Farm Ireland

Monday 17 December 2018

A walk in the woods stimulates both body and mind

Mushrooms of every shapes and size thrive on the forest floor
Mushrooms of every shapes and size thrive on the forest floor
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Walking in the great outdoors is well recognised as being one of the best possible tonics for both our physical and mental well-being.

All medical practitioners agree that a good brisk daily walk prolongs life and wards off illnesses of all kinds. It gets even better if we can walk for a time in woodland because the quality of the air within a wood is richer in oxygen and genuinely stimulating and there is so much to look at and enjoy, regardless of the weather or season.

The only drawback to walking in the woods is that it is difficult to keep moving briskly and not stop to examine and admire some feature of nature.

Not only are the trees themselves a constant source of visual pleasure but there are the mosses, ferns, birds and insects to distract us, along with the countless varieties of fungi found at this time of year.

All of these are competing for our attention, lit by the dappled light that filters down to the forest floor through the branches above.

On a walk such as this recently I kept pausing to marvel at mushrooms of every shape and size and especially where one tiny and lovely variety peeped its parasol heads out from the cracks in an ancient trunk.

The complexity of nature and the manner in which so many forms of life are dependent on each other is so huge a subject that it is difficult to even begin to grasp what is actually going on.


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It is only relatively recently that we have discovered how trees, plants, grasses, insects, mammals and birds all depend on the actions and presence of each other.

Dig up one spade full of soil in any old wood or pasture and there will be countless millions of spores, insects, bacteria and other forms of life, all interdependent and essential for the well-being of the larger plants that rely on their presence.

This symbiotic relationship between all forms of nature is mind blowing in its complexity. Especially the way in which different species have evolved to fill a niche and the way in which everything either feeds on or provides food for something else.

How did some moths develop a system of sending out sonic waves to disrupt bats radar and avoid being eaten? How does the Earth seem to regulate itself and cope with all the awful things that are done to it by humans, the current top predatory species?

Old woods are amazing places and we don't need to travel to an Amazonian rain forest to see these wonders in action. They are right here on our doorstep. Even the smallest suburban garden contains microscopic marvels that are only now being properly appreciated.

Pondering on this reminded me of the Gaia hypothesis which suggests that the Earth we live on is in fact one huge self-regulating mechanism that at all times maintains the conditions we need for life.

Gaia was one of the great Greek deities and the personification of the Earth so using her name to represent this theory does seem appropriate.


This concept was first proposed in the 1970s by James Lovelock and since then has fallen in and out of favour over the years.

At times the Gaia hypothesis almost appears to have a quasi-religious aspect to it.

But, then, no religion can be explained in scientific terms and, given the vast time scale of mankind's belief in a greater being, perhaps all religions have their roots in natural events and the evolution of life on our planet.

In more recent times, belief in the Gaia hypothesis that the Earth itself reacts to events that threaten its stability has again become popular with the Ebola virus being cited as a 'reaction' to the rapidly increasing numbers of humans.

No one can deny that currently we are placing unsustainable demands on the Earth's resources, but to state that a virus is 'created' by nature to deliberately reduce our numbers is difficult to accept or fathom.

But then it is also difficult to explain other natural events.

All I know is that we as farmers have a major responsibility to ensure that we pass our land on to the next generation in at least as good a health as we found it. There is a lot more going on in the soil than we realise.

Just remember those fungi and bacteria and appreciate how all our lives depend on them.

Indo Farming