Books/Films, Woodland

Trees and woodland in the British Landscape by Oliver Rackham

The cover is of Loch Beninn, which belies the East of England predominance I’ve gratefully encountered in the book. Gifted to me by Jon Illes for my 60th birthday, in time for his recommendation for our book club (woods the theme), it is book club which drives the read, as like Jennie says, it’s like homework, got to be done, What a pleasure it is, and particularly as now, I can relate to a few reference points like Haley wood, that old coppice.

Published in 1976, that hot summer I left New Hall, printed by JMDent and Sons, London Toronto Melbourne. I notice all illustrations done by Oliver Rackham.

Oliver Rackham,(born 1939) died February 2015, and I never made the time to meet him despite a few reminders along the way. Also published His books included Ancient Woodland (1980) and The History of the Countryside (1986). He was born in Bungay! and went to Norwich City College, but after that was based for his working life in Cambridge, moving between sciences, Natural Science, Physics, Department of Botony, Plant Breeding, Department of Geography and finally appointed Honorary Professor of Historical ecology in the Department of Plant Sciences and Honorary Director of the Cambridge Centre for Landscape and People in 2010.

Searching information I find all his note books from 1960  to 2009 have been scanned and housed at Cambridge:

Here’s one from Bradfield Woods, autumn time when he’s recording fungi, with many good drawings of the Cytocibe.

Back to the book!

How woods and trees work. Suffolk least wooded country, yet wood important through ages, compared to Scotland where trees unimportant – thin population – well covered.

Plantation / Wood / Parkland (wood pasture)

Native – ash, hazel, holly. Elms later. Sweet chestnut by Romans, Sycamore middle ages

Seed/ Sucker / Coppice / Pollard

Timber and Wood
Standards/Maidens are Timber
Underwood/ hazel coppice

Stageheaded – re-trenching
Oak Pollards in Epping of only 50 inches girl, which are at least 350 years old
Coppice even older. Self Renewing. eg ash 2 feet across 300 years. Oldest at Felsham Hall 18 feet across

Successions – in Epping forest a hundred yeas of abandoned polarding have resulted in oak giving way to beech


Pollen the indicator, and radio carbon
8000 BC Earliest Wild wood formed by Birch
7500 BC Pine followed by Hazel, Elm Oak and Alder

3000 BC Elm Decline – evidence of large scale interference. Increase in farm weeds eg stinging nettle. ‘To convert millions of acres of prehistoric forest into farmland is unqustinably the greatest achievement of our ancestors who had no power tools’


Separation of woods from each other, naming, defined boundaries, management by rotational felling, fencing, all formed this time.
Romans – wood used for structural materials, military buildings fuel making pottery and bricks.
Anglo Saxons – continued with timber framed buildings, uprights joined with wattle and daub. Invention of Groundstill effective at preventing timber rot in ground.
Names – esp destruction of woodland! Roding, Ridding, Redon, Reed – German Roden, to grub out woodland
Doomsday: 6 different ways of telling us about woods: Acres, length, Pannage eg wood for so many swine, wood for repairing houses.
Lincolnshire estimated 3.4% of land wooded. Huntingdonshire 7%

Ancient woods and wood pasture provide our last link with the Wildwood. Wildwood, in natural state with no felling, little grazing, been very different. Popular myth that Staverton still Wildwood, not true. Staverton a medieval deer park


By 1400 place of woodland in British society established. Function to produce Underwood (coppicing established 1086) and timber and food. Definite boundaries, often privately owned.

Timber for houses: Grundle House 330 trees, 10% Elm, half less than 9 inches diameter. Only 3 exeeded 18 inches, the usual size for a mature oak now.
Norwich Cathedral 680 oaks mostly around 15 inches.
Timber felled when needed. Carpenter would go into wood and source the type of tree needed, working while still green.

Coppice with standards
Felsham Hall Wood (Bradfield) – great diversity of wildlife

Changes to woodlands 1400-1700.
Expanding agriculture, grubing out of woods
Rise in population
Timber framed towns
Great Fire of London consumed much wood, for building and brick making
In Norfolk 3/4 of medieval woods gone by 1800

Coppice change
7 year rotation cycle had changed to 10 by 1600 and 15 by 1750



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