When I started using our little woodland for my fledgling forest school business, my youngest son couldn’t walk. He was potty trained there the day I forgot to bring spare nappies. Today he whittled a rudimentary weapon designed, but thankfully not sufficiently robustly, to puncture the tyres of the owners of our woodland.
His best friendships have been made in our little woodland. Great dramas have been enacted there. Friendships built and broken. Loves professed. Games played. The trees have been given names which depend a bit on their purpose and also, just because they have names. Babies have been born (I mean, not actually there, even though I have tried to encourage it) and are now kids who can go off and play on their own. Treasured pets have been brought to our woodland to be laid to rest.
When a bird dies and the carcass is found on the floor, it is given a burial. When a branch falls off a tree it is discovered and repurposed. When the chives start growing in winter, they get stuffed into water bottles and brought home for parents to chop up in potatoes – every year. When a tree is chopped down, we mourn it.
In short, our little woodland is like a second home to the children who’ve known this place just as long as they’ve known anything else. They know its nooks and crannies, its seasonal rhythms, the best hiding places and where they left that spade three months ago. From one week to the next they return to their projects and places – they pick up where they left off as if it was only moments, rather than days, since the last negotiation over territorial rights to that bit of bramble hedge took place.
So yes, they feel like they own the place. And rightly so.
Which would be fine, if it wasn’t actually owned by someone else. A someone else who, despite saying that the only reason they own it is so they can look after it for everyone to enjoy, actually doesn’t seem to do anything but cause our little woodland harm. Trees are chopped down without warning, treehouses are removed with chainsaws, clear-cutting and leaving behind the detritus is not uncommon (although we did use that detritus to make a very fine pine village, thank you very much).
So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the children who love this space, who treat this space like it’s an extension of their own homes, spent a day crafting weapons and devising various schemes to bring torture, illness and ruin upon the owners of our woodland after we arrived today and discovered 5 trees had been chopped down without warning, and seemingly without reason.
They feel like they have to defend their space. Even though it isn’t their space. And it’s pretty obvious to everyone that the people whose space it actually is don’t actually care about it like these kids do.
But they’ve been pushed. They’ve been disempowered. They’ve not been asked how they feel or what they think or what they would be prepared to do to look after the woodland. They’re just treated like spare furniture that just happens to be sitting in the shed when a renovation is getting underway.
The owners of the woodland are too short-sighted to realise that the attitudes of these children, and the rest of their generation, are the attitudes that will shape the health and well-being of this planet for many years into the future. They want to love the land. They want to be the possessors of the land. But they’re being made to feel like intruders. And instead of growing up to be passionate warriors for the environment, all they’re really learning right now is to hate the people who own the land. And all they’re really going to be able to do with that hatred is fight the people that they should be working with to improve all of our lives and the health of our little woodland.
These kids aren’t spare furniture and our little tucked away woodland is not an old shed. It is our home and it is our love. These kids have ideas and ambitions and they should be being respected and consulted – but instead they’re being antagonised by the very people who claim to be trying to protect the land. The powers that be need to take note that these kids are prepared to fight; the adults would do well to get on the right side of the battle.