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I reached a milestone of 60 articles with the November 2009 exploration of the North York Moors and its woodland cover (The most natural succession of woodland). It was very hard to get a start on the article after a break from writing of two months. I asked myself as I wrote, how could I keep on saying the same thing over and over again, but make it appear fresh each time? There is no answer to that, even if wanted there to be. With that article more than most, I wasn’t entirely sure how it would begin, where it was mainly going, but I did have an idea of what would take it to its end. The writing of it turned out to be a process of development overtaken by events.
I knew that I wanted to contrast two North Yorks woodlands, having given a context for the values I would apply. But as I gathered my research material, tangential information popped up that gave me a hook into the regional and historical context for these woodlands, and with the observations of others moving it past just my own views. Having got to there, I realised I could indulge myself with the opportunity to reflect on some recent national occurrences that had bothered me, and which could be the introduction that set the direction of the article. Thus what was originally the beginning became part of the middle, itself sandwiched either side with new material, and with the end ultimately being the better for it. I worry though that this evolutionary approach produces disjointed articles that are over long. The readership numbers will eventually tell.
The average readership of those 60 articles over the lifetime of their posting is 32 per month. Barring that latest article, which has yet to establish a trend, all eight of the other articles in this review period exceed that average monthly readership, with seven of them appearing in the top 10 (the average monthly readership for these range from 46 to 93). To some extent, this may be the heightened interest that comes from the early stages of readership after posting, and they may drop down the averages later. But some of them may become “classics”, articles that are consistently read more than others each month. Such an article is the one that is in first place. It comes from the last review period - Swineholes Wood – ‘Too many trees being cut down' – and is now always the highest read article each month. A home (front) page compilation - Heathland MADNESS - the juggernaut of nature conservation – that is also from the last review period, attracts an average monthly readership of 100, beating out the “monthly” article. It would seem that these two high scorers are “paired” in their readership, as they are also complementary in their content, and they consistently appear in the top ten “Entry Pages” in the web statistics.
Other home pagers continue to score highly: Links (average monthly readership 90) Treeless Forests (63) Wildland Books (61) and ssenredliW (52). The latter is where I get to rail at absurdities, no more so than the last entry of this review period. Not only did journalists get it wrong about what a government minister was to say about rewilding in a speech, the press continued to get it wrong even after the text of the speech was published.
I added a section on the home page on Wild Europe during this review period, and this also scores highly (average monthly readership of 65). I picked up on a draft resolution on wilderness in Europe that had been passed last December by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament. From this committee stage, it was scheduled go to the European Parliament on 3 February 2009, and so I took it upon myself to email information out when the resolution was passed, as there seemed to be no recognition in Britain of these events. I sought government responses on the resolution, and reported on the conference in Prague that took place a few months later. I will report more as things develop in continental Europe.
This review period has seen changes that will become increasingly apparent. I left the Wildland Network as it seemed incapable of responding and contributing to the evolving situation. I have kept my reports of WN meetings available for the present, but they will go as my main focus outside of Self-willed land is now the Wildland Research Institute in Leeds University, launched in October this year (Challenging the bias: a Wildland Research Institute for Britain). I have become a research associate in the School of Geography that hosts the Institute, and edited the first issue of Wilder Horizons, the Institutes journal.
3 December 2009
While the overall trend in readership in the five years of this website is steadily upwards (adding another 1,000 pages to the total monthly read each year) a cyclical trend has developed that was particularly marked over 2008. A peak of readership occurred in May at 7,200 pages, which then fell back over the summer months, with a low in September of 4,300 pages. That the website is less read during the summer is also shown by the fall in visits - 5,100 in May compared to 2,400 in September. Since readership has now picked up again in October (5,800 pages, 3,200 visits) my usual thought is that there is a large element of a student readership, and that the cyclical nature is due to the long summer break that colleges have. However, this is not entirely borne out by the identity of the visitor sites which, if they are colleges, can be distinguished by the url containing ".ac.uk" in Britain or ".edu" in America. Perhaps like me, the readership is more busy in the summer months with getting out and experiencing wildland, rather than sitting indoors staring at a screen.
