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Men of trees
Men of trees
News Dec 15, 2014

There’s no getting away from the balance between the two worlds of business and nature, says Mark Sanderson.

As of January 2019, The Forest Trust has become Earthworm Foundation.

TFT’s UK office moved to a new home in Southampton earlier this year that by a strange quirk of coincidence was the birthplace of the inspiration behind the organisation. The forester Richard St. Barbe Baker was born down the road from us. Although 2014 marks TFT’s fifteenth birthday, in many ways the seeds were sown in 1979, when 15-year-old Scott Poynton listened to a radio interview with St. Barbe. Responsible for planting millions of trees during his life, he founded a movement called the Men of Trees. His ability to use a mixture of poetry and science to discuss ideas left a lasting impression on Scott, who from that day wanted to become a forester.

Last month, St. Barbe’s wife Catriona passed away in New Zealand aged 97. She shared her husband’s passion for the outdoors and finished writing her book ‘The Man of Trees,’ which outlines Richard’s philosophy towards conservation, earlier this year, proving life can still be lived to the full even if you are knocking on for 100 years of age. But Catriona’s life in Mount Cook, with its panoramic views over Lake Pukaki and the mountain range of the Southern Alps, seems light years away from Southampton.

Sometimes the UK office can feel like a lonely outpost compared to TFT’s work in the field in Asia and other parts of the world. When you work among the familiar surroundings of the place you grew up in it’s all too easy to overlook what’s under your nose. So, during any given busy week in the winter all you end up noticing of your surroundings is the concrete roads during the drive to and from work. But if you look a little closer you notice that pretty much everywhere is rooted in nature, even Southampton. The setting of our UK office demonstrates how the two worlds of business and nature exist side by side. Located in an old mill on the River Itchen, it’s a stone’s throw from the M27, a 25-mile stretch of motorway linking Portsmouth to the New Forest, and a five minute drive from the ever expanding local airport. The river itself is home to an abundance of trout and salmon. Go out and look at the water and chances are you will see one leap into the air.

To the rear of the office, the motorway passes over the river, which is the private grounds of Lower Itchen Fishery. From our window you can see a sign in black capital that reads: Private – Keep Out. Ever the intrepid explorer, TFT’s Sarah Hickman interpreted the sign as a guideline rather than a rule. So, keen to see what lay on other side she walked past it, only to be sent packing by the resident ghillie and river keeper. Ghillie is a traditional Scottish term of a gamekeeper employed by the landowner to prevent poaching, which can be a lucrative business in these parts. Along with the Avon and Test, the Itchen is a mecca for salmon fishing.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit estimate a large salmon can be worth around £100 on the black market, and poachers can net around 100 fish at a time. Salmon numbers are reported to be down. So with that in mind you can forgive the river keeper’s occasional robust nature. So if UK staff like myself ever feel disconnected to what’s going on out in the field, they only need look out the window. Delicate ecosystems are closer than I had previously thought.

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