A British Ecological Society Special Interest Group
From Keith Kirby
Oliver Rackham, who died suddenly of a heart attack on February 12th, aged 75, did not invent the term ancient woodland – that goes back to the 19th century – but his ground-breaking book ‘Trees and woodland in the British landscape’ published in 1976 brought it to the attention of conservationists and later foresters. He explained its significance in lucid but precise prose that was the characteristic also of his many later books. In 2014 he produced a short volume on ash in the context of ash dieback.
He opened the eyes of many, including me, to the importance of understanding the history of a wood if its current state and importance were to be judged correctly. Another aspect was his insistence of dealing with the particulars of a place or issue, of not being content with generalisations. ‘Ah yes’ he would interject ‘but is that actually true here…’ He expressed his own views firmly, often in memorable phrases – for example dismissing the role of fire in prehistoric Britain because our broadleaved woods burn like ‘wet asbestos’, or adding to a discussion on the ecology of ramsons (Allium ursinum) that the leaves went well in peanut butter sandwiches.
As well as working on British woodland and our landscape history more generally, he spent much time applying similar approaches to the Cretan landscape. A second book on this was being finalised last year.
Oliver was a unique character, in many ways an archaetypal don, somewhat eccentric, but above all a scholar and a gentleman.
He will be much missed.
From Dan Bebber
I’m sure many readers will have enjoyed Rackham’s books on the British countryside, which combined history both natural and social with biology, ecology and economics in a most satisfying way.
You can find them here: