Earnwood Copse

What is Forestry?

Forestry is a generic term which relates to the management of well, forests! Today it’s actually quite a broad field, and covers not only the familiar activities of felling and replanting trees, but also conservation, research, ecosystem management, and air quality management. In fact, forestry is considered a science which falls across several disciplines, including biology, sociology, and politics.

Although wood had been used as a primary material for fuel and construction for centuries, the field of forestry as we know it today grew from Europe in the thirteenth century, as differing land usage rights – harvesting materials, hunting, grazing, or recreation – meant that natural resources needed to be managed to meet demand.

There has been a forest at Wyre for at least 10,000 years

In the Neolithic period, local settlers began to clear trees to create areas of land which could be farmed. When the area became a deer chase in the eleventh century, further trees were lost as deer were kept well-stocked for hunting parties.

In the Middle Ages, the Wyre Forest was expected to meet timber demand for building cathedrals and ships, making charcoal, and providing bark for leather tanning. Because many trees were managed through coppicing (cutting them back to encourage new shoots of growth), wood-based crafts flourished in local communities.

Dowles Brook Wyre Forest
Dowles Brook
Beech Logs
Beech Logs

Forestry adapting to change

With the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, many of these old uses for wood were lost. In the nineteenth century, large parts of the Wyre Forest were purchased by the Birmingham Quaker Group in order to grow fruit, providing food for Birmingham and the Black Country.

However, during WWI, the need for wood increased again, which led to the establishment of the Forestry Commission (now known as Forestry England), to ensure adequate supplies. Much of the native deciduous woodland at Wyre was replaced with quick-growing conifer plantations to meet the demand for timber.

In recent years, the disastrous effects of policies such as this have been recognised, and the field of Forestry has changed to focus not only on timber production, but to protecting forest plants and animals as well. In the Wyre Forest, attempts to address the reduction in biodiversity and excessive shading caused by the conifers have meant more of the old forest management techniques such as coppicing have been re-introduced as part of their conservation efforts.

Projects such as the Butterfly Conservation ‘Back to Orange’ initiative (encouraging the population of fritillaries in the area) are focusing on improving the diversity and balance of species in the area, while large parts of the forest are now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), subject to research and protection. Some of the species thriving in the forest today include dippers, crossbills, wood warblers, adders, otters, fallow deer, pipistrelle bats, a rare type of concealer moth, and thirty-three species of butterfly.

Sitka Spruce
Sitka Spruce

Today, the Wyre Forest is managed for many different purposes. It is still used for timber production, although it’s much more sympathetic to local species than historically. Alongside this, it’s an area for recreation and education, meaning visitor safety, accessibility, and experience must be factored into how the forest is maintained. For example, a visitor centre which has been in place since the 1970s provides information, refreshments, and play areas as a gateway into the forest.

In this segment of ‘In The Sticks’, we’re inviting you to consider the relationship between people and forests through the practice of forestry. There’s no doubt that early deforestation in the Wyre Forest helped people to develop agricultural practices, and facilitated societal progress through the provision of timber. Wood itself had been used for centuries to build homes and tools. However, some tree felling was undertaken for recreational purposes, when land was owned by the elite.

The impact of these actions was not widely noted until the mid-twentieth century, and shapes how we enjoy forests today.

While many indigenous species such as bears and wolves are no longer roaming the woods, management of the forest provides habitats for imported species such as muntjac deer and grey squirrels. Conifer trees live within a different ecosystem than native deciduous trees, attracting different fungi, birds, and invertebrates, while areas of clearing have created new, open habitats.

We know local lockdowns and the current coronavirus crisis can make it difficult for people to attend poetry workshops. As with our Cannock Chase ‘virtual workshop’, we’ve got some materials for you to look through up on this site – including poems, prompts, and photos – to help inspire you to write some poetry about the Wyre Forest and forestry, whether you’re able to visit the area or not.