Woodn’t it be nice?

Arboreal: A Collection of New Woodland Writing

Edited by Adrian Cooper
Little Toller
ISBN: 9781908213419


If you go down to the woods today there are many things to be sure of. A surprise, naturally, as there’s always something new to see, but also a sense of the past, a glimpse of tomorrow, fresh starts and old ways, half-heard whispers, unexpected turns and an abiding sense of peace. All it takes is a stroll in the woods.

This wonderfully involving anthology of words from the woods should have you striding out for thickets, copses, coverts and coppices in which to discover the sense of awe that permeates every page. Of course it’s romantic, whimsical, even sentimental in places, but the writing is also passionate, perceptive, committed and, on occasion, angry.

What unites the 40-odd writers, poets, ecologists, arborists, artists and photographers is an ability to articulate their sylvan reflections in such a way that we might also want to learn more about these fixtures on our landscape that, all too often, are taken for granted. We love our trees and rightly so, but many of us just don’t know enough about them.

The book stands as a fitting tribute to the late botanist Oliver Rackham, a man whose understanding of woodlands is only now finding common currency – it was he who counselled against tidying up and removing fallen trees after the Great Storm of 1987 on the grounds that many of them would simply continue their lives horizontally, in recline, altered not euthanased. Rackham’s view was that each wood is different, every bit as much a community as the human settlements too many of them were cleared to provide space for.

Edited by nature writer Adrian Cooper, who points out Britain lost almost half its ancient woodland – any wood in continuous existence since 1600 – in the 50 years between 1933 and 1983, the essays, short stories, memoirs and poems tap at a collective conscious. Whether it’s in the lyrical shape of Simon Armitage’s Ash, or the typographic impressionism of Richard Skelton’s Thwaite, there is much here that speaks to us all.

Germaine Greer muses on the nature of trees, while Sue Clifford tellingly reminds us that the woods we see above ground are but a fraction of the story. Scientist Gabriel Hemery imagines being interviewed in 2050 about the reforestation of Dartmoor and Tobias Jones, the writer who turned his home into a sanctuary for people in crisis, argues for the communal healing properties of woodland. Elsewhere, the drawings of sculptor David Nash remind us how nature and man can work together to guide the woods and Ellie Davies’ photographs invite us to look again at the ‘natural’ world.

There is plenty to enjoy here and it should be savoured. Indeed, like favourite woodland, Arboreal stands repeated visits, each pass revealing new treats. Between its leaves there is no such thing as time lost.

• Royalties from the sales of Arboreal are donated to the charity Common Ground to support educational projects that celebrate and connect people with nature including its Community Trees and Woods campaign.

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