My woodland 'saved my life' says Sudbury peer
PUBLISHED: 11:21 31 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:07 31 December 2018
Andrew Phillips discusses the joy of owning your own piece of woodland
Andrew Phillips is convinced his woodland “saved” his life, providing a contemplative and peaceful space to counter-balance his “frenetic” working life in London.
Mr Phillips, who lives in Sudbury, west Suffolk, has owned the 8 acres of ancient woodland in nearby Assington for over 30 years - during which period he spent many years juggling the running of a successful law firm in the capital with his duties as a member of the House of Lords.
“I was at my office in the morning and then in the House in the afternoon and sometimes all evening,” he said.
“But at weekends I would come home and visit the wood - I always park in the same place and as soon as I get out of my car, and open the gate leading to the wood I am just taken over by the dominant force of nature in all her amazing variety and vigour.
“I really think it saved my life [having the wood] - it just has this magic, reflective quality that diffused my frenetic lifestyle”.
Mr Phillips has many happy childhood memories of times spent in the area around his woodland, which is near the Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Arger Fen reserve, and became owner of it after a family friend offered it to him.
He said: “She knew that the woodland was in my blood, that I loved it and that I would look after it. We agreed I would pay £1,000 for it - I’ve had the luckiest life of any man I know, and that is one chance element of it.”
Mr Phillips is happy to allow friends to spend time in the woods and camp overnight, and has done so on many occasions with his five grandchildren, who he forbids to bring a mobile phone when they visit.
A frequent visitor in the early days was famous landscape historian Oliver Rackham, who Mr Phillips said: “Like me, had fallen beneath its spell.
“Oliver told me the woodland is special because it is on the junction point of three different types of geology - it goes from London clay to sand to loam. There’s a pit in one part of the woods that was created when material was taken from the ground and used in the brickworks, which used to operate in an adjoining woods nearby.”
When it comes to managing the woodland, Mr Phillips said: “It’s not a wood that would please those who like neat, cultivated spaces - my general policy is to let nature have its head.
“I try and keep some of the pathways clear of ferns and bracken but the worse things are the brambles that can inhibit walking around the wood if you don’t prevent it spreading. I try and keep them at bay but I don’t have the energy these days. A few brambles are fine because they provide a certain type of habitat.
He added: “We used to have badgers up here and lots of rabbits and hares - the bird life has also diminished. We used to hear every sort of bird song - we still hear cuckoos in the spring, although there are not so many nightingales or owls.
“There are still the common birds like blackbird, wren and robin. The insect life is still rich and I still see the odd slow worm and adder, as well as voles and shrews.”
Mr Phillip says he feels there is something “almost mystical” about hardwood trees and the oak tree in particular - “they emanate a real character and spirituality,” he said.
Mr Phillips says if he passes an oak tree he likes on his travels, he will stop and pick up a few acorns, which he plants in his garden, to bring on and then transplant to his wood.
“Over the years, I have planted around 35 oaks in open spaces in the wood - most of them seem happy to be there. The biggest of them are now standing 25 to 35ft high.”
Notable oaks growing in his wood include a Texan oak given to him by Michael Heseltine, two evergreen oaks grown from acorns brought back from a trip to California, and a small tree grown from the acorn of an oak located on the Welsh borders that is still alive despite being listed in the Domesday Book.
Mr Phillips says he doesn’t feel like he really owns the wood, rather he thinks of himself as a “steward of a natural treasure”.
He added: “Still today, I walk into the wood and bang - its hits me - I’m immersed in it, and I start thinking about what nature has got up to since I was last there, even if my previous visit was just a week ago.”