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Britain's Next Megaproject: A Coast-To-Coast Forest (citylab.com)
275 points by edward 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 160 comments

It's fun to consider that the British Isles (and indeed all of Europe) was once a vast forest. I visited Dartmoor a few years ago, and the moors have such a feeling of antiquity about them it's easy to forget that they, too, were once forested, though they've been denuded since the Neolithic era.

It's less fun to consider that most of the Eastern half of what is now the United States was also a vast forest, until European settlers arrived and clear-cut it, first for agriculture and then for industry.

Edit: Yes, the indigenous peoples also cut down trees for agricultural purposes, and even practiced forestry-by-fire. They did so at a radically different scale, however, and it wasn't the loggers' wanton "cut it down and move on to the next patch".

To wit: "Timber production soared from one billion board feet in 1840 to 46 billion board feet in 1904... By 1880, lumber had overtaken agriculture as the most important driver of deforestation. By 1920, more than two-thirds of American forests had been leveled at least once, including the vast majority of eastern forests. Timber companies simply harvested the forest and moved on, from the Great Lakes to the South and across the West, leaving behind stumps, fire prone slash and dead or dying lumber towns. Finally, they were stopped by the Pacific Ocean and forced to begin replanting practices." [1]

Contrast that with, e.g., "the Cahokia people in Illinois (800-700 BP) cut one million trees to house 25,000 people. They also surrounded the village with a two-mile-long stockade composed of 15,000 oak and hickory logs 21 feet tall. Add all the trees they cut for fuel, and it wasn’t long before the Cahokia had leveled the forest within nine miles of their village." [ibid]

There is no reasonable comparison between the strictly localized activities of tribal peoples and industrial logging.

[1] https://www.americanforests.org/magazine/article/north-ameri...

“Today, 80 percent of New England is covered by forest or thick woods. That is a far cry from the mere 30 to 40 percent that remained forested in most parts of the region in the mid-1800s, after early waves of settlers got done with their vast logging, farming, and leveling operations.“

Source: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/08/31/new-england-see...

I guess it's anecdata, but near me within 10 miles of downtown Boston there is a substantial area of forested park land which used to be farms. You can tell it was farm land by the remnants of the stone walls, which themselves only became prominent somewhere around the Revolution when people had cut down so many trees there wasn't enough for building fences entirely from wood. Source: my recollection of reading https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1581571658

Can only hope Brazil, India and Indonesia will follow in the replanting and reforestation after they're done with their denuding their tropical forests.

People need to learn from what happened in Haiti. They have no trees to protect the soil for farming and from hurricanes. They over fished their coastal waters to the point they are dead now. Neither do they have access to fish for food nor one the biggest economic drivers in the Caribbean, diving reefs, which bring in billions in tourism dollars.

It is so friggen' obvious what happens when we don't project the environment, I can't figure out why people are so naive.

I'm guessing it would never happen but perhaps the most viable move would be for them to merge with the Dominican Republic --not that they are the best government around, but they cannot be worse than Port-au-Prince with regard to governance.

Or they need to learn how to attract investment rather than feel-good NGOs who exacerbate the issue of corruption and dependence on foreign aid.

It's also becoming fricking obvious what happens when we allow environmentalism to make us deeply skeptical towards anything involving the physical manipulation of objects in the real world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kxw-JDSvKTg

Our economy is stagnating, and as our growth stagnates, politics becomes a zero sum game. Our radical environmentalism is creating a world that no longer accepts change in the world outside of bits.

There is nowhere in the world where "radical environmentalism", whatever that may actually mean, is practised on any scale.

If you're concerned about economic growth you would be better looking at inequality. Of course Peter Thiel is not going to mention that.

"Rampant Environmentalism" is by far the better problem to have. You can tune down from that, what we now have is a road to extinction. Also, its noteworthy that rampant exploitation begats radical environmentalism, just like uncontrolled libertarian capitalism begats marxism. Get rid of the one, and the reason for the other goes away too.

I wonder how much of the biodiversity would return with a reforestation project. I assume that many (most?) species wouldn't survive until the forest is back.

I'm sure I remember reading a study of jungle areas which were cut down by native civilizations more than 1000 years ago and which have regrown since - and even a millenium wasn't enough to restore it to original condition.

I think that as long as species don't become (critically) endangered, many are able to recover. But I think it depends on the species. For some the sustainable minimum is pretty high (for example the passenger pigeon), but for others like wolves, they bounce back pretty quickly even when starting with low numbers. Some fish are the same. A few European forests have bounced back pretty well, after having been cut down over the centuries. Chernobyl is another example of an ecosystem recovering -as well as the mt. St. Helens devastation area.

In some situations some may bounce back but their predators not, creating wild imbalances. As a nearby example, red deer, roe deer and wild boar populations grow uncontrolled and they thoroughly destroy everything that's below 1.5-2m, provoking cascading ecosystem effects that endangers some local forests.

