Roger Deakin’s book is an inspiring read for any small woodland owner – really a series of chatty stories about individual topics peppered with interesting snippets on tress, wood, botany, natural history and rural life.
My favourite chapter is his description of building a yurt with hazel branches on an island in the Thames. You really have the feeling of being part of a team creating a shelter using only natural materials and techniques that go back thousands of years. Deakin’s detailed description of the making of this “bender” and others in Somerset makes you itch to get out and create something yourself.
It is clear that Roger Deakin was deeply influenced by his contact with, and study of, nature during his childhood. The school project in which he first came across George Peterken, one of Britain’s leading woodland experts, had a deep influence on many of the boys at his prep school. Detailed cataloguing of what they actually found together with real investigation into why moths, ferns and bogs occur where they do was inspiring material for a whole generation of boys at his school and is a model of how the school “field trip” can work.
Of course it is this first hand interaction with nature at an early age which has encouraged many people to buy or adopt their own patch of woodland or other wild habitat. Roger even discussed this idea with us and incorporated some of my colleagues’ comments based on our own experience of woodland management. We were therefore particularly interested to see the finished work.
The book is indeed a masterpiece that weaves together anecdotes, illuminating so much of the history of our landscape. He has a wonderful chapter where George Peterken acts as his guide and companion on a trip to the Forest of Dean and they discuss why some land becomes cultivated while other areas are wooded. Deakin says of contemporary woods, “there is simply too much management and not enough informed neglect” and Peterken observes that about a fifth of woodland species originally depended on dead or dying wood.
What Deakin does so well is to get really close to his subject – when he sits in a chair he is aware of how it was made and from what sort of wood, and when he looks at a landscape he can “read” it seeing how the various bits fit together and why.
In short it’s a really good read and has the advantage that it’s something you can dip into and always find something new and interesting – a bit like Roger Deakin does with woodlands.
Roger Deakin died in August 2006 shortly after writing the book, so the stories have an extra poignancy. He is perhaps best known for his book “Waterlog” which recounts his swimming adventures and is also a classic nature story.
“Wildwood” by Roger Deakin, pub Penguin £8.99