In terms of article content, early on in the year saw an interlinked series of three that arose out of the continuing discontent with heathland restoration. No sooner had the first article been posted (Take three woodland wildflowers, Feb 2008) when evidence of disaffection at another location cropped up in the press (Swineholes Wood - 'Too many trees being cut down', Feb 2008) followed by another (High price for heath - Loxley and Wadsley Commons, Mar 2008). Early Spring often brings out the tree-fellers, and so within days, an Addendum had to be added to the last article to cover the discontent about persecution of woodland in Hertfordshire (ADDENDUM - Nomansland Common - Oaks being felled to make way for grass and heather 17 March). Within days after that, I was contacted about the continuing tree persecution on Surrey heathland, but I had no stomach for detailing yet another ecological tragedy.
I have been documenting discontent with the orthodoxy of nature conservation almost since this website began, and not just about heathland restoration. Irrespective of habitat, the prescription for "open landscapes" in this orthodoxy inevitably ends in persecution of naturally regenerated trees and shrubs, and it discomforts those who have developed a close relationship with their local landscape. While I see it as a killing of wildness, theirs is probably more a reaction against the despoiling of their aesthetic experience of that landscape.
Just sometimes you wish journalists would join the dots and recognise themselves the extent of the disagreement , and begin to ask the hard questions as to why it is happening. To give them a helping hand, I put together a compilation of newspaper articles and letters to newspapers, plus other information in the public domain on heathland, that gives a measure of the contention across England, and shows the repeated pattern that reveals just what those hard questions are (see Heathland MADNESS - the juggernaut of nature conservation, 5 October 2008). You never know, one of the 57 people who read this article since posting may have been a journalist! They certainly don't respond to direct contact. Perhaps also, they may have read the article about Swineholes Wood from February, because its readership has averaged 70 a month since then, with the last two months being over 100. This level of readership puts it into the top popularity category for the website, along with Beavers and boars: a Wild Animal Update, Sept 2005 that always does well (overall average 56 per month). But its readership, combined with the continuing coverage of the dispute over management by the county wildlife trust in the local press, indicates the level of real concern at what is happening there.
I was away walking wildland in America for six weeks this summer. That experience gave me the basis for two articles, and the inspiration for a third. I know from experience of writing up my other trips there that, while I really value these articles myself, they don't attract much of a readership. Thus it is back to British issues for the next few articles, even though we have much to learn from the American situation.
A few of the Permaculture Design articles and course handout notes have, in the last 10 months, become established as popular reads. Thus plant communities and plant guilds have doubled from an overall average monthly readership of 50 to 100; forest gardens and urban ecology have doubled from 30 to 60 a month if only the last 10 months are used. This indicates they have become useful reference sources, whereas in the main the periodic articles on wildland have a topical interest at first posting, their readership interest waning thereafter. Few of these latter articles buck that trend other than Beavers and boars: a Wild Animal Update, Sept 2005 which, at three years old is due an update itself. One other, A Season of Orchids, Aug 2004, showed a spirited rise to a readership of 120 in June, before falling back to its normal overall readership average of 36 per month.
There have been two new features so far this year, both of which I will periodically be adding to. The first was a Wildland Filmography. One film review so far, but there will be more when I have become more sure what constitutes a wildland film. The second feature is an expression of exasperation. I collect and treasure the nonsensical and often very patronising statements of conservation orthodoxy. Often, I come across these when I am researching the detail for an article of some contentious situation, such as the disagreement of local people with conservation management. Others are just the gems commonplace in the sheep-like adherence of conservation professionals to contemporary dogma. Why keep these to myself, when I can share them! See The nonsense of conservation speak, which has already reached a readership of 46 a month. Perhaps it is read by conservation professionals to see if they have been elevated yet to my hall of infamy.
1 November 2008