Wildlife & Nature

An exciting new project: a book about Britain’s trees

A post with a difference this time!   I’d like to tell you about a new project I”m working on, which is a book about trees.

The title is ‘Britain’s Trees:  A Treasury of Traditions, Superstitions, Remedies and Literature’, and I’ve been asked to write it by Pavilion Books, on behalf of the National Trust.

I don’t need to tell you how much I love trees, and I know many of you do too!   It’s a dream of a project, featuring all of our much-loved species including oak, ash, hazel, birch and rowan;   and some that might be less familiar, including hornbeam, alder buckthorn and wild service-tree.   The snippets and stories I’m discovering are fascinating, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

There will be a little bit of natural history, to help distinguish the trees in question;  but for the most part I will be focusing on these main elements:

  • Long-held traditions relating to different species, either local or widespread;   and some interesting uses of the tree, whether for its leaves, fruit, branches or wood.
  • Superstitions…  Including some rather strange and intriguing stories:  for instance, which trees were regularly denounced and berated by passers-by, and for what reason?  And which were revered to the extent that no one wanted to uproot them, no matter where they were growing?
  • Natural remedies, some of which have a foundation in science, and some of which sound deliciously, utterly bonkers…
  • Literary connections:    trees that feature in literature, including Shakespeare, Chaucer, the Romantic poets, Austen, Dickens, Hardy, and many more.  I’m also looking for references in Scottish (Gaelic & Scots), Welsh and Irish literature.

…move along these shades
In gentleness of heart; with gentle hand
Touch—for there is a spirit in the woods.”

William Wordsworth, ‘Nutting

There will also be features on some individual veteran trees throughout Britain – the stories they hold, and their significance within the communities that have existed for centuries around them.  As you can imagine, whittling these down to a manageable number is going to be hard!

I’m interested to know about long-held traditions regarding trees, so if you have an old custom in your town or village (in Britain, for the purpose of the book at least, although I’m always interested in worldwide customs!) then please drop me a line on jo(at)thehazeltree.co.uk

Photos © Jo Woolf


  • Jean Simone MD PhD

    You amaze me to sheer jealousy. Your love for learning continues to produce great gifts for others that will last for centuries. What a feat you are undertaking but the compilation will be a resource for all ages worldwide. Thank you for your unquenchable thirst for knowledge and love of a walk in the woods. Jean

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you very much, Jean! It’s such a privilege to be able to share these things with people all over the world, who love and appreciate the natural world too. Very exciting, and I’m loving the research and the writing. Will keep you updated! 🙂

  • Zulema Morin

    Best of luck on your book about trees. Please keep us posted! Thank you for your insightful posts. I visited Scotland last year for the first time and fell in love with the countryside. Your posts keep me linked in a meaningful way and I learn a lot about places I may not be able to see personally, or that I might seek out on my next visit.

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you, and I certainly will! I’m so glad that to hear that you fell in love with Scotland. Lovely also to know that my posts keep you connected, and hopefully will inspire you for another visit!

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you, Susan! Yes, that’s on my list! Thank you for mentioning it. Quite a few children’s books are based around trees and woodland, which is lovely.

  • edith Douglas

    What a HUGE job, but you are just the person to do it. Am looking forward to reading a copy when the time comes, and in the meantime, enjoy the work!

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you for your confidence, Cornell! It is certainly a challenge, especially as there is so much to say about some of the trees, as you can imagine. So yes, some care needed!

  • shiningbearheart

    I am so excited about this!!!! Do you know when it might be coming out? I am assuming at least some of the material from your blog will be included, which should speed up the writing process. Can’t wait to own my own copy.

    • Jo Woolf

      That’s lovely, and thank you! 🙂 No, I don’t have a publication date yet but will keep you updated. Yes, since I’ve already researched and written about some trees here, it helps a lot! 🙂

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you, Justbod! I’m enjoying it very much already. I know, how lovely to be able to research these things! I’ll be like a walking directory of tree lore if I can remember it all! 🙂

  • davidoakesimages

    Good luck….now that is some big project. Now here is one little weather rhyme, you probably have heard it all ready. But in the spring we all look forward to trees coming into leaf, then we know that spring is here and summer is not far behind. We also have, as a nation, a fixation with the weather, so not surprising the two are linked…..

    Oak before the Ash
    We are in for a Splash

    Ash before the Oak
    We are in for a Soak.

    May sound daft but over recent years I tend to think the old rhyme has some truth in it.

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you, David! Yes, I’d heard that, but thank you… we always look to see which is out first. Last spring they were out pretty much at the same time, but we had the most glorious dry summer!

  • Marie Macpherson

    Oh and there’s the Eildon Tree, the magical hawthorn that Thomas the Rhymer sat under when he met the Fairy Queen. Only a stone marks the spot now. And the great oak Thomas Carlyle planted in memory of John Knox in Haddington …

    • Jo Woolf

      All great suggestions Marie, thank you! Especially the Eildon Tree. I will try to include them all. There are so many magnificent veteran oaks and yews that it’s really hard choosing which ones to focus on for a special feature. You could almost tell the history of Britain through them. Lovely idea to have a wedding blessing under the Ormiston Yew!

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you, Marie! I hadn’t heard of that one although I knew of the hawthorn that she is supposed to have planted at St Mary’s College in St Andrews. That’s another interesting story with the sycamore – reminder of how young they both were, as well!

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