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Eurig ap Gwilym - Natural Forester

(died 6th November 1988)

[I first met Eurig in 1982 when Lyn, Sam and me moved up to the Dolgellau area from Aberystwyth. I was running a second hand/junk stall on the local markets and Eurig was much taken by the wooden vices I was making and selling at the time. We became good friends and he would often call in at the cottage we rented in Llanelltyd for a chat while he smoked a pipe.

It was from Eurig that I first heard of permaculture design, agroforestry and forest gardening. He did chainsaw work for Robert Hart out on Wenlock Edge and he used to talk to me about Robert's ideas for making a forest garden. When Lyn and me bought the Penrhos Isaf land in 1986 he would often come up to look around and give advice. Eurig never managed to fulfill his dream of having a bit of land to plant trees on. He gave me six southern beech (nothofagus) that we always refer to as Eurig's trees; they are now over fifty feet tall. There is much more to say about him that I might go into one day. I thought he was a lovely man and I miss him.

Eurig gave me a carefully typed script he had written entitled Coed Cymru (literally Wales' Trees although Eurig liked Forest of Wales) that gave an overview of his vision for the Welsh landscape. He was a pioneer and visionary. CJD]



by Eurig AP Gwilym


Perhaps it would be appropriate to term the concept of this study - of which this is just a rough outline - as "Coed Cymru" (Forest of Wales) in the hope that I may ultimately fill in the details and produce a worthwhile guide to the options ahead.

Firstly I should mention that my main study is concerned mainly with the future of forestry in relation to Cymru (Wales) because apart from obvious ethical reasons, I am working on home ground so to speak, and Cymru does in fact constitute a geo-biological and climatic entity in her own right. Needless to say, the basic ideas outlined here could be said to be applicable to the English upland regions (Pennine, Lakeland, Cheviot etc.),

My ideas are ecological rather than social and I feel that if both concepts are to survive then homo-sapien must learn to take his proper place in the ecosystem rather than the other way round.

It follows then that in order to visualise some sort of 'goal' we must try to assess the minimum forest cover in Cymru that would give a reasonable ecological Equilibrium; this I would put at around 55% to 60%, not unreasonable when one considers our population density and the forest cover for example in France at 54.9%, Sweden 64%, Finland ?4% and Japan 67% and the present figures for Cymru at 11.4%, with England and Scotland at 7.1% and 11.8% respectively. The original forest cover here - before homo-sapien got out of control - has been estimated at between 70% - 75%. What re-afforestation has taken place has been mainly with alien species in an unnatural even aged monoculture thereby making a mockery of the true concept of forestry,

In the post-industrial, ecological age which must transpire if we are to survive, our outlook must be qualitative rather than quantitative, it follows then that virtually self-contained conservation minded, instead of exploitation minded woodland communities would be the norm utilising self-generating woodland produce for domestic and communal purposes re, structural, tools, utensils, medicines, food, fuel, etc. It is not realised today just how vast this potential really is, i.e. one species alone, the Ash, yielding amongst other things, excellent tool handles, timber, fuel, ideal material for carts, ladders, wheelwrights material, furniture, joinery implements, Ash bark to treat fever and worms, the diuretic and purgative qualities of the leaves, the keys for sauces and salads etc., not to mention the associated wild life, plants and fungi etc. - and this is just one species I

Here in Cymru I would suggest 3 main categories of forestry, each roughly coinciding with altitude and exposure, they are:


1. The Lower Zone.

This would constitute the bulk of the food production area on the lower elevations, the accent would be on Forest Farming and Permaculture techniques, the former on the lines of the 'Fassfern project' in Scotland in the upper regions of the zone whereby large areas of former grazing land have been re-converted into woodland; here, the effects of the woodland shelter and consequent soil improvement being such that the quality and quantity of the grazing stock in the much reduced area is actually greater than before, and of course the additional bonus of the forest produce.

The lower areas of this zone would be mainly given to an integrated farming-woodland permaculture system.


