A tribute to a conservation pioneer

In the working life of a landscape architect there will always be a small number of pioneers who change landscape policy for the better. Oliver Rackham, who died on the 12 February 2015 was one such example as he changed national policy on the management of our woodlands. An ecologist, botanist and historian he spent his whole life at Corpus Christi, Cambridge changing long held preconceptions about how the British countryside and particularly woodlands had been created.

In the 1970s I was a member of an amenity society in Essex and was shown a confidential paper drafted by Rackham criticising the National Trust management regime of Hatfield Forest. To be fair to the Trust their management was replicated by landowners across the country but it was Rackham who pointed out that it was wrong to clear native woodlands and re-plant them with conifers. Talk about a hot potato. It was early days in the environmental movement; we were all regarded as complete eccentrics and challenging establishment practices was no easy task. Rackham never gave up; he developed the concept of ‘ancient woodland’, high in value for biodiversity and managed by traditional methods. In 1985 the Forestry Commission finally adopted a new policy for the management of native woodland changing hearts and minds and Wholesale NFL Jerseys working practices for the better across the UK.

All woodland that has existed continuously since 1600 is now designated as ancient woodland. Not all ancient woodlands are protected but awareness of their value is much greater with a mention in paragraph 1181 of the National Planning Policy Framework.

The obituary in The Times reports that Rackham’s students needed a great deal of energy to keep up with him out on site as he would stride off abruptly to look at ‘some hedgerow or pollard [that] caught his interest’. I can vouch for this behaviour. A friend asked Rackham to visit Hatfield Park, just south of Stansted Airport, to look at a ditch and bank that he thought were the earthworks of a medieval deer park boundary. I was invited along; Rackham and my friend set off across the fields at a cracking pace. Unfortunately I was half way through my convalescence after a serious operation; no allowance was made for my infirmity and as they became two dots on the horizon I turned tail and went home.

Rackham also raised awareness of the uniqueness of the extraordinary number of veteran trees in the UK landscape and wrote several highly readable and accessible books including Trees and Woodlands in the British Landscape (1976), Ancient Woodland: Its

History, Vegetation and Uses in England (1980), The Last Forest: The Story of Hatfield Forest (1989), The Illustrated History of the Countryside (1994) and Woodlands (2006). His last book was The Ash Tree (2014) was prompted by the spread of ash dieback (Chalara).

It is hard to know if our generation is promoting management