Traditional woodland crafts are, once again, becoming a growth industry

Finally traditional woodland crafts are being regarded as valuable again and not before time

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

They are a source of food, fuel, building materials, artistic inspiration and stress-relief, and thus is is hard to believe that the link between Britain's people and its woodlands was ever in any doubt. But it was so.

In the years following the Second World War, traditional woodland jobs such as wheel-wrights and bodgers, clog-makers and other woodland workers, were becoming obsolete as, apparently, synthetic materials were far more exciting to have in your home than boring old wood, and the Forestry Commission was busy creating Sitka spruce plantations.

We must, however, not forget that the Forestry Commission was never tasked with woodlands and woodland jobs and -crafts but to be producing timber for the mines and the trenches.

Within a generation, or less even, the relevance of woodlands to the daily lives of most people had become vague. Most products that ones were made of wood had become replaced by plastics and other synthetics.

However, and thank the gods, in the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century our woodlands are beginning to enjoy somewhat of a renaissance.

Our woodlands, which have existed for thousands upon thousands of years and have been managed for that time also, and that predominately through coppicing, need to ALL come under that management again as, otherwise, they will not survive.

In many parts of England there are old coppice woods that have not been worked now for fifty years and more and if they are not dealt with very soon and efficiently then those coppice stools that are presently standing will break apart and that will be the end of those woods.

The resurgence of interest in using woodlands and woodland culture has attracted a very diverse range of people, from hobby foresters and entrepreneurs to some very skilled crafts people but what they all need is support from us, as consumers, to buy their goods, and from government as those woodlanders are the custodians of our future.

The new woodlanders cannot make a living from the woods if we will not buy the goods that they provide, from firewood and charcoal to treen goods of all kinds.

The New Woodlanders include not just those of the ancient crafts but artists who work with wood, furniture makers, basket weavers and specialist producers, including those who make wooden jewelery, etc.

When Herbert Edlin wrote his classic book Woodland Crafts in 1949 he was sure that many of the crafts he had recorded would not survive the ravages of the Second World War and in a few cases he was right, but in actual fact many of the woodland crafts have persisted or been revived including the skills of chair-makers, turners, charcoal makers, basket weavers, horse-loggers and herb gatherers.

In economic terms, woodlands can offer income to both groups and individuals. However, the consumer has to get behind those that are reviving the use of our woodlands and buy the products that they produce.

A Forestry Commission survey found that nearly a quarter of people questioned had gathered wild plant material from woodlands or forests in the past five years (the most popular things to collect were berries, mushrooms and firewood).

While the economic recession may have taken the main focus off the environment and on to the economy, I believe that it will not halt the great resurgence in woodland culture that is taking place at present

In fact there may be more of us looking for ways of supplementing our income or diet, or reducing our fuel bills, by returning to the woods and there will certainly be more stressed-out folk seeking the solace they can find in the forest.

Over the years, ever since about World War Two, we have forgotten the value of our woodlands (and forests) other than, maybe, for recreation and this could be seen very much during the protests against the proposed “sell off” of Forestry Commission lands.

But, aside from the amenity value of the woods, we must come to understand, and especially many misguided environmentalists, that we must work and manage our woodlands once again in order for them to survive.

Coppice woodlands that are not being worked in the traditional way will die. It is as simple as that. The stools will become top-heavy and, literally, break apart and that will be the end of the trees and thus of the woods.

© 2012