…you may find more than a likeminded gang of teddy bears enjoying a picnic, perhaps you’ll go on a thought engaging journey of self-discovery? But why is it that trees, woodlands and forests captivate us so? Could it be that ever since our human ancestors left the primordial forest that we have not lost our ancient connection with our ancestral home? Is it that trees are simply beautiful living sculptures, or that being in a forest perhaps forces one to look within oneself, a natural calming external influence having the power to cleanse and revive us? Maybe modern humans appreciate trees and forests more so these days because we have and continue to cut down trees at an alarming rate? Saying this the UK recently celebrated returning its’ woodland cover to 11%, not quite the 15% cover that greeted William the Conqueror and certainly nowhere near the current European average cover of 44%, but a start nonetheless.
So much has been written describing the natural state of the original “wildwood” and its’ effects on the human spirit; particularly by the transcendentalist writers in the 19th century with deep conservation viewpoints and romanticism often combining to form beautiful images and thoughtful reflections of nature and on oneself. One recent quote that captivates and prompts thought “the forests are the sanctuaries not only of wildlife, but also of the human spirit. And every tree is a compact between generations.”
There might not be any true Wildwood left in the UK these days but recently I travelled to Felin Bach woodland at Caeathro near Caernarfon to visit a small woodland project managed by the Girl Guides, the woodland is thought to be of ancient origin with many key indicator species which was as close as I would possibly get. The project is registered to improve the woodland through practical conservation work which is carried out by volunteers clearing invasive species and encouraging the regeneration of native species. The group were successful last year with an application to Environment Wales for a project grant to provide tools and equipment, improve access and clear the site of invasive species.
Last year the weather was so bad that the project was delayed slightly, paths were washed away and ice and snow added further difficulties; it was only with great efforts from the volunteers that the group has now completed their project work with amazing results. I could not have picked a better day to visit the woodland, bluebells and wood anemones in full bloom, the beech canopy opening to paint their own Sistine Chapel ceiling with bursts of light green, more Jackson Pollock than Michelangelo, a volunteer party carried out some last minute clearance work, there was a light breeze enough to stir the canopy to let the warm spring sun through to the woodland floor, just as we started our tour a pair of nesting buzzards swirled and called above us.
Our walk around the woods took us over the newly created paths which wound through thick banks of lapis lazuli bluebells heavy with scent, all native, drooping and trembling in the breeze, no doubt a most delightful way to spend an afternoon. It is all very late this year, perhaps four weeks behind where we should be for spring, it still feels cold when the sun is hidden, everything is growing double quick to try and catch up but it feels like we are yet to experience the start of summer in some parts of Wales.
The efforts of the volunteers have not escaped my eye and high praise is needed, the weather being so bad that the willow stored over wintering in the pond is only just going in after it was locked in by thick ice and snow. The project contact, Jill, is very pleased with the recent progress and the efforts of the volunteers, they have successfully recruited a new volunteer and recently held a busy work party to finish off their set project work, installing the willow structures and finishing off laying the access paths.
It is always pleasing to see the finished project come together but especially so this time given the peaceful setting and visual natural display of perhaps the most iconic British woodland flower.
Gandhi said “What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” In the case of this small woodland in Gwynedd it’s a case of restoring and renewing the senses, reminding us of the pleasure nature can bring to us all.