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Germaine Greer suggests Thetford Forest be felled but it is about more than just trees

PUBLISHED: 17:03 22 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:03 22 March 2017

Autumn in Thetford Forest Picture: PICASA

Autumn in Thetford Forest Picture: PICASA

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This week we celebrate the International Day of Forests... even though Germaine Greer may have proposed other plans for Thetford Forest.

November morning in Thetford Forest. Picture: Tina CoxNovember morning in Thetford Forest. Picture: Tina Cox

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. (Robert Louis Stevenson)

It was the first day of spring, yesterday as the vernal equinox propelled us into longer days and shorter nights.

Nature responds to the season with full vigour, the blossom is out on the trees, the sticky buds are on the horse chestnuts and the catkins hang from the willows. Hedgerows are in their spring livery of leaf buds, primroses, violets and cowslips. The birds are twitterpated – courting for pheasants can be hazardous as they skitter across roads in pursuit of love.

In a country billed as a “green and pleasant land” by William Blake we are a nation that treasures its countryside and its forests. Without Sherwood Forest, the legend of Robin Hood would have lacked romance and King Arthur’s questing knights of the Round Table would have .

The January sun reflects off the ice in Thetford Forest Picture: Rachel WallerThe January sun reflects off the ice in Thetford Forest Picture: Rachel Waller

And what would fairy tales do without forests? Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, they are impossible without woodland. For as well as being places where nature can run amok (though usually the amok is managed) they are also shadowy and mysterious.

I’m always astonished by a forest. It makes me realise that the fantasy of nature is much larger than my own fantasy. I still have things to learn. Gunter Grass

When, in October 1987, the ravages of the Great Storm cut a swathe through Rendlesham Forest, it was a devastating blow. Regular visitors with our young family, we had picked wild strawberries, been amazed by the fungi (check out the stinkhorn) and found some of the best ever sticks. Our son would select a stick and then find one he liked more and, at the end of a two hour walk through Rendlesham, would have a stick like no other; the perfect stick.

Increasingly, new homes have smaller gardens, often too small for trees. Built in 1996, my house has a “town garden which can sustain smaller trees (a hawthorn, a mountain ash) but is out of its depth with anything bigger. When the silver birch reached 30ft and its roots had moved inexorably towards the house, it had to go... a great sadness. It belonged in a forest.

The Bluebell walk through the woods at Dunwich (2015) Picture: Alison ConnorsThe Bluebell walk through the woods at Dunwich (2015) Picture: Alison Connors

And so to the comments of Germaine Greer... who is usually happy to oil the wheels of a healthy debate on most issues.

She was being interviewed on BBC Radio Four’s Farming Today programme as part of a series of programmes asking leading figures in public life on their views about agriculture after Brexit.

During the interview, broadcast on Monday, she said: “People think Thetford Forest is a woodland.

“They say: ‘What do you want us to do with the woodland? Do you want us to sell it?’

Thetford Forest is not only a place for leisure. it's also used for logging and important conservation work. Picture: Sonya DuncanThetford Forest is not only a place for leisure. it's also used for logging and important conservation work. Picture: Sonya Duncan

“I say: ‘No, I want you to fell it.’

“And they say: ‘Oh! But you’d be cutting down trees.

“I say: ‘Yes, they shouldn’t be there.’ This is a much more precious habitat than a bit of old Scot’s pine.”

Her view is not shared by the Friends of Thetford Forest who have pointed out that it isn’t just about pine trees it is also about timber production, wildlife, archaeology and recreation.

Fallow deer in Rendlesham forest Picture: John BoyleFallow deer in Rendlesham forest Picture: John Boyle

There is so much more to a forest than trees.

Walk deep into a forest and you escape the pollution and noise of town and city life. You can look up through the trees and see sky, you can look down at the forest floor and see insects hurrying about their business.

The timing of Germaine Greer’s comments, a day before the International Day of Forests, seems out of step with the celebration of forests, as the world unites to the common cause. On Twitter individuals and organisations from Ecuador, Spain, Timor-Leste, Italy, Germany, UK, India, Uganda, Belgium, USA, and many more countries have acknowledged the importance of our forests.

William Shakespeare’s As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream would have been sorry tales without forests in which characters could get cross or cross-dressed. And where would the teddy bears have enjoyed their picnic without the woods?

Rendlesham Forest after the Great Storm of October 1987 (Archive picture)Rendlesham Forest after the Great Storm of October 1987 (Archive picture)

If a man is talking in the forest, and there is no woman there to hear him, is he still wrong? (Jenny Weber)

For those who don’t get bitten or who have copious supplies of insect repellant, forests also provide great natural arenas for performance. I have seen theatrical productions in Rendlesham forest and Katherine Jenkins in Thetford Forest.

Forest facts

• Strategically placed trees in urban areas can cool the air by between 2 to 8 degrees C.

• Woodfuel provides 40% of today’s global renewable energy supply – as much as solar, hydroelectric and wind power combined.

• Almost 900 million people, mostly in developing countries, are engaged in the wood-energy sector on a part- or full-time basis.

• Globally, forests hold an energy content approximately 10 times that of the world’s annual primary energy consumption. They thus have significant potential as renewable resources to meet global energy demand.

You can see the full story of Germain Greer’s comments about Thetford Forest here

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