A rare review – ‘Woodsman’ by Ben Law

We mentioned Ben Law on the blog a couple of weeks ago, and after sharing a post discussing the management of woodland we thought it would be interesting to discuss Ben’s new book ‘Woodsman’.

The Trust receives a number of books for review but we rarely discuss our views of a book externally and currently there are not many books that we sell through our online shop. Ben’s book, however, ties in nicely with our current discussions on woodland management and indeed the wider issues of climate change and the future of the UK’s woodland.

Writing in an engaging conversational style, Ben continues to inspire his readers about woodland. ‘Woodsman’ is part autobiographical, part conservation and part knowledge-sharing, as Ben discusses his 20 years at Prickly Nut Wood, the wood where he lives, earns a living and eventually built his house (the one on Grand Designs). Although there are no photos in ‘Woodsman’ there are beautiful illustrations at the start of each chapter. He begins at the beginning when he had little more than a tent to live in, in a wood he knew very little about. Starting from scratch Ben learnt to understand his wood, the different trees, the lay of the land (quite literally) and the surrounding area and from this he was able to build a sustainable business and eventually a “real” home for his family (in inverted commas as I’m sure some people would consider a yurt – his previous accommodation – a real home in the UK!).

Ben’s management plan for Prickly Nut Wood has clear objectives: to provide a sustainable income (from wood products and food); restore the old coppice; provide a home for his family; and nurture the nature on his doorstep. Perhaps a wider objective is his desire to use his life to teach others about sustainable living. This book is clearly a part of that. I enjoyed reading ‘Woodsman’ and I like the way Ben’s expresses his opinions. There is more information about where to get your own copy of ‘Woodsman’ – it’s also available as a Kindle edition as well as an audio book – along with his other published books, on Ben’s website.

In Prickly Nut Wood, Ben Law practically demonstrates the benefits of living close to the land, of spending years getting to know and understand his unique piece of woodland, and of working with nature and natural processes to provide for himself and his family. Not everyone in the country will have the opportunity to do this in quite the same way, but there are lessons to be learnt from his example. Woods may have a lot more to offer society than we realise, if society is prepared to manage them in a truly sustainable way. To do this, time and effort to understand what is going on in the woods and how they are responding to the pressures upon them, such as climate change, and pollution, is hugely important. In the UK we need to respond to this with appropriate management that makes woods more resilient, and this might mean being open minded and flexible about the way things are done.

Ben is very clear in his belief that woodland must be bought back into productivity if the UK is to have a successful future. He dedicates an entire chapter at the end to a vision of his life in 2037, when climate change isn’t a political message thrashed out between politicians and the media but a very real part of everyday life. He sees woodland as being essential in this sustainable future: villages (and towns) will bring woodland back into the community, with timber, food, fuel and perhaps grazing land all being managed in the local woods. It should be noted that things were like this in the UK in the past, and are still like this in many parts of the world, so it is not such a wild idea. But Ben (and others) have proved that it can be done in this country, and perhaps in future planning legislation and public opinion will shift towards managing woodland as community assets. Not just as somewhere to run and play, but as a mixed resource for different aspects of life – nature’s supermarket. Finally, Ben’s story tells us that change on a large scale may need to begin with individual action, and with people taking responsibility for their own corner of the world.

Emilie Bonnevay, Public Enquiries Officer (and book reviewer extraordinaire).

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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One Response to A rare review – ‘Woodsman’ by Ben Law

  1. Pip Pountney says:

    Well no, I don’t think everyone will have this opportunity! Just 10% of England’s land is covered by woodland or forest and the UK’s population is predicted to grow by 10 million in the next 20 years – so the possibilty that we can all cast our eye over the potential of our woods and partake of ‘nature’s supermarket’ is unrealistic. There are environmental limits to all natural systems and to the assets they provide. Certainly, we need to be aware of the need to acquire land for planting new woodland that will provide sustainable and renewable crops of timber so that future generations are ensured a supply of this natural capital . Thus ‘bigger, better and more and more connected’ applied to woodland may also address the measurable decline in our wildlife. Hopefully, the non native pines presently being rapidly removed enabling plantations to revert to ancient woodland will satisfy timber requirements for the forseeable future but our mature, slow growing stock of hardwood trees must not be ear marked as a potential source. In the near future we may be facing a huge depreciation of the part of our natural capital that is embodied in ash trees. Other species of trees are threatened by disease and we neet to ensure that our mature tree stock is identified and protected and will continue to contribute to the beauty of our woodlands and forests and to the health and well being of future generations.

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