The story of this post, or the question, is about the use of fossil fuels.
When we began this project, we decided to avoid fossil fuels completely and so we learned how to use hand tools in order to manage the woodland. We continue to use hand tools
but it was clear, after 6 years at The Field, that managing a woodland with hand tools is slow and labour-intensive. We never had the volume of volunteers necessary to do anything but take out a few of the younger sycamore, one of the two invasive species of tree. Felling trees with hand saws is great fun and I repeat the opportunity with any new visitor to The Field who comes during the winter months and when we do green woodwork, but I can assure you from recent experience of a few hours processing a huge beech tree limb that came down in the neighbouring farmer’s field that using hand saws is very hard, sore work. It is also slow. Much slower than using a chainsaw.
We had a grant last year to remove and replace with native saplings both the sycamore that out-compete the native species of tree and the cherry laurel who are resilient bullies providing habitat for almost no one. (I exaggerate – but only a bit.) The work of felling and processing scores of trees, some entangled and huge, took 2 men with chainsaws a few weeks. It would have taken us, with our pre-industrial technology many years or many scores of labourers.
That’s the point. Since the mid-nineteenth century, with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuels have replaced people in all aspects of industry including woodland management. And it takes more people than will volunteer today to begin to replicate what a chainsaw will do. When I watched Twelve Years A Slave and recognised the tools and tasks of Solomon Northup, I realised the full implication of fossil fuel usage; what it meant to replace labour with technology. Countless millions since the Industrial Revolution have lost their jobs and their livelihoods with new waves of technology replacing them, but like any technology, there is a good side as well as a bad. With chainsaws we need neither slavery nor a feudal system of peasants to provide food, or maintain woodlands for either wood or biodiversity.
Alas, now that I have convinced myself, I’ll have to go and learn how to use a chainsaw…