TALK: By Forest Scientist & Author Dr Gabriel Hemery


Kicking off with a photograph of a gambolling lamb, Gabriel Hemery began his PowerPoint talk at Messums Wiltshire by pointing out that a sheep offers to the consumer both wool and lamb chops. So it is with trees; you can either chop them down or just chop bits off them and keep them alive.
Hemery, one of Britain’s leading forest scientists and co founder and Chief Executive of Sylva, the charity helping to sustain Britain’s woodlands, was at the gallery to talk about his book, The New Sylva; an updated version of John Evelyn’s 1662 tome Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions which is still recognised as one of the most influential texts on forestry ever published.
‘If Evelyn was alive today he would tell us to grow more trees but also to think of what to do with them,’ said Hemery before flashing up on the screen what looked like a lump of lard but was in fact Sappi Biotech, a new substance made from trees set to replace plastic and glass.,
‘Strategically, timber is the most important thing we are running out of,’ said Hemery adding that the UK imports a million tonnes of hardwood into the UK every year.
In 1662, 8% of Britain was covered in woodland and you were not allowed to cut down trees unless you sold it to make British battleships. Before the first World War the amount had dropped to 6% but It was the advent of the Forestry Commission established in 1919 that led to more trees being planted and as recently as the year 2000 the figure rose to 12%. Now it stands at 10% – the third lowest of any country in Europe.
‘We have become disconnected from the natural world as a country,’ said Hemery. Quoting from Richard Louv’s book, Last Child In The Woods, Hemery said we are suffering from a ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’.
‘By rearing two generations of people disconnected from the natural world many people don’t have an affinity with woods and trees and so we need to work out how it can be a sustainable entity’ he said.
Hemery went on to point out that 72% of forest in the UK is privately owned and it is therefore incumbent on the individuals who own trees to keep them flourishing.
At the Sylva Foundation, that has its headquarters near Oxford, 14 businesses, from boat builders to woodcarvers have offices and cross pollinate information and ideas.
Set up by Hemery, with support from Sir Martin Wood, it also runs courses such as Anglo Saxon Tree Writing and making greenwood stools.
Surrounding the buildings and covering 70,000 hectares is planted a community orchard, complete with an apiary, and a demonstration Future Forest with tree species that may thrive despite climate change, pests and diseases as well as a new dedicated forest education area with space for children to learn about and enjoy woodland.
‘We would be better to be without gold than without Sylva’ said Hemery, quoting again from John Evelyn.
After this he went on to discuss his magnificent book, on sale at Messums Wiltshire.
He demonstrated how it came together and how he worked with the illustrator Sarah Simblet to produce a unique but highly topical masterpiece featuring 200 wonderfully delicate yet distinguished drawings of different trees on its 400 pages bound in crimson.

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