BES Forest Ecology Group

A British Ecological Society Special Interest Group

Fall of a Great Oak – Oliver Rackham has died

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.

Oliver Rackham. © Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Oliver Rackham. © Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

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:

2 comments on “Fall of a Great Oak – Oliver Rackham has died

  1. Pingback: Oliver Rackham OBE (October 17th 1939 – February 12th, 2015): the loss of a giant on the world stage of the study of trees and woods | ianswalkonthewildside

  2. Pingback: Oliver Rackham |

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This entry was posted on February 16, 2015 by in Uncategorized.

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