Mark Antcliff – Woodland Officer
When people with only a fairly vague perception of the North York Moors ask me about my work they often wonder what a Woodland Officer can be doing here. Their confusion is of course based on their mental image of the Park based on its name i.e. famous open heather moorland and apparent lack of vegetation above head height.
I usually respond to these enquiries with an account of my daily workload – a trip up on to the moor to make a check for trees that may have escaped captivity, and are marauding across the heather landscape. After a cup of tea and a read of the newspaper in a local teashop I return to the office to make my report and fill out the required red tape forms. This is of course not true. I only do this four days a week!
The reality is that the North York Moors National Park is actually one of the more wooded National Parks in Britain. This is particularly significant because there are indeed substantial areas of the North York Moors with very few trees.
Thinking about this lead me to consider if there are other places with similar misconceptions of their dendrological interest. I immediately thought of Iceland. I have to admit I have never been there; I flew over it once at 30,000 feet and it looked as I expected it to, bereft of any arboricultural features.
The reality for Iceland is that it is a lot less wooded than it is here, but trees do grow and there are even some woodlands. The long winters and harsh climate makes it a tough life for trees, but they do exist. The only native forest forming species is Downy Birch. Rowan is uncommon and Aspen is rare, being found naturally growing in only in six locations. There is also the Tea Leaved Willow but that’s more of a low shrub really.
Iceland does have a forest service (Skoraekt Rikisins) with a website which is really worth a look as there is a good English summary of their woodland resource.
beech, redwood and magnolia. But successive glaciations and climate change have led to the birch woodlands now present.
About 1,100 years ago, when humans first inhabited the country, forest cover was estimated to be 25 – 40%. Timber and fuel use and animal grazing reduced tree cover down to less than 1% by 1950. Since then it has risen to 1.5% (1,530 km2) through the work of various initiatives and interested groups. Their aim is to reach 12% by 2100.
By contrast the National Park woodland cover is currently around 22% and we’re hoping to get to 30% in the same time frame.
I have to admit that this is a bit of a shameful blog post. It came out of the fact that our Blog is yet to naturally propagate a view from Iceland. We even had one from Mongolia recently (although that could have been by mistake). There is a token prize on offer for the writer who gets our Blog a view from the Mid Atlantic Trench – and I’m hoping that prize has my name on it.
However now I have considered the woodland of Iceland, regardless of my initial motivation, I’m thinking that I should go and have a look for myself.