Wasteland to wild land
As the pre-plastics past becomes more remote, is it harder to imagine post-plastics futures? That’s the thought that struck me while catching up on some rewilding reading. The appropriately named Isabella Tree calls out our modern distaste for ‘wasteland’ in her concise critique of ‘managed reforestation’ plans for England’s new Northern Forest. In particular, our “demonisation of thorny scrub” means that we can only imagine forest regeneration as a task for humans armed with spades and plastic tree defenders.
“In the days before plastics and mass manufacture, thorny scrub provided us with charcoal, medicines, dyes, food, fodder, thatching, furniture, gunpowder and tools. Above all, it was valued as a nursery for trees. ‘The thorn is the mother of the oak’ is an ancient forestry saying … Now, however, we consider scrub ‘wasteland’ and eradicate it wherever it appears, and even on nature reserves, volunteers spend weekends ‘scrub-bashing’.”
‘Wild’ land is ‘self-willed’ land, and Isabella’s call is for us to leave some space — real and imaginal — for the land to do it for itself — and for us. “Hawthorn, blackthorn, dog-rose, gorse and bramble are nature’s barbed wire.” And “a single jay can plant 7,500 acorns in four weeks.”