Poachers kill protected predators such as L. Lynx purely out of pride†, and as soon as wolves come anywhere near possibly even remotely like rumoured to be coming around people go up in arms OMG-please-people-think-of-the-children-and-sheep-we-have-to-obliterate-the-thing-out-of-existence.

† Lynx can kill comparatively sizeable prey (up to 5x their weight!), so they typically leave the carcass in place and come back some days later, so all the poachers have to do is spot a carcass in the woods, stay downwind, gun down the poor unsuspecting fella from a distance, and brag about their awsum top-of-the-food-chain I'm-a-super-predator-killing-a-definitely-terrifying-predator†† leet skillz.

†† Seriously, it's a beautiful, easily frightened cat that is a real ninja and scared as hell of humans. Zero threat, and zero pride to be taken in mowing down a sitting duck.

Currently in Europe, regarding the wolves, it's 'protect-the-wolves-don't-care-about-sheep'. But it allow to limit the over-population of certain animals in certain area (mostly the mountains).

I presume you talk about Eastern/Central Europe? That's certainly not the case for Western Europe.

Wolves are legally considered pest in France. Hunting being a regulated activity, the allowed kills have been raised to 40/y this very year. Overall kills are estimated to be well over a hundred.

Are you sure about wolves considered pest in France? I haven't found if that's the case.

Still thank you for your answer, I didn't know about the quotas.

This is a decision that has to be made locally (not state-wide) by députés and it has been taken at various points in time in some areas. Basically when in effect it says that if wolves are threatening livestock, non-hunters are allowed to perform kills. At various point in times there also have been allowance to use wartime-class sniping weapons to hunt at night. Allowed kill ratios have been known to reach 0.75 of the actual wolf population in some areas too. Paranoia is through the roof in France, while you cross the nearby border and Italy seems able to cope with 10 times the wolf population just fine.

Imo, the deforestation in India is not that bad compared to industrial timber logging in developed economies. Most of the deforestation is due to population expansion happened in the last century and now that population growth is getting stabilised, deforestation also would stall I hope.. but it's a difficult task to regrow forests, as the place is genuinely occupied for housing or have been cultivated for centuries..

Note also that at least New Hampshire has far more tree cover now than it ever did before the deforestation. But we have lost ~100% of our old-growth trees.

The new trees will become old growth in good time. Japan was heavily deforested 300 years ago too and much of that has recovered.

Yeah, hopefully. The trouble at the moment is an invasive species which nibbles the tips of all the pine trees, making them grow slowly and generally crappy looking. Also a big conservation area in my hometown sold logging rights. Sure it's "responsible sustainable" logging but it still scared off all the wildlife! I'd never heard that place be dead silent before. It's very depressing.

> Edit: Yes, the indigenous peoples also cut down trees for agricultural purposes, and even practiced forestry-by-fire. They did so at a radically different scale, however

If you don't know how Australia and Scotland went from heavily forested to... not, I have bad news about indigenous peoples.

To be fair, the tribal peoples didn't have the capacity to log on an industrial scale.

It's not like they abstained from doing it on moral grounds or based on superior wisdom.

On the contrary, many indigenous peoples were and are acutely aware how much their well-being depended living within the carrying capacity of their environment.

Many also weren't, of course, but it's silly to make a blanket proclamation that because they were primitive, they were also stupid.

I was ready to be misinterpreted, but not as wildly as your last sentence.

Sure, people are pretty much the same across eras. But cultures vary greatly, and that's a big distinction.

A lifestyle that does not easily accommodate mass deforestation has a lot of benefits, intentional or otherwise. I'm not arguing that we should all strive to be hunter-gatherers, but there are a lot of ways modern life could go really wrong in the next thousand years and it would be good to be mindful of those pitfalls.

I'm afriad we've swung WAY too far in the other direction. Almost all forms of environmental manipulation is now shunned, only manipulation in the world of bits is okay. It's slowly us down to a tremendous degree. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kxw-JDSvKTg

It's the second time you've linked to this in this thread. Are you affiliated?

No, just passionate about this issue. Sorry if that came off as spamming -- wasn't my intent beyond spreading its message.

Indians were clearing large swaths of forest too...ever hear of slash and burn?

Why is it less fun? At least on The east coast forests are making a comeback. The Moors are still as bald as they have been for 3000 years

Man, reading those Asterix comics about Gaul, and the illustrations, I wish I could live in a place like that. I've been in such (deciduous as well as evergreen) forests before, but not lived in them for a long time.

I grew up in a city southern Appalachia. Only later on when I moved to California did I realize we basically lived in a forest, even in the city. I really miss it, especially the thick mass of sounds... cicadas, birds, frogs. If you stop to listen, you realize there’s just this constant background noise. The only downside is trees fall on your house.

Yeah, when I fly back to NC it feels like I'm landing in Endor vs California.

