Down among the trees

It was a pleasant day, so my wife and I decided to go for a walk in Delamere forest.

I have slightly ambivalent feelings about places like this. On the one hand, they provide a much-needed protected nature area in the midst of so much that is altered by humans but, on the other hand, they are areas that have been altered by humans.

You can’t really get away from the fact that, in the UK at least, there is nowhere that doesn’t show the mark of human intervention. There is nothing ‘natural’, unless you count (as we should) the fact that human intervention is no less natural than, say, beavers building dams. I suppose that what marks human intervention out from the rest is that the things we do are not subject to the same checks and balances that other animals (and plants) face. If a beaver’s actions destroy an environment, the beaver goes extinct in that area; if we destroy an environment, we move on and do our damage elsewhere.

I am heartened to see that (apart from the paths) there seems to be no artificial intervention going on in Delamere. That is, there is no well-meaning tidying-up being done – no collapsed trees being removed, no stagnant water being cleaned. It’s a mistake to think that we know best – that our aesthetics should be brought to bear in any ecology. Time and again nature has shown us that the quickest and best route to recovery for a given environment is to leave it alone. Like so much that we find out in the various sciences, there is much that is counter-intuitive about ecology. I saw a programme recently about somewhere in the US, where biodiversity was increased by the re-introduction of wolves to the area. The web of reasoning was complex, but there it is: re-introduce a top predator, and the whole environment gets healthier.

It’s the same here – leave a fallen tree, and it provides a home for all sorts of creatures who go on to break it down, fertilise the soil and so on. Ecologies are chaotic systems; it’s almost impossible to predict in advance what the effect of an intervention might be. But there is much truth in the saying ‘evolution is smarter than we are’.

Of course, it’s not perfect: Delamere is a visitor attraction, the lake is artificial and there’s a Go Ape course running through most of the forest. But I think that the important part is to now leave nature to get on with it; for us, as visitors, to be part of the ecology and not pretend to be the custodians of it.

For those interested, all pictures were taken with a Nikon D800 and Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. (As an aside, I’ve just calculated that more than half the pictures I’ve taken with that camera have used that lens. Can you guess that I rather like it?)