The Garden Guide

Book: Landscape Planning and Environmental Impact Design: from EIA to EID
Chapter: Chapter 8 Forest design, forestry and sylviculture

Differences between woods and forests

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Woodlands and forests 

Oliver Rackham explains the historic difference between a wood and a forest (Rackham, 1990:65). A wood was a place where trees grow. A forest was a place where deer could roam, subject to Forest Law. The word forest comes from the language of jurisprudence (Harrison 1992: 69) and a jurist, writing in 1592 explained that: A forest is a certain territory of woody grounds and fruitful pastures, privileged for wild beasts and fowls of forest, chase, and warren, to rest and abide there in the safe protection of the king... And therefore a forest doth chiefly consist of these four things: of vert and venison; of particular laws and proper officers. (Manwood 1717: 143) Britain's most famous forest dweller, Robin Hood, lived in Sherwood Forest and broke those forest laws which unduly favoured sheriffs, kings and nobles. Sherwood was not a wood at that time. Most of it was heathland [Fig 8.2]. Had his merry men dressed in green, it would have been all too easy for the Sheriff of Nottingham to round them up. Wood production is an aspect of forestry but forest management should never be reduced to wood production, rubber production, meat production or any other single type of production. Forestry should be a broadly based cultural activity conducted on an inter-generational timescale. Since mankind has the power to destroy forests, we must use laws to make and protect forests. This requires institutions with rights of control, or ownership, extending beyond the lifespan of individuals. In the middle ages, kings, great families and monasteries had this power. Today, it could belong to public companies, government agencies or non-profit organisations, providing only that their objectives are idealistic, functional and cultural. Forestry should be conceived as a multi-objective cultural endeavour: no mere tree cropping, timber farming or biomass production. Science helps foresters but scientific forestry is something of a contradiction: if a wood is managed on single-objective scientific principles, it will cease being a forest. In human terms, it is like treating women as reproductive systems. Forest clearance tends to accompany economic growth. It was rapid in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in North America during the nineteenth century, and in the developing countries during the twentieth century. When clearance goes too far, timber supplies become short. Europe began making good the shortfall with imports from North America and Russia. America, Europe and Japan now obtain timber from tropical rain forests [Fig 8.3]. When these forests have gone, there will be nowhere to turn. All countries will have to make better use of their own resources.