I also sleep much better despite the insect noise than here in the city. Will take cicadas and crickets over helicopters, fire engines, etc. any day.

If the spiders and creepy crawlies aren't too big sign me up. London is wall to wall grey and a touch bleak.

Where I'm from (Northern Ireland) is historically forest, but exploitation over the last 1000 years has turned it bare and mostly into agricultural land.

It's weird - Ireland is gorgeous, but at the same time when I see the rolling fields and grasslandsit makes me sad to think of the forest that used to be.

There's a tiny patch of jaw-droppingly beautiful forest on the Beara Peninsula. The last time I was there I saw sheep had gotten loose and were grazing inside it. If that continues it will be the death of it :-(.

That depends where in London you live. Hampstead Heath and Richmonds have very green areas (and are comparably easy to commute from). Western parts of the city also feel very green. Just the East is indeed very grey but that's because it was an industrial area until very recently.

And e.g. South Croydon (Purley, Kenley, Riddlesdown) or parts of Bromley.

There are large parts of the arc from South East London to South West London that have large areas with tree lined roads and woodland areas everywhere.

Interesting you mention that; I am glad there are parts of the US that are like that. I grew up in India, and even the cities have so much non-human life that I miss it incredibly in California, where I am now.

Seattle metro area is also like that. Seattle proper, not so much; but if you stand in any of the taller buildings in Redmond (e.g. Microsoft campus buildings) and look around from the top floor, you already mostly just see treetops. I live a bit further away in the foothills of the Cascade mountains - but still part of the same metro area if you go by typical commute - and we're in an outright forest; I have a trail cam in my backyard, and routinely get deer and elk and coyotes, and occasionally bears.

Ha, yes. Experienced that. In some tropical forests there can be an incredible level of noise from cicadas and other creatures, at some times of the day.

This planned forest, along with all of Scandinavia and parts of northern Europe, were under solid ice about 18,000 years ago[1].


And connected to Europe too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doggerland

While true, this does not mean a forest would be the natural state of the area. Its more likely it would be part of the mammoth steppe if enough megaherbivores would be around. The vast forest only came later when those were all gone.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if we got rid of upland sheep farming.

Then you could still have intense forestry with foreign species like in Ireland.

I'd like to encourage you to take a look at the Fukushima Meltdown area now, year+ later, because the forest reclaims what man tries to tame.

I'd like to do so. Do you have any suggested tour route that is interesting safe and legal?

Were the moors deforested by humans for agricultural purposes? It doesn't seem like much is grown there.

Yes, mostly cleared with fire around the start of the Bronze Age for crop farming and livestock grazing. The soil's too acidic now to be good for much except looking scenic.

Hipster Britain: we were Brazil before it was mainstream.

Can the acidity be reduced, maybe by some putting some alkaline additives in it? Had not come across this issue before (not an expert, just interested). Is it not technically feasible, or would it cost too much?

Quite a few evergreen species are good at living in and reducing acidity over time (40-100 year timeframe).

Replanting some evergreen trees is a way to help the forest kickstart recovery on old strip mine wreckage.

Good to know, thanks.

In Denmark, after a war where the southern part of Jutland was lost, a campaign started to farm the heath.

There was a hard layer half a meter or so beneath the top soil


so with deep plow or in many cases back-breaking work, the land was made fertile again. And yes, pulverized chalk is one of the methods used to raise the pH.

It's not high-quality farming land, often too much sand and too little peat.

Nowadays the little heath left in Denmark is usually protected. It'll usually turn to forest if left alone with no grazing.

What has made it acidic?

Not a field I know anything about, but you might try https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/57963.pdf page 58

I would guess the organic matter from thousands of years of growth. Normally organic matter rich soil suits ericaceous (acid loving) plants.

> ericaceous (acid loving) plants

Not to be confused with erinaceous (pertaining to hedgehogs) plants.

Cacti, perhaps? English vocabulary can be weird.

Don't know actual chemistry facts (rusty) but would not be surprised if it was the ash that did.

Ash is alkaline, so it would make the ground more basic rather than more acidic.

See http://www.dartmoor.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/81447... for some history of farming on Dartmoor and https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/regional-climates/sw for climate.

tldr - forest was cleared by about 2000-1500BC primarily for grazing although some evidence of cereal being grown. However, by 1000-1BC the climate deteriorated and spread of peat led to abandonment of higher moor.

Climatic improvement in early medieval times led to re-occupation, but by mid-1300's the population had moved again to better land. Black Death reduced Devon's population by 2/3 and meant that if you survived you went and farmed better land.

Farming is still hard on Dartmoor, driven by soil and weather. For example Princetown is 23Km and 400 metres away from Plymouth, but rainfall doubles from about 1000mm to 2000mm per annum.

