In the midst of the Seventeenth Century, the state of England’s trees were an urgent issue affecting national security, power and wealth. Following the turmoil of the English Civil war, and the restoration of King Charles II, France once again threatened. Concerns were raised in Parliament about the nation’s ability to protect her shores. Woodlands and forests lay neglected and there was a significant shortage of timber for construction, trade and, crucially, the English Navy.
The newly formed Royal Society commissioned John Evelyn, a prominent horticulturalist and diarist, to write a paper reviewing forestry in Britain. His report, titled Sylva: or, a discourse of forest-trees and the propagation of timber in his Majesty’s dominions, was submitted to the Royal Society in 1662. It formed the basis of Evelyn’s then substantial book, (of the same title) first published in 1664. Sylva became so popular, that it ran to four editions in his lifetime, and seven posthumously. Featuring approximately 55 species of trees and shrubs, it explained their culture and uses in Britain and abroad. Sylva was the world’s first forestry book, and the first book to be published by the Royal Society.
Forestry is now a global business. Timber is grown in diverse habitats, and in both natural and plantation forests, and is transported worldwide in huge quantities, with different countries dominating in the production of specific crops. Birch, for example, which is harvested to produce sawn timber, plywood and paper, is mostly grown in Finland, where extensive forests surround the country’s lakes. Cork oak grown for the wine industry is exported from Portugal and southern Spain, where small farms are interspersed with almond and sweet chestnut groves, all supplying the food trade. Oak, a timber that many people still think of as ‘quintessentially English’ is grown in France, Germany, Netherlands and North America.
Three hundred and fifty years after Evelyn first published his tour de force, we again realise that there is an important if not unprecedented role for trees, forests and timber in our lives, and with this, an imperative need to refresh our view. As society continues to experience increasing environmental change, trees will become more valued and needed, not only as beautiful plants shaping our landscapes and city parks, affirming our sense of place and heritage, but also as our most green renewable resource, and one of our most important environmental protectors. Trees provide carbon-lean products for construction, heat and energy, while at the same time they can control flooding, soil erosion, and reduce the destructive power of winds. Woodlands help to maintain the quality of our drinking water, provide habitat for wildlife, and play a crucial role in helping biodiversity adapt to climate change.
The New Sylva will bring the essence of John Evelyn’s most celebrated work to a new readership. It will integrate sensitively parts of his original, visionary and very beautiful prose, with a much-needed contemporary review. It will deliver authoritative scholarship in a style that is brief, clear, accessible, and pleasurable to read, and for the very first time, it will be copiously illustrated. The New Sylva will celebrate mankind’s relationship with trees through a creative integration of history, science and art.
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|Publisher||Artist in Residence|
|The New Sylva will be published by Bloomsbury in 2014||Artwork for The New Sylva is supported by the Sylva Foundation’s Artist in Residency|