Close your eyes. Imagine you are walking through an area of pristine forest. The air is completely pure and you can taste the freshness with every breath. No diesel particulates, no fumes, no dirty urban smells. The light casting a dappled pattern on the forest floor is also free from any human interference. There are no streetlights nearby and there isn’t a glow on the horizon from the combined light emissions of a thousand homes. The only sounds are the interactions of the natural world; wind passing through the branches of the ancient oak trees that surround you, water burbling over rocks in the river and birds calling to one another in the never-ending quest to find a mate. You pause and bend down to drink from the river and find that the water is also free of any unwanted additions. It’s clear and tastes sweet. There is no agricultural run off to sour it, there are no sewage overspills upriver and no scum floats on the surface. In fact the only movement in the water is the darting of tiny fish as they travel from their spawning grounds in the gravelly sediment of the upper reaches.
As you peer into the forest more intently you recognise that the full age spectrum of trees are growing all around you. This forest is predominantly made up of oak trees, a creature that can live for up to a thousand years, and you can see tiny saplings in the first burst of life growing in the shade of giant nurturing old mother trees who are likely entering their sixth or seventh century. In between there are excitable juvenile trees that crest at head height, proud mature oaks producing an abundance of acorns and weary veterans whose roots intertwine with the mycelial fungal network that creates a mat beneath your feet that your toes sink into. They all jostle for space amongst a neighbourly riot of red berried rowan, catkin draped hazel, pale barked holly and thirsty springy willow. The rocks are covered in sphagnum moss, so soft and spongy that they would make perfect bedding if they weren’t so sodden. The bases of the trees are surrounded by a cacophony of brambles, ferns, bilberry and toadstools while in the canopy a graceful garland of spearmint lichen coats the branches and hangs down like living stalactites all the way until their outstretched fingers gently stroke the mycorrhizal floor.