Interesting, that article quotes the Exmoor NP authority "Swaling maintains the character of the landscape". I've asked perhaps 10 Brits, mostly walkers and climbers who value national parks, what they think about reforesting. I'd estimate the response as 50/50 in favour, with those not in favour often using very similar phrases to "character of the landscape."

It's a mix of using wood for building materials, and for fuel, and clearing land for agriculture.


Considering they used to be classified as ‘waste’ land I strongly suspect it was deforested for fuel.

The estates that owned them called them waste as nothing would grow there. Generally they are used for very low density livestock farming and most is common land.

My understanding is that much of Europe was deforested during the Bronze and Iron ages, mostly for fuel to smelt ores. Hopefully someone who knows more can comment?

It stings to know that in the US, state-level initiatives like this are exceedingly rare, and national ones are (and will continue to be) non-existent. Even most local efforts like this are met with resistance, usually from NIMBYs that have no argument aside from that they don't like it. Americans have a very hard time seeing beyond their property boundaries.

As a New Zealander currently living in the UK, the contrast in conservation approaches is stark.

I've come to the conclusion that New Zealand is beautiful in large part because a) it has a low population density and b) it hasn't had a sufficiently high population density for long enough to ruin it. Not so much because of broad public support for conservation. Luckily, I think some good basic protections exist (national parks), and are mostly respected.

In the UK, there's so little wilderness remaining that it commands a considerable respect, and considerable conservation effort and public support. Noticeably more so, I believe, than I witnessed in NZ.

NZ has some of the worlds oldest national parks, marine reserves, etc. While the state of the rivers is particularly bad because of intensive farming there has been a concerted effort to improve that, and in fact the state of the rivers was probably the biggest political issue in the last election with all political parties promising to clean them.

NZ is not perfect, and the relatively good state of the environment is definitely helped by the fact that population density is low, espeacialy in the bottom 2/3rds of the country, but there is a strong desire to improve the situation by most, even most farmers are committed to improving the waterways and providing more green area.

Indeed, I believe "National Park" in the centre of the North Island was the world's second national park. And Goat Island Marine Reserve was the world's first no-take-zone. The story I've heard of the latter is that we (as a society, globally) didn't even know the scope of the recovery that was possible before Goat Island. And the mere existence of DOC is promising.

And yes, I have relatively (to the previous government) high conservation hopes for the new government. Fingers crossed. (I should give some credit for the Kermadec Islands marine reserve here!)

Just to clarify though, my comment was about public sentiment. My anecdotal experience is that Brits are more concerned about conservation than New Zealanders. Which I was quite surprised to discover. And largely I wanted to commiserate with the parent of my comment.

Like anything your perception is skewed by the circle that you live in. Everyone that I know is very interested in conservation. My family votes national and are farmers and put a lot of effort into managing their stock and planting around their waterways. My friends are all urban and vote green or labor, they also put in a lot of effort into the environment.

Everyone I know recycles, uses eco and environmentally friendly products where they can, etc. People who I know who fish always fish within the allowed limits and quotas. My grandmother told me over Christmas that she was never going to use another plastic bag.

So, in my opinion, the country is very eco minded, but that sample is skewed because it's only my friends and family. I did meet someone at a party a few years ago who said she just threw her rubbish over the fence onto a council reserve because she was too busy and lived a too important life to bother with dealing with it. There are also people who regularly get caught taking too much paua, or catching underage fish, etc. So obviously they're out there, how prevalent people with disregard to the environment are I don't know, as I said I live in my own bubble.

It could be that people in the UK are more environmentally minded than here, but that wasn't my experience when living there. It could be that they're not but the people that you've met in both countries have simply given that impression.

Someone has probably done a study somewhere.

Indeed, we're missing some data. Certainly I'm pretty appreciative of the Tidy Kiwi campaign, and how NZ seems to have embraced that. On a personal scale I think NZ is great about conservation and cleanliness, perhaps better than anywhere I've been. But it feels like conservation is somewhat missing from the national dialogue. And, thinking a little more about it, time might be an important factor here. I've been living outside NZ for a little over four years, and during that time clean rivers has become a central political issue. So perhaps I'm plain wrong now!

Apparently fourth in the world: http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/cen...

(First was Yellowstone and second was Royal National Park in Sydney, don't know about the third).

The Bogd Khan Uul National Park in Mongolia was established in 1778, nearly 100 years before Yellowstone (1872). The fourth and fifth oldest are Banff National Park (1885) and Yoho National Park (1886) in Canada, making Tongariro (1887) the 6th oldest in the world.

> conceited effort

I think you probably meant concerted effort. e.g. That there has been a combined community effort where everyone works together.

Conceited effort means an extremely self-interested effort, which is a plausible meaning, but I suspect it is not what you meant.

Yeah, bloody auto correct. Thanks.

Whilst it's true there's not much of what you'd call 'wilderness' in the UK - it's a small island after all where you are never more than 70 miles from the sea, surprisingly only 1% of the UK is built on and only 7% is considered an urban area.

Woodlands currently occupy 12.6% of the UK land area which is almost double the urban area.

Yes, I've found that for me 'wilderness' was initially a tricky term to use in the UK.

As an explanation for anyone else reading: conservation in NZ and the UK are very different. In many areas of the UK, conservation consists partly of maintaining farming practices in the manner they've been practised in these places for hundreds (sometimes tens of hundreds) of years. Which, for a New Zealander, is totally bizarre. In New Zealand, there are gigantic swathes of somewhat-pristine forest (missing mostly birds, and some insects) we can look to as a model for conservation. Farmland and conservation are pretty much mutually exclusive.

So, in the UK you might use the term wilderness for a large, very lightly farmed, very lightly populated area. Where in NZ you mightn't use the term wilderness until you'd walked for half a day from civilisation.

Yeah, when I lived in the UK I was surprised by how much open space there was.

The cities and towns are better designed than those of new world countries which sprawl.

The old—even ancient—cities of Europe avoided the mistake of suburban building and have a naturally high-density shape from having been built before the automobile.

It's not visible in the center of cities, but an urban sprawl has developed on the periphery of cities. Such sprawls are similar to those existing in the US (car mandatory, few or no services, little public transportation).

the UK has the green belt system to try to prevent this happening


if anything it's too successful

As an aside (with apologies for sloppy definitions), I understand that the UK is about 0.1% densely built on (more than 80% of ground covered by artifical surface), and about 5.5% urban.

I understand this is much, much less than people typically think, which isn't just an interesting fact; people base their opinions on development on the unchecked feeling that the UK is 50% concrete.

Visit the Highlands of Scotland and you'll definitely find wilderness. The Cape Wrath trail is probably the best indicator. Also places like Beinn Eighe, where the remains of a crashed Lancaster bomber from 1951 are still scattered about as it is was too remote to retrieve them at the time. In 2008 a climber fell during an avalanche only to have his fall broken by a propeller.

One thing to keep in mind about national parks and preserves is that in many cases, impetus for creating them was colonialist in nature - they were intended to displace and 'civilize' native populations, by denying them use of their traditional lands and lifestyles.

[1] http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32487-the-colonial-ori...

[2] http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/the-shady-past-of-parks-...

That's good to know. I wouldn't rule out that behaviour in NZ's past. But I don't know anything about it. I believe NZ's first national park was gifted by the indigenous people to the Crown, on the proviso that it would be protected.

We're not exactly past this, sadly: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chagos_Marine_Protected_Area#W...

Europeans have drastically altered the landscape of NZ. This was starkly shown to me as a tourist when our flight from Aus. gave us a high-level view of Egmont park around Mt. Taranaki. From the air, it looks just like the map[1]. The circular area of the park is dark green, the sheep lands outside are pale green. Early in the 20th century they used large mechanized "brush cutters" to clear the native scrub to make grazing lands.

[1] https://goo.gl/maps/Df2sSMewsw42

This seems very appropriate as a state-level issue. There are many states larger than England. New York State, for example, is larger. Why should it be federal? Besides, federal agencies already directly control enormous tracts of land in the west. State-level control over land use is a good thing.

That wasn't always true. During the New Deal, the U.S. built the Great Plains Shelterbelt:


Related to that, I recently found out about the Civilian Conservation Corps[1], which I thought was very cool. TL; DR during great depression US gov employed people on conservation projects for ~550USD in 2015 dollars per month.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_Conservation_Corps

There were many other similar programs. If you are interested, an excellent single-volume, highly regarded history is William Leuchtenburg's Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal 1932-1940. It's not a new book, but last I checked there was nothing better:


Reading histories can really change perspectives. Reading it I discovered that much of the rhetoric in the 1930s was similar to today: For example, from the right that regulation would crush business and welfare programs were unaffordable, etc. A big difference was that from the left, Roosevelt responded aggressively and communicated persuasively, while today's Democrats do neither - consider Obama, for example. (Whatever you think of the issues and politicians, I think that's a non-partisan factual observation.)

Did it work well? Wikipedia doesn't explicitly say

The federal government already owns a quarter of the land in America. In Nevada, the seventh-largest state, it owns almost 90% of the land.

[1] https://www.reviewjournal.com/news/heres-how-land-is-used-by...

What sort of project would you like to see in the US?

Many national forests are larger than this project, we haven't managed to deforest the country (they have been logged and continue to be logged, but modern extraction is not especially aggressive(NIMBYs), and absent fires logging isn't all bad).

US forest area has changed negligibly since 1900: https://www.thoughtco.com/us-forest-facts-on-forestland-1343... .

Then we also have states where over 50% of the land area is national parks.

But those are often desert. And desertification could (in part) be caused by overly protecting the area (e.g. not allowing cattle).

