The Wet Desert

One day I will finally get to Wistman’s Wood. It’s haunted me for years. But for now here’s a glimpse of it lost on Dartmoor. An arboreal oasis in a wet desert, a vestigial reminder of the temperate rainforest that once grew on this now sodden moorland.

“Somewhere here, a landscape has been lost…”

In the U.K. we often regard moorland landscapes, such as the Highlands of Scotland, The Lake District and Dartmoor, as symbols of wilderness. However, these places have been farmed, mined and inhabited by people for millennia, and have felt the presence of humans longer than many of our urban centres.

The ecologist Frank Fraser Darling coined the phrase “wet desert” to describe the landscape of Dartmoor, such was the lack of biodiversity that he found there. But in hidden corners of the moor, relics of its past cling on – stands of trees coated in moss and fern, supporting a range of plant and animal life – relics that point to the bizarre fact that when humans first arrived here, these open landscapes were temperate rainforests.

Frames of reference
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