From a piece on trees in today's Guardian by Colin Tudge, a biologist and the author of The Secret Life of Trees (my emphasis):
But in Britain right now, woods are on the up. According to a survey carried out this week by the Forestry Commission for the UN, we have more trees than at any time since 1750 (after which we cut them down to build a navy to fight the French). In fact, we have 11,200 sq miles of woodland – which is more than twice as much as we had at the low point of the 1920s, after the first world war had taken its toll on timber and charcoal.
There is no evidence for either of the bolded assertions; in fact, the evidence points entirely the other way. The continuing use of woodland to harvest timber or make charcoal helps ensure its survival.
The other point to make is that there's woodland and woodland. Plantations - which ecologically have little interest relative to naturally occuring woodland - may well have increased our wooded acreage. However, ancient woodland has declined.
I came across this Richard Mabey review of the sainted Oliver Rackham's Woodlands. It makes the argument:
I was lucky to be at Rackham’s debut, at a conference 30 years ago. He was a shy young Cambridge botanist then, and was addressing the seemingly uncontroversial subject of The Oak Tree in Historic Times. But his paper turned out to be a bombshell, a clinical demolition of foresters’ paternalism and an awesomely evidenced account of the fact that, for most of human history, trees had been regarded and used as a self- renewing resource. He described how he had measured all the main timbers in the original part of his college, Corpus Christi (there were 1,249, mostly small squared trees about 7ins in diameter), and calculated how frequently such a building could have been created from the renewable oaks of an ordinary Cambridgeshire wood. He blew away the notion that felling trees destroyed woodland.
In the half-dozen books he has written since, he has revolutionised our understanding of historical ecology. In sharp and exquisite English, and with a historical intuition as strong as his scientific rigour, he has laid waste the conventional wisdom of foresters, the ideologies of theoretical naturalists, the “pseudo-histories” of historians. His simple — and to him sacrosanct — precept is that the final arbiter in all arguments about woodland must be the trees and woods themselves, in all their dynamic, mutable, particular detail.
And yet the "pseudo history" persists!
By the way, C Tudge appears to be plagiarising himself. His latest article begins and ends:
My passion for trees began at primary school, well over half a century ago. I was 11 when I started a nursery in our garden in south London, planting sprigs of sycamore, oak and holly salvaged from the bomb-sites that still pockmarked the city. They'd be grown by now, if I hadn't dug them up to make way for a greenhouse.
We've been treating trees badly for a long time. At Binsey in Oxford in 1879 Gerard Manley Hopkins lamented the felling of poplars: "O if we but knew what we do When we delve or hew – Hack and rack the growing green!"
We still don't know what we are doing and in the world at large the hacking and racking continue more vigorously than ever. But right now, in Britain, although the leaves are dying the trees with luck are flourishing. I do hope we can keep it up.
Back in 2005 another article, which he must be proud of as he's posted it to his website, begins and ends:
At age 11 I started my own nursery—horse chestnut, sycamore, birch, oak, and holly, pillaged from the World War II bomb-sites that still pock-marked South London: those baby trees would be big by now, if they hadn't succumbed to later whims.
In Oxford in 1879 Gerard Manley Hopkins lamented the felling of poplars: “O if we but knew what we do When we delve or hew—Hack and rack the growing green!” We still don't know what we are doing, and never can in any detail, but the hacking and racking continue more vigorously than ever. The only half-way sane approach if we want this world to remain habitable, is to approach it humbly. Trees teach humility. We need to take the world far more seriously. It would be a good idea to begin with trees.
Other bits are very similar too. He's a fan of recycling and in many ways it seems. In any event, he could do with some fresh input on 'hacking and racking', a good thing when it's done in the right way.
If I may quote: 'We need to take the world far more seriously. It would be a good idea to begin with trees.'