Review of ‘Sheffield's Woodland Heritage’, by Mel Jones

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Mel Jones
Published by Wildtrack Publishing
ISBN 0-9521733-4-4 (2003)

As with previous titles from Wildtrack Publishing, this new and updated edition from Mel Jones combines thorough research with accessible text. Sheffield's Woodland Heritage covers an area on our own doorstep but also presents a picture typical of many ancient woodlands. The term 'ancient' has a precise scientific meaning when applied to woodlands: they have been in existence for at least 400 years and may even be 11,000 years old.

Clues from the past abound in our woodlands, whether connected with traditional management methods or old crafts such as charcoal burning, basket and besom making, tanning, coopering and clogging - all of which have been the subject of past Peak Advertiser features. Woodlands which we now visit for pleasure were often working woods and in some cases known to our medieval ancestors. In truth, our predecessors lived in a 'Wood Age'. In this part of the country we may view stone as our traditional building material but many of our oldest churches, and certain buildings, probably replaced earlier timber structures. And without English oak for rafters, our stone slab roofs would have been an impossible undertaking.

Bob Warburton has produced some fascinating black and white illustrations, including old maps, a warrant, a sketch of a woodland gravestone telling the sad fate of a 'wood collier' and a stern warning to people gathering hazel-nuts in the woods of Beauchief which 'Have for several Years past suffered great Damage about this Season of the Year, from a set of idle People who stile themselves NUTTERS.'

On a more serious note, our ancient woods are fast disappearing or being changed out of all recognition. In a recent half-century, coniferous plantations have replaced 30% (375,000 acres) of our ancient broadleaved woodland, destroying flora and reducing wildlife habitats, whilst 100,000 acres have been cleared altogether. Having shown just what we owe to our ancient woodlands, the author spells out the importance of thoughtful management for future generations. This book will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in local history, conservation, the natural world, or simply walking in the woods.

Review by Julie Bunting

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