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Deeper Into The Wood – Book Review

A year in the life of one woman acting as steward of a Somerset woodland and the legacy she hopes to leave behind. Reviewer Catherine Smalley is a freelance writer and gardener.

DEEPER INTO THE WOOD
by Ruth Pavey
Duckworth Books, £14.99
ISBN 978-0715654279

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If, like me, you dream of one day buying a patch of land to rewild, you’ll enjoy Ruth Pavey’s latest book. In her debut, A Wood of One’s Own, she told the story of a four-acre scrub woodland that she has cared for over the past 20 years. Now, she reflects on its current state and what the future holds for this much-loved retreat above the Somerset Levels.

Travelling up and down from her London home, Pavey charts her interactions with the wood through the course of the seasons over one year. In warm, lyrical prose she describes the trials and tribulations of land management – grafting apple trees, tackling unruly brambles and staking out boundaries – while also delving into local history and recounting colourful encounters with various visiting experts, from a ‘moth man’ to an ‘orchard guru’. Sketchbook-style illustrations further reveal her affection for this place.

The book’s tone is unsentimental, yet the alarming decline of fauna and flora in the woodland
and surrounding landscape reverberates unnervingly through its pages and becomes a recurring motif. ‘One sad aspect of worrying about the state of the natural world is that everything starts to look wrong,’ Pavey writes. It’s there in the ash dieback, the unseasonable weather, and  – importantly – the sudden disappearance of the rabbits. She worries about encroaching developers, intensive farming and who will look after her land when she’s gone.

While rooted in this particular corner of the West Country, the truths that Deeper into the Wood tells about our rapidly changing landscapes and natural world are universal. It could make for a rather sobering, melancholy read, but Pavey’s self-deprecating humour shines through and I was heartened by this tale of one woman doing her best to bravely carve out a space for wildlife, learning along the way.