- Simon Turnbull
"Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul" (John Muir).
"The Intruder" ~ A lone Rowan tree is interrogated by the forest's oak guardians
As fragile landscapes go, the ancient oak forest of Wistman Woods (Dartmoor) is right up there. It is one of the highest oakwoods in Britain and designated a SSSI in 1964. Delicate mosses and over a hundred species of lichen adorn the old oak trees and impressive granite boulders that lay strewn across the uneven terrain.
You'd think the owners/protectors would do more to look after it...
It's of no surprise that visitors are now encouraged (albeit only on't Net) to keep out of the woods. The sheer density of footfall over these restricted travel years has overwhelmed the woods. The same of course is true of other natural areas like the Lake District. I won't get started on the wanton destruction from "wild" campers (litter/chopping trees for firewood/"moss art"). But equally photographers shoulder a fair share of blame, particularly those making questionable decisions to get the optimum angle, removing annoying distractions or taking groups to these places on workshops. And this isn't a location specific complaint: my local bluebell woods of Ashridge have been trashed over the last two years and will take many, many years to recover because people (often portrait photographers) can't stick to the marked trails. I'd like to think I tread carefully and respect the landscape but I'm sure I have contributed, even to a small extent, to its loss.
"Entmoot" ~ Ents gather around their ancient stone to discuss where it all went wrong
So, in an effort to re-balance the scales (in some vain hope I might be allowed through the Pearly Gates at the end of my days), I, together with other like-minded souls, am seeking to contact the landowners and appointed guardians to see what can be done to help. Perhaps raising money (eg via crowd-funding or through print sales) to protect the area. Maybe blogs like this help raise awareness? Of course I know my current readers (ie you) are all saints!
For example, there isn't a single sign at the woods warning of their delicate habitat - surely not too hard to fix? Warnings not to enter the woods are online only...this makes little sense to me when it's the people there that need to know. I'm guessing a fence costs a lot but if only the car park wasn't free some income could be generated? Donations could be made. Anyway, I live in hope and if any reader wishes to lend their support please do let me know.
I don't want to be Mr Preachy (too late?!) but wouldn't it be wonderful if all landscape photographers used their art for some good in protecting areas they take advantage of? I know many do - protecting the peat bogs in Yorkshire or helping to re-wild Scotland being a couple examples that spring to mind. Others could to more, I'll leave it at that.
Sadly this was my one and only visit to the woods. I can't in good conscience return now knowing of its fragility. I just hope that the images I share will help a little in spreading the message and at least raise a little awareness.
"It is hardly possible to conceive anything of the sort so grotesque as this wood appears" (Rev Swete, 1797). Who am I to disagree with a man of the cloth? Yet, I found the woods intriguing. There is certainly an other worldly mystery to the woods. Dare I say, Tolkien? Indeed it's difficult to find an online picture of these woods without the word "Ent" used in close proximity (see above).
"The Kraken and the Turtle"
So what can we do? For those seeking their next landscape photography project perhaps helping restore a local environment would be an interesting option? God knows there are enough areas needing some TLC. Reaching out to local groups could be a great start, taking photos of people working to help restore their natural areas to aid their promotion. I'm sure most conservation groups would be delighted to have excellent photos to back up their messaging. Or helping community groups seeking to appeal against dubious housing planning permissions. There's a long list and I'm sure these kinds of projects would be worthwhile and extremely rewarding.
I'd love to hear about any projects you've been involved in or plan to get involved in so please do get in touch. As always, thanks for reading and I hope this has provided a little food for thought. I wish everyone the best and welcome any thoughts you might have.