How many of the world’s eco icons are threatened? Probably most of them because they tend to acquire their status in part to their proximity to populations and that, these days, is the kiss of death.
Take Robin Hood’s Sherwood forest, for instance. It once occupied 100,000 acres in present-day Nottinghamshire County in northern England. Today, it has at its core a mere 450 acres.
Which is a shame because in this age of lavish acquisition there has been no time when the Robin Hood virtue of stealing from the rich to give to the poor should be more at play — and the iconic playground should be as robust as the increasingly necessary game.
But Sherwood is more than about Robin. It’s about its prized oaks:
Park rangers say the collection of ancient oaks is one of the greatest in Europe. But they see an increase in the trees’ rate of decline.
Over the centuries, the forest was carved up for farms, mines, towns and logging. Sherwood timber built medieval ships and even part of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Now, the ravages of age — and, some fear, climate change — are taking their toll. On average one veteran oak per year would fall; this year seven have come down and the rate seems to be accelerating, said Izi Banton, the forest’s chief ranger.
Currently 997 ancient oaks stand on the 450 acres known as the “beating heart of the forest,” Banton said. About 450 are still living, and of those, 250 are good shape, while the other 200 are particularly vulnerable. The remainder are standing deadwood, still valuable to the forest because of the life they support.
Each oak has its own management plan and some even have names, like Medusa, Stumpy and Twister. Rangers monitor them closely, watching for branches that look droopy or stressed, anxious to ensure that each tree lives as long as possible, said Paul Cook, a senior ranger.
Ancient oaks survive about 900 years, of which 300 years are spent growing and 300 dying. Of the seven trees already lost this year, four were felled by high winds on one February night.
In a clearly inventive way, the Brits are looking to a TV program to protect and expand the forest:
Hopes are high that Sherwood Forest will win the grant from BIG Lottery, a branch of the National Lottery that gives out money to good causes. Last year, the lottery launched Living Landmarks, a TV program that encourages communities across Britain to work together to improve quality of life and environment.
The lottery committee has shortlisted Sherwood and four other projects to vie for the $100 million.
“This lottery project is the biggest one that there’s ever been,” Brady said. “It’s almost a once in a lifetime opportunity to get the forest back on track.”