A great guidebook which I take with me as I explore my bioregion is “Atlantic Hazel” by the Atlantic Hazel Action Group. It is a eulogy for our west coast hazelwoods, which survive in numerous fragments – many less than an acre in size – on exposed hillsides, in deep ravines, gullies and other inaccessible places.
Until this book came out they tended to be lumped together with Atlantic Oakwoods, which have started to gain a reputation with the general public, particularly the oakwoods of Loch Sunart. However, our Atlantic hazelwoods are magical and mysterious places in their own right. I quote from the foreword by George Peterken:
“They…are full of unusual species, particularly the lichens, mosses and liverworts that thrive in an oceanic climate. They also seem to be survivors from the earliest woods to colonise Britain after the last Ice Age…By chance rather than by design, these remnants allow us to appreciate not just one of our oldest environments, but one that is better represented here than anywhere else in Europe.”
The book has sent me on a quest to find a particular fungus – the Hazel Gloves – which seems to be present only in those early survivors. Recently I confirmed their presence in a couple of woods near where I live: one a few miles north, and another less than 2 miles south. It is a great source of pleasure and excitement to know that I can walk to such ancient places and share this knowledge with others.
Every bioregion has certain wild plants that go a long way to defining it. As humans we get excited – rightly so – about the cultural possibilities of bioregions – but it is the wild plants that have been growing there for thousands of years that are the guardians of such places, and our inspiration for their development as beacons of sustainability in the true sense of the word.
Seeing the Hazel gloves growing on the limb of a hazel – the same vivid orange colour, the same extraordinary shape, actually like gloved fingers – only miles from where I live, was an incredibly exciting event for me. It gives me hope that we can – we must – come up with a better way of living alongside the natural world.