Oliver Rackham was recently bemoaning the UK's approach to woodland expansion being so dominated by tree planting, rather than natural regeneration. Not only are the resulting plantations artificial, but the whole process has encouraged the seedling trade across borders that is being blamed for ash dieback disease's introduction to Britain.
One of the main reasons new woods are planted rather than regrown naturally is because we have such unnaturally high levels of herbivores. Young trees can only get away if they're grown behind fences to protect them from teeth and the high costs of fencing and our current system of forestry grants has led to an urgency to get trees established in order to be able to claim grants quickly and recoup the outlay on fences.
I was fascinated to read recently (in The History of British Mammals by Derek Yalden) that Britain's wild mammals weigh, in total, only about 140,000 tonnes (humans weigh in at 3 million tonnes, and our domestic animals at a further 3.5 million tonnes). Not only is it incredible that we and our livestock outweigh the wild mammals 40 to 1, but of those wild mammals, half of the total weight is deer and rabbits. What chance, frankly, does a wild wood have?
So, is it time to think about returning some of our native carnivores, to keep the bunnies and deer under control, and reassert a bit of natural balance in our shattered and fragile ecosystems? This is the question I address in my new novel, Bear Witness, which will be published by Saraband on Earth Day, 22 April 2013. We're allowed a sneak preview of the cover - you saw it here first!