On Friday evening I visited a beautiful beechwood near our house that is famous for its display of bluebells at this time of year, but I didn’t go there to admire wild flowers.

62bluebellwoods2.jpg

At half-past-six on a wet, gloomy and cold evening, about thirty-five local people gathered round a rather nervous looking representative of the Woodland Trust who had arranged the meeting. He was supposed to explain to us why his organisation, which is supposedly dedicated to preserving woodland, had decided to decimate a place that we had all come to love and treasure. For the last eighteen months or so the scream of power saws has polluted the aether as beech trees whose age can be measured in centuries rather than decades were felled.

 felled.jpg

There is something special about a beech wood. The tall, grey, arching trunks, and the canopy that their branches form, are reminiscent of the columns and vaulting of an ancient cathedral. Peace and stillness is to be found in such places, and people tend to speak quietly, in awe of the majesty of their surroundings.

I first came across the Woodland Trust about thirty years ago, when they purchased oak woods adjacent to our drive. We were relieved when they did so as their mission at that time was simply to own woodland and by doing so prevent anyone else mucking about with it. How things seem to have changed since then.

Of course there are circumstances in which woodland does need to be managed, to some extent at least, but foresters do not normally intervene unless there is a very good reason to do so; such activities are expensive. So why would a charity want to spend money in this way? No coherent answer was forthcoming at the meeting, but the following fragments emerged.

The Countryside Council for Wales has designated Aber Artro as an area of oak woodland, in spite of it being apparent to anyone who visits the place that it is nothing of the kind. True, there are some oaks mixed in among the beech trees, but the place has a character quite different from the oak woods that are the predominant feature of the valleys in this area. And this seems to be the cause of this holocaust. In the view of those who now manage such projects - I will come back to these shadowy forces in a moment - beech is an introduced and intrusive species that must be eradicated.

It is true that beech woods do not occur naturally in this part of Wales. At some time in the past a decision may have been taken to plant this particular species in order to create a new and attractive feature in the landscape, or for profit, or perhaps for both reasons. It is also possible that the beeches simply spread from the nearby gardens of Aber Artro Hall, which was once a dower house of the wealthy Mostyn family. What is certain is that, in its maturity, these woods were a place of great beauty that attracted visitors from far and wide. For those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the area, they provided a place where, at any time, one could park at the roadside and spend a while wandering among the trees, enjoying a degree of beauty and of tranquillity that was quite free of the heavy handed influence of man. Not any more.

A whole new generation of bureaucrats seem to be emerging, (both governmental and non-governmental) who have the power to radically change our countryside, or as they would probably put it, ‘the environment’. Their view of the natural world is not that of country people; they are far better educated in such matters than we are and use important sounding words like ‘ecology’. For them the natural world is a fragile entity that is not only at the mercy of humans, but dependent on human intervention for its very survival, or so they seem to think.  If it was not so, then who would provide the funding that pays their salaries?

From behind a desk in a cosy office, with a degree in one of the earth sciences and generous funding to rely on, I suppose the world could look like that, but the consequences for our precious landscape can be devastating.

Whatever the origins of Aber Artro Woods might be, it is certain that their very special character did not derive from human intervention, but from benign neglect. They did not become the entrancing place that they used to be as a result of management schemes, funding streams and hand wringing about biodiversity, nor can such places be created, or even maintained in their pristine state, by such devices.

As well as the quite unnecessary and unjustifiable felling of the beech trees, gates have now been erected on paths that lead into the woods, concrete culverts have been built where once there was only a velvety bed of leaf mold, hideous barriers of decaying tree trunks have been placed along the roadside to stop people parking, and quite unnecessary signs have been put up. Fortunately the latter, not surprisingly perhaps, quickly ‘disappeared’.

The effect has been to transform and municipalise a place that had previously been a supremely successful example of man and nature working unobtrusively together to provide a visual and spiritual resource that was priceless. And this desecration has been carried out in the name of an organisation that a local landowner trusted to safeguard a much-loved place when he sold them the woods two decades ago.

Many thanks to Dave Newbould for permitting me to use his picture of the woods in their former glory. The snapshot of its present state was take by my wife during the meeting on Friday night.

11 Responses to “Trust betrayed and the Aber Artro Beech Woods”

  1. 1
    tonyb Says:

    What a shame! I know those woods well and they were a wonderful sight-all the better as they were a fairly unusual feature. There are plenty of oak forests in the area-such as along the Mawddach estuary why destroy a much loved feature in order to introduce more?

