gabriel Hemery working on The New Sylva on the shore of Loch Rannoch

Sarah Simblet working on the drawing of birch

Sarah Simblet working on the drawing of birch and the loch shore from the shelter of a tent during a bitterly cold December day.

Scots Pine in the Black Wood of Rannoch

December 6, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

Yesterday our Scottish Drawing Expedition for The New Sylva got underway. In search of Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) we had travelled to one of the last remaining and best examples of Caledonian Pinewood: the Black Wood of Rannoch, in Central Scotland.

High above Loch Rannoch, on an undulating heather-clad ridge, we found the perfect subject; an ancient ‘granny pine’ set amongst a backdrop of younger pine, downy birch (Betula pubescens) and rowan (Sorbus aucuparia).

Brilliant Winter sun added a glowing aura to the red bark of the pine stems and branches. The pinewood was carpeted in freshly-fallen snow and perfectly quiet. Temperatures remained below freezing throughout the short day, dropping as low as -5°C, but multiple layers of clothing just about kept us warm (see the photo of Sarah three-hoods Simblet below).

Sarah Simblet drawing Scots Pine in Black Wood, Rannoch

Sarah Simblet drawing Scots Pine in Black Wood, Rannoch

Black Wood is a precious and unique habitat. We were not fortunate enough to see Scottish Wildcat, Crossbill or Red Squirrel on this occasion but were accompanied by troops of Tits and Goldcrests all day, while a lone Robin kept watch for our lunch crumbs.

Tomorrow we are in the Caledonian Pinewoods again; this time in search of birch.

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