Pliny and Fungi.

I wrote the following post in October but work became very busy and delayed my finishing the post until now. I could have just scrapped it completely but I was so impressed by my visit to Westonbirt Arboretum that I really wanted to share it: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt

The nights are drawing in, my pet tortoise is readying himself for hibernation and the time has come for me to look out my woolly hats again (not least for the office where it can be surprisingly chilly temperature wise!). But I will restrain myself and not quote that marvellous television show regarding the approach of the cold… Travel galore for me recently including a Heads of Land Management meeting in Birmingham where I presented on the status of the New Guidance Framework, a training course over on the East Coast, a really productive meeting regarding the Recreation guidance in Fineshade and a jolly informative site visit about fungi with my mentor Jonathan. My eyes were opened to the amazing and often rather disgusting world of fungi… gosh they are ingenious with their colonisation and reproduction through tiny spores. It was fascinating learning about the different types, how they have a whole network of a thread-like structure called mycelium under the ground and the dangerous ones to watch out for and avoid eating. Growing up a very dear family friend was always eager that I take an interest in the natural world, and during these meetings with Jonathan where I learn so much about it I am often reminded of my friend, and I think to myself how pleased he would be about it.

I truly value such trips into the woods now that I am working in National Office. I adore being outside in the fresh air surrounded by the glories of nature and stomping along in my muddy wellies. I spent a very productive and informative day at Westonbirt Arboretum a few weeks ago where I introduced the new guidance framework to a group of colleagues. I hadn’t presented for some time so it was great to flex my public speaking skills again, and really interesting and helpful to hear the thoughts of others around the new framework. A crucial aspect of the whole project is engaging colleagues with it, not simply those involved in the process of creating the new guidance documents, but also the wider organisation as every staff member uses a different range of guidance documents depending on their role. After a very productive meeting I had the opportunity to learn a little about Westonbirt, the flagship arboretum of the Forestry Commission in England. It was fascinating and I greatly enjoyed being shown around and hearing all about the various projects currently being undertaken.

Westonbirt is such a great example of the remarkable beauty of our tree species for it boasts a remarkable number of them. It has tree species from all over the world, all carefully grouped in different locations and each one an excellent example of its type. I was enchanted by the Treetop Walkway which extends 300 metres at a height of 13 metres off the ground, so one is actually up high among the trees. The views were spectacular and the arboretum covers such a huge area that I must admit I did get just a little lost at one stage! Wandering along I felt rather like Pliny the Elder (not to be confused with his nephew Pliny the Younger that prolific writer of letters) who took such a delight in writing about all the different species of plant, mineral etc he knew of in his Natural History. Oh how Pliny would adore Westonbirt! He would be utterly spoilt for choice as to material for his Natural History and all within walking distance too. I must say he seems to have done jolly well with the limited resources at his command, but oh how he would have got stuck into the range of tree species known to us today. Though personally I always preferred the little nuggets of superfluous information and gossip he slipped into his descriptions above the actual information on nature. I will never forgot the marvellous details regarding Nero’s wife Poppaea and her predilection for shodding her mules with gold!

In fact perhaps I should use Pliny more often and start now by looking up his information on fungi to complement my recently gained knowledge? The only problem with this idea is that I have previously found out to my peril that what was solid information a mere couple of thousand years ago is not always sufficiently up-to-date enough for the modern world… This remains a problem of mine geography wise for though I can show you perfectly ably the territory lines and battle sites from ancient history, and even some of the middle ages, I am dreadful with modern geography. I can show you perfectly well Charlemagne’s old empire or the course of Alexander the Great’s campaign, even the battle of Odessa will see a pin quickly put in the map, but ask me where a British town is and you will find me reaching for Google. I blame my devotion to ancient and medieval history, but on a recent business trip this did not alleviate my suffering when my satnav broke and I was left with my historical knowledge to guide me on a three hour car journey… And so I rather fear that allowing myself the delights of Pliny might not take into account more recent scientific progress on certain subjects, and end up leaving me somewhat behind modern thought!

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