    Tonyb

  2. 2
    Bishop Hill Says:

    Interesting. This raises the question of why an allegedly independent charity should kowtow to the requirements of an arm of government.

    The Woodland Trust has been accused of being a fake charity, something they deny. Their actions seem to suggest, however, that they are. He who pays the piper…

  3. 3
    TonyN Says:

    Bishop Hill

    I am still trying to piece together just what the driving forces are in this case, but I was told by someone at the meeting – who seemed to be well informed – that what is happening in the Aber Artro Woods can be traced back through the Countryside Council for Wales to the EU, and to €115.4bn of funding directed towards ‘globally significant habitats’. We will see.

  4. 4
    tonyb Says:

    TonyN

    Coincidentally there was a programme on Radio 4 (costing the Earth?) about this general subject a little while after I posted my comments. It was all about the drive to remove non native species for which there was a substantial budget available-presumably the one you refer to

    Tonyb

  5. 5
    Rory Francis Says:

    Hi Tony

    Thanks for coming along last Friday night. I feel slightly guilty myself reading your blog, as I was supposed to be at the meeting along with my colleague Rhydian. In the event, I was unavoidably detained in Bangor and only arrived just after the end of the meeting, having left Rhydian with a difficult meeting to deal with on his own.

    Of course, everyone is welcome to express their views on how Woodland Trust woods are managed, and the eloquence with which you do this underlines how important you and others feel that Coed Aber Artro is.

    Could I, however, make just four observations on your blog?

    • The purpose of last Friday’s meeting last week was explicitly to help put together a new management plan for the wood for the next few years, so that the views that you have expressed can be taken into account, and people like yourself can be involved in planning its future. Each Woodland Trust wood has its own website which includes a management plan. And there is public consultation whenever a management plan is revised. The Coed Aber Artro website is here, though the management plan it contains is of course the old one, as the new one has yet to be written.

    • The question of the management of beech is a complex one because of the status of Coed Aber Artro as an SSSI. The Woodland Trust has made it very clear that we have no intention to “eradicate” beech from the woodland we will only consider control of young beech if required to do so by CCW because it is considered essential to maintain the special features for which the site has been designated as an SSSI. Many splendid beech trees remain at Coed Aber Artro and will be retained. No further felling of mature trees is planned but we may have to fell or trim the occasional tree for safety reasons.

    • Another consultation meeting was held the previous week, with the locally elected and accountable Llanbedr Community Council. This meeting expressed general support for the way the wood has been managed.

    • Finally, I can’t accept that the two photos on your blog give a fair picture of the what has happened in the wood. The second photo on your blog is actually of a part of a wood where there were no bluebells previously. I have photographed this wood in the last fortnight, and some of the pictures I took are on the web here. Maybe I’m biased, but I reckon my ‘after’ views are at least as beautiful as the ‘before’ one on your blog. And I’m not suggesting that I’m as good a photographer as Dave Newbould, just that this year’s bluebell display has been particularly stunning, possibly due in part to the slightly increased light levels. (These pictures include, by the way, the logs that the Woodland Trust has had put along the side of part of the road to stop vehicles driving off the road and into the wood, as had been happening.)

    Best wishes

    Rory Francis
    Public Affairs and Press Officer Wales The Woodland Trust

  6. 6
    EW Says:

    I wonder, why on the one side, there is such a pressure to remove and destroy “non native” species from the nature, while at the same time the immigration [snip]

    TonyN: This is not a subject that I want discussed on this blog. Sorry.

  7. 7
    TonyN Says:

    Rory

    Thanks for taking the time to respond so fully. I’m sure that what you say will raise questions in some people’s minds.

  8. 8
    Aileni Says:

    Would it not have been better for consultation to take place before this vandalism was perpetrated? But not to worry, they are Environmentalists…

  9. 9
    TonyN Says:

    Aileni

    Put it this way, I hope that they won’t do the same thing on another occasion.

  10. 10
    tonyb Says:

    The trouble is how many times do we hear that ‘lessons have been learned’ only to find they haven’t been?

    Surely it is not too difficult to carry out a meaningful consultation on something that is so important to local people.

    Tonyb

  11. 11
    Snowdonia — don’t look it up! « Notes of a Scribbler Says:

    [...] * 1st picture’s blog * 2nd picture’s site [...]

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