Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Comments on the Management of Epping Forest
(S321a: 1880)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A third person summary of comments Wallace made in response to William Paul's paper 'The Future of Epping Forest,' read at the 28 January 1880 meeting of the Society of Arts. Wallace's remarks were published later that year on page 184 of the Society's Journal series. To link directly to this page, connect with:

    Mr. A. R. Wallace thought the main object to be arrived at should be, in a few words, to preserve and produce by any possible means, for future generations of Englishmen, the greatest possible amount of beauty and the finest effects of forest scenery capable of being produced in our country and climate. He had lived in forests probably more than most Englishmen, and there was nothing he enjoyed more. The peculiar charms which attached to forests were--first, their wildness, their solitude, and grandeur; next, the varied combination of sylvan beauty produced by the vegetation; next, the exceeding beauty of large grand specimens of trees individually; next, the variety and beauty of the animal and vegetable life which you found in forests and nowhere else; for, wherever you went all over the world, if you wanted to find the most interesting and beautiful plants, animals, birds, and insects, you must go into the forests. Then there was another point in which forests were so delightful to the inhabitants of cities or cultivated ground, which was the feeling of relief, of liberty, you enjoyed there. With regard to these special beauties and advantages to be gained by the preservation or production of fine forests in our country, it appeared to him that the first thing was to preserve this wildness, and for that purpose everything approaching to symmetry, whether in curves or straight lines, should be sedulously avoided, and it required great care to avoid it. Then, again, solitude could only be produced by great extent, and, therefore, his idea was that it should be the first principle to cover the whole ground, speaking, generally, with forest scenery. Of course, they would not interfere with the beautiful open grassy glades which were the chief charm of forest scenery, because without them you could not see the forest. He quite agreed, therefore, with Mr. Paul, that in the matter of roads and paths great caution should be used; none should be made without good reason, and large open roads should be few; paths might be more numerous, but if there were too many, and, above all, if they were symmetrical, the wild character of the forest would be destroyed. Grandeur was chiefly produced by an abundance of large noble trees, and of that he was afraid there was not much chance in Epping Forest for the present generation; but it could be produced by carefully selecting suitable species, choosing and preparing the ground, and seeing the trees did not kill each other by being allowed to grow thickly, which was the common fault of planters in this country. A varied combination of sylvan beauty was to be obtained in the manner Mr. Paul had laid down, by planting a sufficient variety of trees--he did not care whether they were British or foreign, so that there was sufficient variety--but, at the same time, not too great a variety, in one spot, but arranged in masses, groups, and groves. To encourage plants, animals, and birds, nothing was wanted but to leave them alone; you only wanted time and the absence of destroying agencies. For that purpose, extensive tracts should be left in their natural state as far as possible. Sir Fowell Buxton had admirably shown how much draining was required for comfort, but large tracts of marshy land should not be destroyed, as it would only add to the monotony which already existed. There was another important thing--perhaps the most important and the most difficult, as the forest was near a great city, and was for the use of a great population--it was necessary to make it accessible and enjoyable. Now at present a great portion of the surface had been ruined, by actually carrying away the soil, leaving great holes into which you were constantly stumbling without great care. Now, the enjoyableness of a forest depended in great measure on the freedom with which you could walk about in it; you did not want to look at every step, but to walk on a tolerably regular surface carpeted with the natural vegetation. This had been to a great extent destroyed, and one of the greatest difficulties the Conservators would have to deal with would be to restore that surface. Again, that point about liberty was more important, and that was entirely in the power of the Conservators. They should not interfere any more than was absolutely necessary with the perfect freedom of everyone who went into the forest. His idea was, that no man, woman, or child, should be prevented cutting any stick they liked, which they could cut with a pocket-knife. They all knew what a delight it was to a boy to cut a stick, and, as for picking flowers, what was the use of having them if children could not go and gather them? The forest was so large, that hardly any restriction of that kind was needed; but chopping and lopping must of course be forbidden. Mr. Paul had admirably laid down the chief lines on which improvement should be made, and to go into details was out of the question. Sir Fowell Buxton had slightly misrepresented his paper, because in that he most carefully guarded himself, and restricted his proposal to the planting of foreign trees on those tracts of ground which had been enclosed and cultivated, and where he himself thought they would be suitable.

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