2. The Middle Zone.

This would be mainly of commercial forestry, amongst which would be scattered forestry smallholdings replacing the present hill farms as such. This would not be so much a dense forest area but rather a consistent pattern of uneven aged mixed forest and clearings, the predominant species in any given area favouring the local conditions. A welcome move in this direction being the example at Lord Bradfords estate at Tavistock.


3. The Highland Zone.

This would consist of the area between the productive forest zone and the natural tree-line i.e. around 1,600 - 2,000 ft. depending on location.

This I would like to see restored to a natural wilderness zone – a 'Genetic Reservoir' so to speak - This would be a natural wildlife zone to of course, self-generating and a source of fuel wood in particular in addition to restoring the soil and checking erosion. This area was once natural forest but the soil has been leached and eroded by de-forestation, perpetuated by extensive sheep grazing.

A prior requirement in all areas however is the elimination of open sheep grazing. Whatever the 'traditionalists' may say, the sheep here are as environmentally unnatural - and a sight more destructive - than the grey squirrel and artificially subsidised into the bargain, better by far that what subsidies be available, if any, should be used in the interests of ecology and not against it, as at present.

With regard to tree species and administration, this would of course vary according to the zones to a large extent, but broadly speaking the lowland zone would consist mainly of mixed natural hardwoods and basically controlled by the farmers and the communities within an ecological concept.

Priority would be given to native hardwood species wherever practicable, the native species being in general hardier and more pest resistant than the exotic ones, besides being more consistent with the ecosystem. However, some imported species would be desirable and the purists must not forget that a lot of the so called "exotic species" were in fact native here before the last ice age, the larch in particular being well suited for community and farm usage.

With regard to the financial aspect, I cannot see why a system could not be established whereby a small farmer in particular could draw regular advances on the final income of the produce.

The middle zone would contain both state and community forest, the forest smallholder playing a vital role in the forest labour force which in turn would provide useful additional income for the holding. The accent on the economies of smallholder, farmer and communities alike being primarily one of self-sufficiency.

In the highland zone, nature itself will be the 'Head Forester', the relevant communities being the trustees of this natural wilderness zone and could provide conservation volunteers who by means of random planting would give nature a little push after which natural regeneration would take over. The true guide for the natural forester is nature itself and natural history in particular, and so the 'pioneer species' - Birch, Scots Pine, Alder, Rowan, Hazel etc. that re-colonised after the retreat of the last ice-age would once again take on their specific role until the climax vegetation is once again attained which would be largely of oaks with their associated species, ground vegetation and wildlife. Alder would pre-dominate in the wet areas, it is also an ideal nitrogen fixer, with Scots Pine predominating in the dry acid areas, and is the best wildlife conifer.

The devastation over the last few centuries has however produced badly eroded rocky areas and I feel there is a strong case here for using Lodgepole Pine as a pioneer species in the anticipation that the old natural woodland would ultimately take over again. Surely we owe Mother Nature this much, and a darn sight more!

Here in Cymru we have one particular problem, India has the 'Sacred Cow' we have the 'Sacred Sheep'. Unlike other livestock it seems that this particular animal can destroy forests, ravage gardens and cause road accidents with comparative impunity. A practical move in the right direction should I feel be made by bringing them into line with other stock in this respect (surely not an unreasonable suggestion) and ensuring that the owners be made responsible for any damage caused by them, be it road, woodland or garden, the onus then would be for the farmer to contain his own animals or to be accountable for their outside activities. This of course is not, the complete answer, that lies in the system itself but it is a practical move to begin with and would relieve the forest owner, householder etc. of a lot of the grossly unfair onus on fencing.

As I said, this should be basically applicable to other upland areas of the British Islands too but if an overall picture is required of this geographical area then the English lowlands must be taken into account. This presents a different picture as there are many different aspects to consider- Soil, Climate, Agricultural, Social and last but not least, urban development.

