Eco Comment – Landscaped by Humans

27 July 2023

How often do we marvel at ‘our green and pleasant land’ and the wonders of God’s creation, only to discover that what we’re actually looking at is manmade?

A day out at Chatsworth this week provided just one such occasion. We’d booked for a guided walk around part of the estate. Walking through open parkland is an education in so many ways. Vistas open up in front of you and make you look at the composition of the view. There’s a part of you that knows that much of what you’re seeing was designed and organised by Capability Brown and Joseph Paxton, but it sometimes takes a chance comment to make you fully appreciate just how much they altered what had gone before and how much work is entailed in keeping the dream alive and in good working order.

The dream for some people is to own a small piece of woodland. I wonder if they realise just what they’d be taking on? In the course of our walk we learnt how many species of trees there were in the initial planting and how successive planting has to reflect the original ideas. Plus these days they future proof the land for climate change and overall land management. Over 1,300 acres of ancient semi-natural or ancient replanted woodlands has to be conserved. Apparently 90,000 trees are planted every year and over the last 10 years 96 acres of new woodland have been created on the estate. Different species of trees are being planted that are better suited to the more extremes of temperature that we’re currently experiencing and that are being forecast for the future.

So many people are involved, from the volunteer gardeners to the fully trained foresters and arborealists. The stewardship and management of the woodland and trees has to be managed to UK Woodland Assurance Standards (FSCR certified) and be audited annually to ensure the highest industry standards. Trees are inspected every 15 months. An arbitrary number you might think? Apparently not; it’s so that in the course of four years they have been inspected in every season. Obvious now you think about it, but of course in the normal run of things, we don’t think about it. We saw huge trunks of trees by the path waiting to be graded for future use. 8,000 tonnes of sustainable timber are cut annually. 22 miles of public footpaths and concessionary paths run through the estate woodlands – these all have to be maintained, not to mention the health and safety aspects of falling branches!

We learnt about how a hollow area in the hillside that we walked was actually contrived so that water could be frozen and subsequently kept in the ice house from which we had a great view of the river. Apparently it had been straightened, but parts of the bank are currently collapsing, so it’s thought that the bends are probably going to be re-introduced so that they are more natural, even if this means that the bank of cedars of Lebanon on the opposite bank no longer reflect the straight lines. We also learnt about the Signal crayfish which are taking over the river and the fact that they have to be caught in traps and destroyed, the legalities of which are complicated! In my ignorance I thought that the height of the water was due to the amount of rainfall but apparently it’s actually controlled by the amount of water in the nearby reservoirs and how much they let out in their overflow.

All in all, a fascinating morning and it left us wondering what other parts of the world have been similarly ‘landscaped’ by humans.

Susan Morgan
Eco Group

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