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  • I'm in a wood, a rather pretty wood. And a rather special kind of wood.

  • But more about that later. First,

  • let me talk about a persistent myth, which is that Britain and Europe

  • were a sort of forest. A great big forest until the agricultural and/or industrial revolution.

  • No, they weren't. This has been known definitely since the 1960s.

  • Archeologists have very firmly established that, in fact, in Britain for example,

  • the time when the greatest amount of land was being cultivated, yes, was under the plough

  • was the bronze age.

  • And a lot of uplands like Dartmoor and Exmoor and so forth

  • were, in fact, created then.

  • They were, before Man came along and chopped down all the trees, then they were forests.

  • But then came the farmers and they cleared those uplands, farmed them during the bronze age.

  • Then the climate changed and the things collapsed a bit

  • and now we have those upland moors, Dartmoor and Exmoor and others like them.

  • And we think, a lot of us, think that they're natural. No they're not. That's actually a man-made landscape.

  • This is not an ancient woodland that I'm standing in today.

  • This is only actually about two hundred years old. So the oldest trees are about two hundred years.

  • And there are many, of course, far younger than that. But still

  • you don't have the full range of ages of tree here.

  • What makes this special, is that it's not been managed.

  • Every time a tree falls, they just leave it there.

  • Nothing gets cleared away. They don't sweep the leaves away. They leave lots of the ground cover there.

  • So there's lots of food for birds to eat and lots of places for ground-nesting birds to nest.

  • About half the species around here are ground-nesting and

  • rotting trees are just a larder for birds,

  • they've got all sorts of larvae, insects and grubs and so forth. All sorts of food sources

  • that they can make full use of. And you will see lots of trees around here that have got...

  • that have rotted, that have opened. And they're full of all sorts of insects. If you knock them, all sorts of creepy crawlies come out.

  • And you can see where the birds have come along and pecked

  • and other animals have come and scratched away the rotting wood to get to the goodies inside.

  • So that's what the people here want to do. They want to attract wildlife.

  • Some creature has been digging here.

  • I don't know what creature and I don't know what for.

  • Some other creature has been burrowing here, very shallowly.

  • A little scrape there and another one there.

  • And another one there.

  • Another one there. That one goes little deeper.

  • Something has been digging here

  • and I think I see why.

  • Oops, they're paying attention to me. Time to leave, I think.

  • When a tree falls down, rather then being sawn down, it doesn't break cleanly.

  • And I think that makes it far easier for the insects to

  • get in there and burrow and make their little homes and feast away.

  • This wood has not been managed for seventy-five years.

  • So that's very unusual today. We're used to the look of a modern, managed piece of woodland.

  • And a lot of people imagine, that that's what a natural wood looks like.

  • And very often you will see in movies,

  • they will shoot a medieval sequence in a wood.

  • Because it's a very cheap backdrop, isn't it? And people will say:

  • "Oh, well, there you go - it's a wood. Of course it's all authentic."

  • Botanists might spot that they've got: "Hang on..."

  • "...are those horse-chestnut trees? Is that sycamore? Are those rhododendrons?"

  • Yes, those are rhododendrons.

  • And so they'll, you know, spot these species that shouldn't be there.

  • if it's meant to be England in 1320.

  • But people generally accept a wood. "Oh, that's authentic. It's a wood." But

  • a medieval wood would have looked different. Would it have looked like this? Generally, no.

  • Because this is an unmanaged wood. And

  • medieval woods were far more managed than we are used to woods being today.

  • Every village would have clumps of woodland around it

  • and those were extensions of the farms, or the gardens if you like.

  • They were farming wood. They were farming timber. They were gardening

  • the woods for all sorts of wild plants...

  • I shouldn't call them wild I suppose.

  • All sorts of plants they would use for various uses in the home, herbs and so forth...

  • but principally timber.

  • And they would want a variety of species of tree, and they would want trees to grow straight,

  • or grow crooked, because they wanted bits of wood to grow in various shapes.

  • And they would also coppice a lot.

  • Coppicing is something, that is very common today.

  • But in the medieval period it was very common.

  • You cut a tree in such a way as to encourage it to grow long thin straight poles

  • and then you harvest those poles and you've got long thin straight things

  • in order to weave together, to make wattle and daub walls and wicker fencing and so forth.

  • We don't make houses out of wattle and daub any more, so we have no call for coppicing.

  • But that was very common in the medieval period.

  • If browsing animals eating the leaves would be a problem, as it often was,

  • then another option was pollarding, where you cut the tree higher up,

  • but it meant that you needed a ladder to harvest the poles.

  • Today you can often see old trees, that were once pollarded,

  • but then were left to keep growing.

  • So a medieval wood would have been far more garden-like.

  • People needed to get into the wood and get the stuff... get the wood out of the wood.

  • Get the timber out of the wood. For instance...

  • They're fuelling their homes with wood, so they'll need to get carts in and out

  • and get access to all the trees. So they are going to clear away a lot of the ground cover.

  • This however, is quite a different look. This is more primeval.

  • This forest has been deliberately neglected for seventy-five years.

  • That's not enough time really, for this to reach a perfect equilibrium.

  • We haven't got to, what some people would call, 'climax vegetation' yet.

  • Although, as a lot of biologists will tell you, there's no such thing exactly as 'climax vegetation'.

  • The climate is constantly changing.

  • There is no perfectly stable state, which any forest might reach. But

  • this is something close to what an unmanaged woodland,

  • that has been unmanaged for ever, would look like.

  • Another thing you'll find in a forest such as this is some really funky fungi.

  • "Am I funky?"

  • "Oh, can I be funky too?"

  • "Are we funky?"

  • "We are funky!"

  • Yes, yes. You are all funky fungi.

  • "I'm not funky."

  • One thing, that mankind has been doing for a very long time, is burning down woods like this.

  • Yes, those guardians of nature - hunters-gatherers

  • have been burning woods like this for their own convenience.

  • You see, it's actually quite difficult to spot the game, and it's quite difficult to chase after the game,

  • if you've got so much dead wood and undergrowth and so forth.

  • Plus, a lot of what does grow here is bracken.

  • And not many things like eating this.

  • What's better, is to have a much clearer area, so you can see the game

  • and chase the game somewhat more easily. And there are loads of new, young, tender shoots coming through

  • for them to eat. So what you do? Well, you set a fire that burns away all the undergrowth.

  • A lot of the larger trees might survive, but the smaller ones will go.

  • And then you create clearings, and sunlight gets to those clearings

  • and the ash acts as a very effective fertiliser and new shoots burst through.

  • And the deer come along and go, "Oh, look at all this lovely food!"

  • "It's so easy for me to get to, and - oh dear! I seem to have been shot by a hunter-gatherer."

  • So there you go. Mankind has been manipulating the forest environment for millennia.

  • Subs by Ivan Rezny

I'm in a wood, a rather pretty wood. And a rather special kind of wood.

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B1 US wood funky medieval forest tree timber

Forests in the olden days

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    sunny posted on 2019/09/10
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