Forests and woods have always been central to the development of human technology and culture and our expansion as a species. Trees, Woods and Forests shows how for thousands of years, woodland has been managed by humans using ancient practices such as coppicing and pollarding trees for fuel and as fodder for animals. In the early Middle Ages royal forests were established across Europe as the hunting grounds of kings. In the seventeenth century European enthusiasts collected, named, catalogued and acclimatized trees from all over the world in arboreta, while in the eighteenth century the cult of the Picturesque transformed attitudes to trees in the landscape.
Trees can live to a great age, and some woods appear timeless and ancient, yet they are prone to sudden death through fire and storm. Human activity has led to the clearance and destruction of enormous areas of woodland and has also brought about the rapid spread across continents of potent diseases such as chestnut blight and ash dieback. In recent years, anxiety about the environmental impact of humans on trees has led to the establishment of national parks and reserves, as well as the practice of ‘rewilding’ landscapes.
This book, now available in paperback, draws on the most recent work of historians, archaeologists, geographers, botanists and foresters, and explores forests in Britain, the us, Greece, Italy and France. It is a comprehensive and fascinating overview of humankind’s interaction with these most valuable resources.
‘Charcoal, warships, fruit, houses, shade and sheer beauty – the manifold uses of trees have bound them inextricably to human culture. Geographer Charles Watkins’ interdisciplinary exploration of that long, convoluted relationship is a fact-packed dazzler. With Watkins we walk a Neolithic "road" of ash planks, delight in Pliny’s description of German forests as “untouched by the ages and coeval with the world”, celebrate the rise of scientific forestry and ponder the diseases and creeping urbanization now threatening the future of these stupendous organisms. Sumptuously illustrated.’ – Nature
‘Always brisk and informative, Watkins draws on a variety of disciplines, citing archaeologists, botanists, ecologists, geographers and historians. This is the wood seen from the outside, with an academic, or aesthetic detachment. And as the facts accumulate, the wooded landscape, and its representations in art and literature, take on unexpected dimensions . . . The “history of trees is constantly being rewritten”, Watkins concludes – and his own, generously illustrated, book is a welcome, lively and intriguing addition to this continuing line.’ – TLS
‘This splendid and highly readable book examines social and cultural aspects of trees, woods and forests throughout history and is strongly recommended to all interested in trees and historical landscapes . . . A book not to be missed.’ – Landscape History
‘Trees establishes – if it were in any doubt – Watkins as the bard of all things bosky. This is a beautifully written book, one that never gets lost in the detail, the narrative skipping along from one place and time to another with grace and ease. It is also richly illustrated, much of the credit for which must go to publishers Reaktion who continue to set the standard for sensibly priced accessible books with high production values . . . a splendid, timely book that will no doubt become a standard work of reference for all interested in the history of that which singularly unites all countries and all times – trees.’ – Agricultural History Review
‘This is a beautifully produced reference book for anybody with an interest in the cultural history of woods and trees in Britain. While forestry enthusiasts will find some familiar material here, almost everybody will find new, different and interesting insights that make this well worth adding to the book collection.’ – Quarterly Journal of Forestry
‘Written with clear enthusiasm, in accessible language, Watkins’ Trees, Woods and Forests will appeal to academics and non-academics alike, and its broad scope will attract readers from a variety of disciplines: history, geography, archaeology, ecology, even art history and literature. Anybody interested in the landscape will find this book informative, engaging – and, indeed, inspiring.’ – Time & Mind
‘Watkins wants to revivify our tree-sense – our awareness of the labor and the language woods inspire – so that we might cultivate a healthful arborary future . . . Today, as one thousand years ago, trees are in society – with one another, with us, and with the rest of the globe – and their lives are historical lives. We’d do well to reacquaint ourselves with them.’ – Make Literary Magazine
‘The book is a wood lover’s delight of ancient forest lore and custom, forestry and arboriculture and changing scientific, economic, aesthetic and cultural perceptions of trees . . . Grab yourself a haversack and boots and take a tour with Professor Watkins through forest glades, hoary old oaks, estate plantations and royal forests, during which you will meet a splendid array of woodland characters from an ancient Alpine iceman to a medieval hunting parson, from an acquisitive tree-loving metropolitan bishop and proud Victorian ducal estate improvers to plucky commoners fighting for their rights to graze, lop and pollard. The focus moves from the frozen woods of the lower Alps, the primeval forests of Northern Germany, the royal forests of Epping and Sherwood and through the great estate plantations and arboretums of the Victorian aristocracy towards the development of modern forestry, conservation, tourism and management.’ – Paul Elliott, Professor of Modern History, University of Derby
Charles Watkins is Professor of Rural Geography at the University of Nottingham.