This area is above all, prime hardwood country but a balance between woodland and its associated wildlife, agriculture and urban considerations would need to be thrashed out first. The ultimate breakdown of the industrial society with its associated materialistic short-term outlook could mean a break up of the larger agricultural units into small farms and holdings again. This should see some restoration of the hedgerows and the necessity to plant up 'unproductive areas' for fuel and farm use and of course shelter belts, (a priority indeed in East Anglia) or at least allow nature to take over. The encouragement of coppice growth and the associated coppice and woodland crafts, plus the fuel bonus would be vital to the economy of the post-industrial age.

This then is what I feel should be our goal and it would need a major shift in social, economic and political thinking to bring this about, but come it must if we are to survive, so we may as well set our sights now.

The practical questions however remain as to how under present conditions are we to make a start. Firstly I think it is a case of arousing public opinion, to try to create a 'Forest mentality'.

Over the last few years a welcome start in this direction has I feel been made with the creation of 'Forest centres', Nature trails, Woodland picnic places, Forest holidays etc. and I personally feel that a lot of the new interest in the forests, forest life and wildlife in general has been due to this but there is a long way to go to create the devotion to the forests and its wildlife that exist for example in Germany.

It is indeed a healthy sign that such bodies as 'The Woodland Trust' have been able to make such fantastic progress over the last few years. There is a case too for some 'Shock Propaganda directed at the complacent - A world without trees, and its consequences - The insistence of ecology (particularly with regard to man's place in it) as a basic subject in the schools.

The second point is a vital one, and long overdue, that is the creation of a Natural Forest Institute where education and vital research could take place, this would include Woodland crafts, Interaction of tree species (a vital one), Forest ecology, Farm and community self-sufficiency etc. and the training of advisory personnel to help put things into practice. It is worth considering just how far ahead we would be today if a fraction of the time and money spent on 'Growth potential' Timber yields, Chemical sprays etc. had been spent for example on the interaction of natural tree species - a virtually unknown subject - and of course the full potential of all tree produce inc. food, medicine, herbs, lotions etc. quite apart from the timber value.

Thirdly I feel that the natural outcome of this would be the creation of a few small woodland communities who would put what has been learned into practical use and point the way, so to speak.

The effects of all this I feel would be enough to set the ball rolling in the right direction and I think it is a great pity that such bodies as the Woodland Trust, Nature Conservancy, Men Of The Trees etc. could not join forces under one banner and perhaps instigate such an institute on a small scale in natural woodland.

At the present time, in order to preserve what little we have left and help provide a pattern for the future, there is something to be said for a band of dedicated people to organise into some sort of voluntary woodland labour force/pressure group (Woodlanders?). This 'ranger' force would provide a valuable source of labour re planting, woodland maintenance etc., and at the same time act as 'Watchdogs' – a pressure group in effect - to act and report on destruction of natural woodland for whatever the reason- Whether such a body would be independent, or be associated with an existing organisation I don't know but such an overall interest in nature, its associated wildlife and a practical interest in the woodland crafts would undoubtedly give it a strong cohesive force - perhaps even on an international level ultimately. Something is needed in that line, that’s for sure, if only to counteract the destructive elements associated with the present industrial materialism, the protection then of what is left of our natural woodlands, hedgerows and other wildlife habitats and the protection and indeed restoration of the wildlife etc. can at this moment in time be regarded as nothing short of a 'panic measure'.

In conclusion, there is one suggestion I would like to make, and whilst appreciating that the forest crisis is a global one as are the ultimate effects of denudation, I do however feel that whilst the global aspect must be studied, realised and worked on in its entity, the real answer will come from positive action on one's own door-step so to speak. 'Global concern' is a fine ideology, but it is on one's native heath where the emotions and potential action are involved, together with the intricate local knowledge and affinity that natural forestry requires. I feel then that this should be taken into full account by some worthy organisations who tend to 'put the cart before the horse', Charity does after all begin at home.

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