Throughout human history our relationship with trees, woods and forests has remained central to the development of our technology, culture and expansion as a species. In this engaging book, Charles Watkins examines and challenges our historical and modern attitudes to wooded environments and our continuing anxiety about humanity's impact on these natural realms.
Our understanding of the history of trees and woodlands has been transformed in recent years. Established ideas, such as the spread of continuous dense forests across the whole of Europe after the Ice Age, have been questioned, if not overturned, by archaeological and historical research. While the continued clearance of tropical forests is a cause for alarm, concern over woodland loss in Europe, where the area of land covered by trees has increased substantially in the last century, is perhaps less well founded. Recent research shows that the interactions between humans and trees and woods have varied dramatically through time and from place to place. The great variety of values and meanings different human societies have and ascribe to trees and forests are unpicked and compared in Trees, Woods and Forests, which provides a rich source of material to analyse the environment that is such a key to our survival.
Drawing on the most recent work of historians, ecologist-geographers, botanists and forestry professionals, and using mainly the example of Britain but also forests in the U.S., Greece, Italy and France, Trees, Woods and Forests provides a comprehensive interdisciplinary overview of humankind's interaction with these often abused yet most valuable resources.
Charles Watkins is professor of rural geography at the University of Nottingham, UK. He is coauthor of "Uvedale Price 1747 1829: Decoding the Picturesque" and "The British Arboretum: Science, Trees and Culture in the Nineteenth Century." "
'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
"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
"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