Origins of the Giant Redwood

On Friday night we were treated to an unexpected story from the wonderful Eileen Dillon of the National Trust. Her story is inspired by her travels in North America and her time at Killerton gardens, where she now works as Education Officer. In case you missed it – here’s another chance to hear her.


Eric enthrals and we all stare at trees

Stealing the show today was Eric Madden. A story teller, Welshman, musical extraordinaire and according to his profile, resident of Cae Mabon, the home of hobbits. Strolling into the big-top canteen tent last night you would’ve thought the star of the circus had just arrived. This is the kind of guy who could tame a lion if he could be bothered. Casually last to dinner, he chose to plonk himself down next to me and I think I was the only idiot on our table who didn’t know who he was. Speaking at this mornings session though, Eric effortlessly captured the imagination of his listeners and it does not surprise me that people know him.

Eric Maddern tells a story to an arrested audience by the campfire

To start formal proceedings off at the Woodland Edge conference this morning Rosie Viante, local resident and Chairman of the Blackdown Hills Trust delivered a motivating speech on the success of the Neroche Landscape Partnership over the last 6 years. Delivering the introductory icebreaker session which followed, Eric teamed up with Lisa Schneidau of the Somerset Wildlife Trust, another formidable storyteller in the making. Eric shared a story of a colleague and friend of his, Madimoma Somé, a man educated here in the west, who chose to return to his rural African village at the age of 16. The story talks about Madimoma’s initiation into adulthood and his invitation by local tribesman to stare solidly at a tree for several hours on end.

Copyright James Thomson 2011

Gavin Saunders of the Forestry Commission welcomes everybody to the conference

The local boys undergoing this intriguing task were apparently able to figure out pretty quickly what it was they were supposed to be looking for in this tree. But for Madimoma and his western education, he sat alone covered in sweat and ants for three days. Eric invited this mornings participants out into the woods to experience a slightly watered down version of this sensation for ten minutes. Reporting their findings back to the group, some people had seen family members in the roots of the trees they’d engaged with, whilst others simply saw ecosystem services. Higher up in the canopy, participants associated tree branches and leaves with optimistic feelings of reassurance and music. Another participant understood the ongoing competition for light as being like a war zone.

Copyright James Thomson 2011

Participants venture into the forest to stare at trees for ten minutes

At the end of the session Eric informed us all that it was the image of a dancing woman which eventually emerged for Madimoma during his youth. It’s probably too late in the night to figure out the significance of that particular metaphor though, so I will leave you with my quote of the day by William Trahern, voiced during this mornings session by a participant.

“Why do we do all the things we do, when we can just sit under a tree?”

– James

Cultural services of woods – Uh?

When we tick the box saying a woodland provides ‘cultural services’, or offers ‘social benefits’, what do we really mean? Is it about a wood being a place for mountain biking or orienteering? Or can it be about people learning new skills, from creating paths and stiles, to actual forestry? Where does art, storytelling, or sculpture trails fit in? And are ecologists allowed to get cultural benefits from a wood, or should they stick to their wildlife and keep to ‘science’?

A further complication is the ‘here and now’ against ‘the future’. Are we considering what features and resources we want from a woodland now, or people’s desire to use a wood in new ways in future? And what about money, income, and livelihoods – are people able to harness the different attributes of woods in ways that are relevant to circumstances today? Can we harness more products from woods such as  timber, food and energy, and still allow recreation to happen and wildlife to flourish? What is the full harvest of a wood, and who could influence it and gain from it more?

Many of us are debating these points in our own circles (and with our own terminology and language) up and down the country, and the Panel offering views to government on the future use of forests will have key things to say in the coming months. And crucially, many practitioners and some communities are making things happen – reviving old practices in woods and discovering new uses, skills and experiences fit for the times. The Woodland Edge event will provide a chance for people to swap notes on these and related matters, as our new forest lore emerges…

– Rick