Alchemy in the forest?

What an exhausting and incredible five days. I would like to say thank you to Rick Minter who invited me along, to everybody who dreamed up the event and to the catering staff whose famous raspberry crumble was enjoyed nightly by those lucky enough to be in attendance. And what can I say about the weather? Who would’ve thought it was possible to get five straight days of brilliant sunshine one after another in late September. I find the capacity of our island weather system to completely reinvent itself over night strangely enlightening. Moving northwards on a train up to Edinburgh, the passenger beside me reveals the country’s airports are preparing gritters for heavy snow next week.

As we approached the end of the conference it translated that the way we manage our woods was also in a state of flux. Historically we might behave in conferences according to our past experiences, our cultural beliefs and perhaps most significantly of all, the badge indicating the organisation we work for. The Woodland Edge succeeded as a platform to help us express our different views, but I think it simultaneously pushed the boundaries of our comfort zones as well. Ecologist Peter Taylor initiated this process when he spoke with eloquence about the role of the great alchemists in founding the Royal Society during the 1600s. Peter’s criticisms of modern science and government may have caused a stir, but they also ignited a spark.

Fusing together a broad spectrum of organisations responsible for managing the British countryside and it’s forests was an accomplishment of social alchemy that the Neroche team should be proud of. On the periphery of this exciting experiment, I happened to be thrown into the melting pot along with everybody else and I have to say I enjoyed the ride. I’m likely to miss the fireside banter, the warm company and the impressive evening’s entertainment, climaxing on Friday night with an incredible poi spinning show from local volunteers Taesha (aged just 10!), Dee and Stu.

For me, these illuminating words by hunter and philosopher David Peterson help to articulate how our discussions on the edge cause influence both in the forest and beyond.

“When you go into the woods, your presence makes a splash and the ripples of your arrival spread like circles in water. Long after you have stopped moving your presence widens in rings through the woods. But after a while it fades, and the pool of silence is tranquil again, and you are either forgotten or accepted – you are never sure which. Your presence has been absorbed into the pattern of things, you have become part of it…” 

I’m hoping that through this portal, we can amplify some of those ripples and patterns emerging from our interactions with the edge to a wider audience. This blog’s got plenty more juice left in the tank, so stay tuned (or subscribe to get new posts mailed directly to you), as the speakers and participants give their own reflections over the coming weeks.

– James


5 thoughts on “Alchemy in the forest?

  1. Feedback 1
    The Conference left me with a overwhelming sense of two paradoxes. The first was of two alien worlds that had neither language, culture or expectations in common. One world was that of the timber extractors, very solid and soundly based on harsh economic necessity. Their ability to take timber was entirely dependant on this other world. A world inhabited by a rich gamut of skills and disciplines expressed in highly emotive terms that responded to very conceivable aspects of the woodlands. The only point in common between these two opposing worlds.
    The other paradox were the veteran trees. They gave rise to and provided the opportunity for the cash crop of timber trees that were growing around them. The veterans having little commercial value, survive. Their survival based solely in emotive terms then ensures a very pragmatic cash crop can continue.
    No wonder ‘the Woodland Edge’, the divide between so many aspects.

  2. There was a part of me that did not want to leave this site and its rich learning experiences, whilst so energised I felt a little sad as I headed back to the roads and buildings.

    Waking today I realise that whilst I am many miles away from the site of this gathering its flora fauna and the people that made it what it was. I realise that the experience has planted a seed in me. A happy privilage to carry and nurture.

    I struggle to identify a part of me that hasnt been effected in some way by this unique and very special time on the edge.

  3. Feedback 2
    To expand the market, locally produced hardwood’s need to be promoted at the very start of the creative process, with the Architects. Once they are fully aware of the timescales, section limitations and outturn costs of what can be made available, they will seize the opportunity to come up with a wide variety of creative uses for their clients, from structural down to furniture.
    Conservation Architects of course are always looking for reliable sources for replacement timber sections during Listed Building repairs.

  4. Feedback 3
    I came to the Conference hoping to get a better understanding of the economic dynamics of woodlands. I assumed the only reason people would lock up money and leave it for 200 years or more in a woodland was for tax benefits, or nowadays carbon credits. The roles played by the income generated from any existing mature timber, I had no idea. Was it crucial, a necessary supplement or a useful bonus. Unfortunately I gained no further insight. Yet I realise, we the community at large, do need an overview. In our economic climate, how vulnerable are our woodlands and how dependant are they on finding new and reliable sources of income?

  5. Pingback: Smoke Signals | Woodland Edge

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