The woods have seen a flurry of human activity in the last month, which is the reason for this much-delayed update. Following on from the Scout Camp, we have seen visits from the Tamworth Wildlife Group, Austrey Forest School, Drayton Bassett Beavers, two Open Days and yesterday the first ever fashion photography shoot at the woods. In addition, I’ve been running beginner Nordic Walking sessions there.
We have certainly never seen so much human activity there, and it is only possible thanks to the progress we have made over the last couple of years with access and safety.
This all got me thinking on the meaning of the phrase “Woodland Activities”. If you look at the magazines and web sites from those organizations that own and run woods, this phrase is usually associated with woodcraft or woodsman-type activities: coppicing, felling, planting or charcoal-burning, green-woodworking, hurdle-making etc. Then there are the leisure activities, principally birdwatching, walking and horse-riding, that are promoted on many web sites – woods are a place to go with the family and enjoy a day out, a gentle stroll with the dog, a nice picnic in some lovely shady scenery among the trees and bluebells. Finally, woodlands are a place for children to explore and learn. Quite a long list, many of which we have seen at Alvecote Wood over the last few weeks.
Then there are the more hard-core activities such as assault courses, mountain biking trails, survival camps, bushcraft workshops and so on – things that we don’t plan to do at our little wood, but which many people enjoy on other sites.
What doesn’t get discussed much is the potential of woodlands for other types of activities, and in particular, artistic activities.
Woodlands offer so much if you slow down and look at them with a creative eye. For the last few months I have been taking a photography course with Digital Masterclass. Although I’ve been taking photographs for years, and felt my technical ability was reasonably good, I lacked the confidence to follow through my artistic ideas. Since starting this course, I’ve started to see things with a different eye. There are images everywhere and these are not just literal images – a snap of trees with blubells underneath. There are colours, textures, shapes, lines, feelings and the emotions brought on by being in woodland that can be turned into images, paintings, sculptures, poetry, music or even “multimedia experiences” provided there are people who can see the potential and bring it to fruition.
Children have very vivid imaginations: The children we’ve had visiting the woods recently have envisioned monsters living in the hollow trees. Little faces full of wonder, joy and just a little bit of fear look up at the grand old trees, their heads full of stories of fairies, monsters and other mythical creatures. What a shame that as we grow up, we suppress that imagination, preferring to see the literal and losing all the other elements of the woodland experience.
One of the things I learned early on about woodland management was that you need to spend some time getting a “feel” for the woods. It would be very easy to wade in and mow, clear, coppice, plant and fell without really understanding your wood. This is modern, technical forest management. My view is that it was a blessing that it took us so long to build access around our woods, as that gave us time to get a feel for each individual little section. Sometimes, it is good just to go and sit or stand, and wait. Look closely at what grows there and why, and what doesn’t grow there and why. Feel the atmosphere, the microclimate, the breeze, the light.
Building on that, I would certainly love to make more of our wood for artistic purposes – not just woodcrafts such as basket-making or hurdle-making, nice though these are. But truly artistic endeavours in which the imagination and feelings are allowed to run free, and express themselves in imagery, words and music. If you start looking at things with an artistic eye, you see them very differently – you see textures, colours, light and shade, shapes, lines that could be expressed in images, or in other ways.
Woodlands, particularly those managed as wildlife habitats, need good scientific methods and proper planned management to make them as good as possible for the creatures that depend on them. But limiting yourself to the technical while losing their artistic potential is a shame – and your own experience of the woods are diminished for it.
Work, exercise, leisure and art are all great woodland activities. Just don’t forget to let your imagination run free next time you visit the woods.
With many thanks to our niece, Joanna Briggs, and Joanna B Photography, and her model Anna and stylist Dora for letting me take some phots at her fashion shoot!