What an illuminating morning, wandering through ancient plum orchards and orchid-strewn meadows on the fringes of the Forest! This is a place in change, where unusually biodiversity is on the increase, encouraged by an group of local enthusiasts. The more I walked around the more I was struck by its particular-ness, its local-ness, and nothing illustrates this better than the Noble Chafer Beetle. OK, I would love to have got a shot of the metallic green beetle itself (but it is the wrong time of year for that) so you will have to settle for a picture of the droppings of the Noble Chafer larvae (those are the larger dark coloured pellets in amongst the brown rotting wood), taken from one of decaying fruit trees in the orchard. A few details will illustrate my point: this beetle is vulnerable to extinction but the Forest is one of the few places it still survives, living in decaying fruit trees, and not just any old decaying fruit tree but particularly ‘standing deadwood’ trees rather than those that have fallen over and lie decomposing on the ground. The larvae grow in holes in the trees for a couple of years before the adults emerge, just for a couple of months in the summer, to mate and reproduce. As fruit orchards have been on the decline for many years so have the beetles. But so what? Why does this beetle matter? A nostalgia (not shared by evolution) for the delight and particular-ness of this iridescent bug? Here we are entering the realm of biophilia, the argument for preserving biodiversity, and why nature is important to us (beyond feeding and sheltering us). I must include a copy of Biophilia in the cabinet. Many thanks Chris for such an engrossing morning showing me around your wonderful meadows and orchards.
My notebook is beginning to fill with ideas for the cabinet, inspired by the fungal growths I have been looking at around the Forest. At this stage it is about putting initial ideas down on the page so that I don’t have to hold then in mind any longer: I find this helps the process along. In all likelihood the cabinet will end up looking nothing like this. I am also researching into library furniture, the shapes, structures and processes that lie there, to understand the world that the cabinet will inhabit. I will keep you posted…
When as a child your holiday destination was Bullo Pill, on the edge of the Forest, to then cross the river to spend the day in Arlingham on the other side, then the Severn might as well have been the Atlantic Ocean. This is the view from Bullo at low tide, the river was going upstream at the time, and the other side felt far away. But it is this old sense of distance that fascinates me, how you used to be able to have your whole world in the Forest. Today that is all but gone, but as our sense of distance has changed how has that affected the way we see the forest around us? Thanks for giving me a glimpse into those longer days Linda, Penny, Jackie and Doreen.
Here it is again, fungus as an agent of change: with all the larch and sweet chestnut cleared away, what will this area look like in a few decades? Here the ‘fungus-like‘ Phytophthora has been detected, so a whole swath of the forest has been cleared. ‘Detected’, now that is the wrong word: it implies a crime has taken place. ‘Identified’ would be better. But what to make of this disease? A tragedy or an opportunity? We have always co-existed with disease, in ourselves and in the plant world around us. From some conversations that I have been having recently as I travel around it would seem that it is not just Phytophthora that is bringing change. This arboreal landscape could have a very different composition by the end of the century. All of which got me thinking: if I conjure up the image of a forest in my mind what do I see? What trees populate that mental forest? The light airiness of beech woods, or the dark under pine? I will get back to you…
Graeme told me where to look, and what incredible fungi they are too! More closely related to animals than plants, the fungi have a kingdom all to themselves. I always think of them as agents of change, mainly because so many of them grow on decaying matter in the forest, recycling vital nutrients back into the food chain ready to be made into new life. But these ones are growing on a living tree and are a great example of the other side to fungi that fascinates me: the outlandish shapes they assume. Almost like solidified liquid, or ripples frozen in time, these fan fungi are quite an inspiration. Something to keep in mind when designing the cabinet.
Having really enjoyed Sara Maitland’s last publication A Book of Silence, I went straight in with this one. It includes a fascinating chapter on mining in the Forest of Dean, but what particularly caught my attention (and obviously that of the cover designer too) was the reference to mycorrhizal fungi in the introduction. I have always liked fungi, not just to eat but because of the wonderful sculptural structures that they create, but I had forgotten about those fungi that team up with trees underground. Most trees work in conjunction with fungi when it comes to their roots, a mycorrhizal relationship as it is called. These fungi attach themselves to the root tips and, in effect, massively extend the root system with their own bodies, pushing microscopic fungal fingers out into the soil which can absorb far more water and minerals than the trees could do by itself. These mycorrhizal fungi then pass the water and minerals on to their arboreal partner in exchange for carbohydrates. So next time you are admiring a massive oak or beech in the forest, spare of thought for the microscopic fungi that are making it all possible below ground. Now I am searching for someone who can tell me more about fungi in the Forest. If you have any suggestions please do get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Back in the Forest today, and looking at ways of working with wood to make the cabinet for the libraries. I have been researching how the final design might become freely available (under a Creative Commons license) for anyone to use. So this has led me to designing it in the computer, the components then to be cut out of sheet ply – a sort of cabinet-of-change Airfix kit. Well, it is early days yet, so today I have visited Woodford Engineering in Lydney, who can laser- or water-cut almost anything. It is amazing to see how easily light can cut through steel. Thanks Graeme for showing me around today, also for pointing me in the right direction for my fungi hunt!