Good video to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI

I don't trust the motives here, but in Britain it is really hard to find a place where you can go and be alone with a campfire in woodland. 'Wild camping' is usually only an option in the high mountains where there is CROW land. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Countryside_and_Rights_of_Wa...

In fact, it's very easy in Scotland. I spent two weeks doing so a couple of summers back. Rules are roughly: Leave no trace. Don't be visible from the road or a settlement. Don't stay more than one night in one place. Don't camp in large groups. I found there was flexibility on visibility and duration, even forest rangers weren't bothered. But we didn't push the limits far, and, being conservation enthusiasts, we were incredibly careful about leaving as little evidence of our stay as possible.

Often lots of discarded, felled, cut wood in Forestry Commission forests. Find a forest here: http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/.

I’ve done it in the New Forest and Exmoor. You just have to be prepared to break rules.

In a way we’re much better off than countries like Brazil which have immense natural forests in good condition. There the general public has very restricted visiting rights — sometimes just to a waterfall and picnic area — the rest is for permitted researchers only. Add to that the fact that in the tropics the disturbed vegetation around dwellings is less biologically interesting than comparable areas in Europe.

And finally, in the UK we have footpath access, whereas Americans are only allowed into their natural landscape if it is a state/federal park, or if they own it.

I was going to ask this. Used to do wild camp now and then in Finland, and am missing it. Are there any woodlands in the south of UK that allow this?

Edit: found this - https://nearlywildcamping.org/

Scotland has more liberal laws in this regard as I understand it.

We have the "Right to Roam" here in Scotland which means you can go pretty much anywhere you want by foot or on a bike and camp pretty much anywhere as long as you are sensible.

No lack of wild places in Scotland, thankfully (although more trees would be nice!).

That's great, are people generally respectful of the situation?

Here the central and local governments have been slowly restricting the rights of people to camp. This is because the Freedom Campers, as they're called, generally don't respect the places that they're staying - destroying the environment and leaving rubbish and human waste behind.

Sometimes when people go to another country they don't behave like guests should and it's the sad case of a few ruining it for everyone else.

Mostly yes - I believe there have been some problems on the shores on Loch Lomond, but that's a major tourist area and close to Glasgow so I think they've restricted some aspects of camping there. But that's a tiny part of the country.

Scotland also has a fantastic network of "bothies" which are houses in wildnerness areas that are free for anyone to stay in as long as you act sensibly, which most people do:


Similar idea to the hut network that the NZ Department of Conservation maintains:


The sad thing is they're looking to reduce them because some of them are quite old and the cost of maintenance is high and 1,000 odd buildings which are in very remote locations are no doubt a PITA to manage.

But people are constantly getting caught in the wilderness by a sudden change of weather and the hut network saves lives.

The huts are seriously fantastic. For any visitors to NZ who have any interest in hiking, buy a doc hut pass ($90 when I last bought one some years ago) and stay in most of these huts at no additional cost.

Some of the abandoned ones have been adopted. You might appreciate this: http://remotehuts.co.nz/

As far as I can tell doc seems to be engaging in more commercial activity, buying remote properties that are cheap (because they're remote), and renting them out Airbnb-style. My guess is they may actually make money from this activity. And they may need to because of years of reduction in government funding, in real terms. You may know more about this than I do.

Some of them are probably border line historic, with grafiti and messages dating back to the early 20th centuary. The visitor books in them are often a great read if stuck inside in bad weather.

Freedom camping in New Zealand is different though. That's just parking up on the side of the road and shitting in the gutter.

You can still camp anywhere on DOC land, which is about 30% of New Zealand.

Where's "here"?

Aotearoa New Zealand

True, but sadly there are still some land owners in Scotland who forget their place and the laws:



Dartmoor is a non-scottish option? Done it before in a camper... got woken up by a pony rubbing itself on the van which was someewhat unsettling. Nice to be able to just park up and camp, though... I've done it in the Lake District as well, but obviously not without the risk of being moved on.

The M62 across Saddleworth Moor is already breathtakingly beautiful, in its sparse way. I realise those hills were forrested long ago but I’d be sad to lose the views from up there.

Otherwise, I love the idea of returning even just this small corridor to the forest it once was.

Interesting, though, to see The National Forest mentioned. It is odd to drive down the A38 and see the road signs welcoming you to the forest but no actual trees.

The M62 is a motorway. It is ugly.

Whatever you think of the motorway itself, once you're on it you get some pretty nice views from it up on the moors.

Yep, looks like they plan to plant trees in the Dales too WTF. I can't see *why& they're doing it. (I'm naturally suspicious of anything a Tory govt would do something which, on the surface, seems pretty cool.)

