Country diary: abiding beauty amid the bareness

18237500 - businessman hand pointing to investment as concept

Hamsterley Forest, County Durham: It’s tempting to think of evolutionary success stories as inexorable advances in complexity, driven by competition. But what about resilience?

A dense conifer plantation beside this steep road into the forest, which hid a magnificent vista across the valley for half a human lifetime, has been felled. The bare hillside will be reforested but, before the next timber crop blocks the view again, the decaying stumps of its predecessor will become a niche for plants that first evolved half a billion years ago.

Mosses and liverworts, arriving by air as invisible spores, thrive on these flat, porous surfaces left by chainsaws, free from the shade cast by surrounding brambles and ferns. Some recently cut stumps are already showing signs of colonisation; deeper in the forest I found others, felled a decade ago, that have become luxuriant moss gardens.

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