Richard St. Barbe Baker: The Life of the Forests
By Rene Wadlow.
Today, there is a growing awareness that cooperation is required to protect and manage integrated ecosystems which cross national frontiers. This is particularly important in the case of forest management. Trans-frontier conservation cooperation, in which two or more States cooperate in the management and the conservation of forests has increased a good deal in recent years.
Much of this effort is due to the work of world citizen Richard St. Barbe Baker. From the late 1920s to the early 1980s, Richard St. Barbe Baker traveled the globe, warning of the dangers of forest destruction, forest clear-cutting, and the greedy waste of natural resources.
We had supper together in Geneva in 1964, and he recounted his experiences in the Sahara trying to prevent the southward movement of the desert toward the Sahel States. He told me of his adventures in the Sahara with a European driver who wanted to kill himself by pushing the team to its limits. Fortunately, St. Barbe Baker, who had a deep spiritual base, was able to convince his teammate that life was worth living. Even without wanting to kill oneself, the study of the Sahara was difficult. St. Barbe Baker tell the story in his book Sahara Challenge (1954).
Men of the Trees.
Richard St. Barbe Baker was born 9 October 1880 in Southhampton, England and learned the art of planting trees from his father, a Protestant minister devoted to the conservation of Nature. After his studies at Cambridge University and service in the British Army in the First World War, he went to the then British colony of Kenya and began his work on forestry protection. He first worked among the Kikuyu, a major tribe which already had ceremonies to be in harmony with the forests and the trees. He recognized their value and methods protecting and sustaining the forests.
In 1922, he created the society “Men of the Trees” which is the group most associated with his efforts. He stressed that there is a need for conservation of genetic resources, wise management and utilization of existing natural forests with due regard to their long-term productivity.
Baker stressed the need to view the earth as a living whole and described the role that trees played in regulating weather, conserving soil, and regulating rivers.
In the introduction to the republication of his book My Life My Trees, Peter Caddy of the Findhorn community wrote:
“Here is the life of an Earth healer, struggling against apathy, indifference and plain greed – a man ahead of his time …If one man can do so much, what coundn’t we achieve if all of us worked together.” (1)
Subsistence Forestry .
Skillful conservation and management of forests is vital to people who practice “subsistence forestry”. In subsistence forestry, trees and tree products are used for fuel, food, medicine, house and fence poles and agricultural implements. In some cultures, before taking anything from a tree, an offering is given, thus making an exchange.
For those of us who do not live from subsistence forestry, there is still the need to pay close attention to trans-frontier conservation which plays an essential role in the protection of ecosystems. These areas provide possibilities for promoting biodiversity and sustainable uses across politically-divided ecosystems.
1) Richard St. Barbe Baker. My Life My Trees (Forres: Findhorn, 1985).
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.