The article hints at the driving force behind this vanity project:

> Current threats are numerous, including the endangering of 35 ancient forest tracts destined to be damaged by the construction of England’s new high-speed rail link, because tunneling or diversion has been deemed too expensive and inconvenient. Already, some critics are protesting that the Northern Forest project is a fig leaf—albeit a vast one—intended to mask neglect and abuse of woodlands elsewhere

You can just as easily paint this in a pragmatic light, rather than a sinister one. "We're going to clear some forest here where it's in our way, and to compensate, we're going to plant some additional forests elsewhere where they're more convenient" is very different from "we're going to spin up a forest-planting project so nobody notices we're cutting down trees elsewhere."

I'm curious if the new forest is actually a compensation that factors into the "diverting the railway is too expensive" math. Is reforesting actually part of the railway project's budget, or is it an externalized cost like environmental issues really are?

And even if it is included in their budget, are they accurately valuing an old-growth forest, or treating an acre of old-growth forest as equivalent to an acre of reforested area? I suspect if they put an accurate value on their old-growth forests and the ecosystems they support, then diverting the railway would look like the less expesive option.

If you consider it a "vanity project", you're done looking for a "driving force": a vanity project is, by definition, driven by a vain attempt to elevate one's attractiveness.

It also seems that your logic would allow attacking any project that is generally perceived positively: "Yes, they are doing something good. But they're motivated by the sinister motive to be liked, and therefore the project is bad".

That, quite obviously, follows the hollow logic of "virtue signalling", a cynical attempt to discount everyone publicly lobbying for something they perceive as a moral good, not by engaging with their argument, but by implicitly accepting it and going for the ad hominem instead.

Destroying some wild land while restoring other wild land is better than just destroying wild land, full stop.

I don't know that I'd call it a vanity project. There are a ton of tangible benefits.

Yes, there are. I had read this book about the ecology of forests and seas as a kid, thought it was really good:


Author: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marston_Bates

It went into a lot of really interesting detail about symbiosis between different species and how many life forms and aspects of nature are interrelated and interdependent.

It would be useful to quantify the scale of the 35 sites for cutting so we know if this is a fig leaf or compensation or if its scale is completely different.

Trees shouldn't be planted on this scale. The land should be left idle, and nature will take its course, sprouting species that thrive in local conditions, i.e. the soil type and microclimate.

They might be planting "local, mainly broadleaf tree species", but the principle is still wrong. Why attempt to second guess what will work, when nature will do it better than we ever possibly could, saving a lot of labour, too. I'm sure the resulting woodland would be far more interesting.

There are not necessarily the local flora that should be taking hold. If you kill all of the trees in an area, you re going to have to wait an awful long time before they re-grow there, even though it will work, and can be support (and I would argue should be).

Additionally the land may still have a purpose, such as for flood defense down stream, in which case engineering the habitat should absolutely take place.

Frankly the lack of trees in some areas of the UK (even rural areas, such as large parts of the Yorkshire dales/moors where I am from) would mean that forest regeneration would take far longer (100's of years longer, as we would have to wait multiple times for trees to mature before spreading seeds in the local area.

Another thing to take into account is the local wildlife. Due to having a very unhealthy amount of predators tree growth is hampered by large numbers of deer, rabbits and in many areas sheep, which roam in un-enclosed fashion. Mature trees do very well, but saplings just get grazed to oblivion.

So yes, please plant trees on this scale, but they do need to take their time, and do it right.

The plan to plant trees as outlined in the article is wrong. That's not to say planting trees at all is wrong. As you say for flood defence it would seem like a good idea.

Re wildlife, yes they would need to be controlled if trees are to take root. Sheep and trees aren't natural bed fellows. I'm not a making a man vs nature argument here; support is necessary in all manner of ways, in some it means taking a hands-off approach.

As for lack of trees in some areas, that might be for a good reason. Not every bit of land is suitable for woodland. Where it doesn't take root, it's a hint. And where it takes root, I would ask how you come up with a figure of hundreds of years.

I understand your reasoning, but I disagree with your premise that "nature will take its course," creating a healthy, thriving ecosystem. Because this area has long been used for agriculture and other industries, it is likely lacking in biodiversity. Seeding it will allow a more resilient local ecology to develop. Let's remember that plants migrate slowly!

> Seeding it will allow a more resilient local ecology to develop.

It will do the very opposite.

> Let's remember that plants migrate slowly!

You initially get lots of 'green stuff' if you plant it yourself. However, weeds are not as slow to take root as you might expect. If you've ever maintained a garden lawn without pesticides, you'll know that.

This plan smacks of "quick, quick lets make this work, to hell with the consequences of not thinking it through". Which is very much the mantra of today's world.

Haste makes waste.

In densely populated areas, there is no nature; everything that happens or doesn’t happen gets decided by man.

“Helping nature” to make things move faster is a normal thing there. Other examples are reintroducing wolves in Yellowstone, and sinking old ships to help reefs develop. Would you be opposed to those, too?

No, I wouldn't be opposed to those things you mention - per se. I wasn't establishing a general principle. I'm talking about tree planting.

