In 2019 we all looked on aghast at the TV pictures showing Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames, its spires gone and roof slowly collapsing inwards. This beautiful, spiritual and historic treasure was under threat. So why then, asks writer Julian Hoffman, does society not have the same reaction when ancient and established woodlands are endangered?
It’s a valid question. Why aren’t ancient woodlands seen as truly irreplaceable, and green spaces allowed to be placed under deliberate threat from corporate development?
In his book “Irreplaceable: the fight to save our wild places”, Julian talks to local community groups and campaigners about their fight to prevent the loss of natural spaces they hold dear. The book has received glowing reviews and was a Highly Commended Finalist for the 2020 Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation. Julian was keen to hear about our campaign here in Loxwood.
Just as we all have personal stories about why the woods are so important to each of us, in writing his book, Julian heard from many others who had been in a similar position to ourselves, who also had a connection to their special natural places, and who were standing together to ensure they protect not only the environment but their links to these special places.
Some were successful in their campaigns, others not. But what we have in common with those campaigners is the recognition that woodlands like Pallinghurst Woods, Loxwood deserve preserving as much as an ancient monument like Notre Dame.
It’s not just that the woods provide a valuable habitat for so many wildlife species and plants. Or that we the need to conserve trees to reduce climate change. Or that the woods provide a tranquil space for all ages to unwind and exercise. It’s also the living history of our woodland that we feel needs to be maintained.
“What is often forgotten in discussions is that on the one hand you have an intact ecosystem unchanged for centuries, but in ancient woodland you also have a still living product of our links with the past,” says Julian. “These were once working woods, filled with craftsmen. They would have been used by coopers, coppice-cutters, tanners, bark-strippers, besom- and charcoal-makers. Its that interplay I find really interesting, those antique layers of culture, a living embodiment of past human existence and history. Each one is unique. They are a living repository of our history often forgotten.”
Julian believes woodlands are not only links to the past but are extraordinary spaces to be in. “They are often called deep dark woods and the subject of myths and legends throughout Europe. But what makes them so special is being surrounded by a vibrant and living environment; the way the light breaks through leaves, that you move through paths not knowing where you are going. They make you feel grounded, and it’s a wonderful experience.”
Photo credit of Julian Hoffman by Jon Webber
It’s an experience that many have come to rely on over the past year as the pandemic curtailed our freedoms and our daily walk took on a much greater significance. The trails around Pallinghurst Woods, Loxwood provided tranquility and calm when we needed it most and highlighted more than ever their value to the community.
Julian believes that the whole method of how we value woodland needs a rethink.
“One of the issues in trying to protect lots of woodland is trying to rethink our one method of value. The measurement is financial, but seriously misses the point of what other values are reflected in the world.
“Developers cannot replace the conditions of 400 years of history, that connection of people and place.” Those who use these woods couldn’t agree more.
Want to find out more about Julian or read his book Irreplaceable? – click here to visit the Wainright Prize or here to visit Julian’s site. Irreplaceable is available to buy online until local bookstores reopen.
Note: The areas of designated ancient woodland in Pallinghurst Woods, Loxwood are not currently slated for development. Based on pre-planning information shared, new building works to site a waste recycling plant would be situated close to them and increased HGV traffic would run through areas of them 5 days a week.