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15th November 2016

Book review: The Long, Long Life of Trees


Keith Alexander, ATF trustee, reviews Fiona Stafford’s book, the Long, Long Life of Trees, described by the publishers as ‘a lyrical tribute to the diversity of trees, their physical beauty, their special characteristics and uses, and their ever-evolving meanings.’

Fiona Stafford is professor of English at the University of Oxford, and her book is primarily about trees in our culture, including English literature, songs, paintings and myths. An introductory chapter is followed by short chapters on yew, cherry, rowan, olive, cypress, oak, ash, poplar, holly, sycamore, birch, horse chestnut, elm, willow, hawthorn, pine and apple –  a rather eccentric mix of species, with exotica such as olive featured but not more familiar trees such as beech, sweet chestnut, pear or plum.

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28th July 2016

Capability Brown landscapes, and what beetles say about continuity

National Trust

Veteran trees in parkland at Wimpole

Many of the UK’s richest sites for wood-decay beetles are those which were influenced by Capability Brown. In this 300th anniversary year of the landscaper’s birth, Keith Alexander, ATF trustee and ecological consultant, considers why saproxylic beetles often thrive in Brown’s landscapes.

Wood pasture and parkland was the original ‘Wildwood’ which developed following the last Ice Age. We have evidence of this from the subfossil beetle fauna which shows that 28% of beetles known from the Wildwood period are species of open grassland, while 13% are tree canopy species and 47% are saproxylic (dependent on dead and decaying wood), but a mere 2.5% are shade-demanding species. This demonstrates that trees and open grassland, grazed by large herbivores, were the predominant vegetation cover, rather than closed canopy woodland.

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