> In densely populated areas, there is no nature; everything that happens or doesn’t happen gets decided by man.

Nonsense, and besides the point. In the densest of cities there is plenty of nature (beside us). And in any case this planned forest isn't being planted through the middle of manchester and leeds.

Even then, if an acre of urban land is left idle by man it will sprout all manner of weeds and, not before long, trees. Many a distopian sci-fi film will show this.

Some of those dystopian films also show wild dogs and wolves taking over. Left alone, wolves could have made it into Yellowstone by themselves. How is “parachuting” a few seeds in to speed up the process of forest formation fundamentally different?

"Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

Good one. There is some (maybe) Chinese proverb something like that too.

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

Good story, thank you.

Nice last paragraph of the article:

"Ultimately, while the story is perhaps apocryphal, the idea of replacing and managing resources for the future, and the lesson in long term thinking is not."

Also interesting is that it is:

"In conjunction with the Long Now Foundation. Modified from original video and text by Stewart Brand at the Long Now Blog."


My uncle had brought over a copy of The Whole Earth Catalog from the US when I was a teenager, it was a fantastic read, and partly the cause (although I was interested in such things from earlier) for my interest in nature, hiking, appropriate technology, organic gardening, woodworking and other crafts, etc. Done things in some of those areas, and hope to do more in the future.

Thanks, that is a delightful read.

When performing this kind of mass-scale planting, how do they ensure genetic diversity in the seeds? Or do they?

Next step: re-introduce lions ;) They had them in England up until ~ 13,000 years ago, so it's at least vaguely feasible assuming the forest was large enough, and supported a sufficient number of prey animals.

Wildwood Trust is investigating reintroduction of wolves and lynxes.


Always wondered why the English national team was referred to as the three lions, I guess this helps explain it.

> Always wondered why the English national team was referred to as the three lions, I guess this helps explain it

Prehistoric lions in what would much later be known as England aren't the source of that.


> So far, the government has pledged just an initial £5.7 million of the £500 million needed to fully realize the project.

Hmm. This sounds like the new "garden bridge".

Not really.

The garden bridge was a terrible idea and in the wrong place. This is really quite a good idea and in a place that is at least defensible.

The article does mention the way the National Forest came into being. Perhaps that would be the model here too. This is another difference to the garden bridge: the luckless inhabitants of Lambeth were going to have to pony up for a bridge they would have to pay again to use...

The United Kingdom is fairly close to the Boreal Forest Biome [1] which spans across Eurasia and North America in a narrow band. I wonder if it used to include the UK region back in the olden days. Does anybody know?

[1] http://w3.marietta.edu/~biol/biomes/boreal.htm

No idea, but I think the gulf stream might interfere with any plans to start living as a sable trapper.

My sister and I often travel across Nevada, either Utah -> CA, or the reverse. We half-joke about planting a tree every time we do, and putting up a sign and calling it "The Nevada Reclamation Project."

(This is the part where, hopefully, some ultra-knowledgeable HN reader posts a link to how I should actually be doing it.)

It's strange to imagine places like Saddleworth Moor being covered with trees.

In the US we have the opposite situation - vast forests that used to be farmland. In New England you can be hiking through a dense forest, far from any town, and come across stone walls that farmers built from the stones they dug up while clearing their fields.

They weren't always farmland. At a guess, that land was forest before it was farmland before it was forest.

Interesting, any idea why that is so? In some other places, it is often the reverse, i.e. forests chopped down and converted to farmland. Is it the way it is in New England because farms were abandoned, forests were restored, or some other reason?

The New England farmers depleted their soil. When the Civil War came around and the Maine soldiers saw Ohio and what farming looks like with fertile soil, no rocks, longer growing seasons, and no -20F winters there was a mass exodus.

In many cases it's likely due to early farming efforts that were shifted (in the generic unit sense) to superior farm land. Outcompeted, basically.

Part of my family were Appalachian farmers that owned sizable amounts of relatively low-value farm land. The land is difficult to work, almost nothing is flat or ideal. The soil is ok, but only for a select few things. The climate is mediocre for farming in many parts of the greater region.

As US farming industrialized, it concentrated, moved toward far superior farming land regions. If you were a small farmer in much of New England, you lost that economic battle.

I ran across this in Georgia once. A forest where there was once a rice field (during slavery days). I thought the terrain seemed a little different than surrounding areas and started researching. If you leave an area idle for long enough nature will take over.

A lot of the moors are common land which have restrict rules about their use.


If you remove a piece of common land then it must be replaced with something of an equal size. It also requires Secretary of State approval for lots of things relating to commons.

woodland like 's-Hertogenbosch can be pretty open much of the time. I think people who read "children of the new forest" imagine some kind of dense dark mirkwood. its more like fields, scrubland, trees, ponies, wall-to-wall daytrippers cars..

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