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From one of our greatest science writers, this biography of a beech-and-bluebell wood through diverse moods and changing seasons combines stunning natural history with the ancient history of the countryside to tell the full story of the British landscape.
'The woods are the great beauty of this country… A fine forest-like beech wood far more beautiful than anything else which we have seen in its vicinity' is how John Stuart Mill described a small patch of beech-and bluebell woodland, buried deeply in the Chiltern Hills and now owned by Richard Fortey. Drawing upon a lifetime of scientific expertise and abiding love of nature, Fortey uses his small wood to tell a wider story of the ever-changing British landscape, human influence on the countryside over many centuries and the vital interactions between flora, fauna and fungi.
The trees provide a majestic stage for woodland animals and plants to reveal their own stories. Fortey presents his wood as an interwoven collection of different habitats rich in species. His attention ranges from the beech and cherry trees that dominate the wood to the flints underfoot; the red kites and woodpeckers that soar overhead; the lichens, mosses and liverworts decorating the branches as well as the myriad species of spiders, moths, beetles and crane-flies. The 300 species of fungi identified in the wood capture his attention as much as familiar deer, shrews and dormice.
Fortey is a naturalist who believes that all organisms are as interesting as human beings – and certainly more important than the observer. So The Wood for the Trees is a close examination of nature and human history. He proves that poetic writing is compatible with scientific precision. The Wood for the Trees is filled with details of living animals and plants, charting the passage of the seasons, visits by fellow enthusiasts; the play of light between branches; the influence of geology; and how woodland influences history, architecture and industry. On every page he shows how an intimate study of one small wood can reveal so much about the natural world and demonstrates his relish for the incomparable pleasures of discovery.
Richard Fortey retired from his position as senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in 2006. He is the author of several books, including Fossils: The Key to the Past, The Hidden Landscape which won The Natural World Book of the Year in 1993, Life: An Unauthorised Biography', Trilobite!, The Earth: An Intimate History, Dry Store Room No. 1 and Survivors. He was President of the Geological Society of London for its bicentennial year of 2007, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society.
"Fortey's forte is that he gets down and dirty in this diary of his beech wood. If you go down to the woods today, take Fortey with you"
– John Lewis-Stempel, Books of the Year, The Times
"This marvellous book documents a year in the life of his patch – and he chronicles its changing moods superbly [...] Fortey's prose is a joy [...] his sharp eye and ceaselessly inquiring mind are an inspiration"
– Daily Mail
"His remarkable scientific knowledge, intense curiosity and love of nature mean entries erupt with the same richness and variety as the woods they describe [...] Fortey's enthusiasm for his new wonderland is infectious and illuminating [...] . deep and interesting"
– BBC Wildlife magazine
"Captivating [...] what he shows in this remarkable book, always precise, often lyrical [...] is just how much can be learned by sinking into one particular place"
– Evening Standard
"An exceptionally detailed record [...] a deep understanding of the natural history that it shapes"
– Nature magazine
"Fortey's fascinating and thorough book [...] illuminates its flora and fauna, history and ecology with indisputable expertise"
– Financial Times
"Fortey is never dull [...] The Wood For the Trees yields plenty of fascinating nuggets [...] a joyous celebration of what we now call biodiversity – the sheer creative exuberance, endless variety and inventiveness of nature, evident in four acres of Chiltern woodland [...] The Wood For the Trees is a handsome volume copiously illustrated, well indexed and packed with facts. It would sit well on any woodland lover's bookshelf"
– Literary Review
"The volume of flora and fauna collected and identified by Fortey and his expert friends is impressive [...] like the truffles that he unearths at the foot of a beech tree, there are good things to be found in this book"
– The Times