The Swiss Forest-timber, demons and fairies!

The Swiss seem to have realised much earlier than the rest of the world (as early as the 1970s) that wood is a much better choice of fuel. Roughly 30 % of Switzerland is currently covered with forests. Switzerland has the environment and landscape to grow plentiful amounts of wood and does already-wood can be regrown and replaced much easier than coal, oil or nuclear power! The Swiss seem to value wood as a vital component to life-harvesting it sensibly and using it for most domestic and business needs-for example housing, heating fuel and commercial building. Oddly enough, the Swiss awareness of timber as a good fuel backfired one year. In 2003 the aim to replace timber and grow new trees actually meant there were too many! The Swiss Forest Agency had to ask the country to try to use the surplus timber for extra fuel and building. However, now they seem to understand and sort this issue and at least here in the Berner Oberland the system appears to be working well with most families using wood in there burners, for heating and for businesses for construction work. In fact the knowledge of the Swiss in terms of understanding is well known globally-their logging and forestry laws are over 125 years old and some of their concepts have been used as models for other countries like Japan.

Aside from this I have noticed since residing in Switzerland, that all cultures have similar ideas to Forests and woodlands. When I think of forests or woodlands in the UK I think wildlife, birds, ancient oaks and ash. When you say the ‘history of the ancient woodland’ I think of how wood was used by villagers for domestic purposes and how myths were commonly interwoven with the truth-Robin Hood classic example! Anyway, Switzerland has similar myths and legends-the national hero William Tells story seems often be based around a forested area and be close to nature.

In most countries of the world woodlands and forests have been associated for centuries with the unknown, mysterious, dangerous or mythical. In Switzerland like many European countries old legends and fairy tales are often based in depths of the forest. The forest often symbolises a religious element (nature and being closer to god), unknown creatures who cause mischief or help the stories characters. Often these forest or woodland creatures can be seductive forest nymphs tempting people, woodland elves or pixies causing the character misfortune or an animal the character and audience has never heard of before or doesn’t fully understand.

For example, a famous Swiss tale of the ‘Silvester-Klausen’ in Appenzeller most likely goes centuries back to the fear of demons and the unknown. Even today local villagers in Urnasch process through the village in costumes including masks decorated with leaves and twigs to scare evil spirits and demons away-they are split into two groups ‘the ugly ones’ and ‘the beautiful ones’. This tradition and legend has been enhanced over time and in the 19th century more elements were added to the procession in the form of ‘forest hermits’ dressed up in forest colours and elements to symbolise the beauty and ugly/fear of the forest in one sole form.

Over the year’s wood, forests and shaded woodland has changed in symbol. In the middle ages the forests were seen as dangerous, dark places which were the habitats of robbers, thieves and also mysterious creatures like pixies, fairies and witches who would do harm or cause trouble to anyone who entered them. Although, the woodlands could also signify a place of peace, relaxation and a way to be closer to the earth and God (could be the link to St Francis saint of animals and nature). In the 16th century this religious, peaceful link to forests and woodland evolved into a romantic concept. The popularity of this romantic ideal of woodlands and nature continued through the 17th and 18th centuries with much poetry, music, paintings and stories being based around the romantic notion of nature. Unfortunately in the 19th and 20th centuries our overuse, harvesting and lack of knowledge of woodlands have forced the forests and woods to now represent a serious global issue rather than a picturesque ideal. They symbolise the fragility of nature and show us that we need to think about harvesting wood appropriately and really understand how to make the most of this wonderful fuel, whilst still managing to maintain ancient woodland and tropical forests for future generations.

Acknoledgements for extra facts and figures to:


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