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The Art of Natural Forest Practice
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Deep Ecology

Deep Ecology was conceived by the Norwegian environmental philosopher Arne Naess. Briefly, this provides a guide to thinking through our action on environmental issues.  It is NOT a set of rules to which we must conform, but rather of challenges which require us to think deeply about what we are doing and come-up with our own individual solutions.  It distinguishes ‘deep’ from ‘shallow’ thought and has four levels on which this functions, of which the Platform Principles are a part (ref Devall).  Although what follows here is my individual interpretation applied in the forest and to which it has remarkable relevance, it has universal application in all kinds of settings and situations.

The  8  Platform  Principles  of  Deep  Ecology
(Originated by Arne Naess, from précis by W. Devall & Noel Charlton)

1. The flourishing of all forms of life has intrinsic value, irrespective of their use to us;

2. Richness and diversity contribute to such flourishing and are values in themselves;

3. We have no right to reduce this richness / diversity except to satisfy vital need;

4. The flourishing of human life & culture is compatible with and requires a decrease in the human population;

5. Human interference with the non-human world is excessive and rapidly getting worse;

6. Hence, policies affecting basic economic, ideological and technical structures must be changed, producing a deeply different situation;

7. The ideological change will be away from increasing standards of living to concern for life quality, discriminating between bigness and greatness;

8. If we support the above we are obliged to try to bring about changes;

These principles have opened my eyes to the full breadth of my relationship with the forest and determine all that I do.  This has taken me beyond the narrow concepts of ownership and material gain, enabling me to view the forest in the wider context.  Like the universe, the forest is complex beyond comprehension and of which we understand less in spite of experiencing it at first-hand.



1. The forest has intrinsic value in its own right,
it belongs to the forest community, not human society.
I am responsible for the land, to protect and represent it;

2. The forest is a rich, diverse, holistic community that is self-sustaining.
Our ancestors plundered this and I therefore feel obliged to restore it
ensuring that it is valued and will survive;

3. The forest’s inherent richness and diversity must not be abused.
I take only where there is a local abundance and only for my own use;

4. The forest can only flourish if the human population is reduced.
We must learn that we visit the forest as visitors, it is not ours to exploit;

5. Human interference in the forest is excessive and rapidly getting worse.
Human access to the forest is a privilege not a right
we must learn to respect its richness and diversity;

6. Hence, all policies affecting the forest must be reviewed.
Forest health must be holistic and at the heart of all restoration legislation must be amended to foster this
and widespread education used to engender this;

7. Change must be away from increasing material expectation.
We must stop ALL felling of the natural forests worldwide
and recognise the formation of tree farms to provide our needs
otherwise when the last tree is cut the use of timber to roof our houses
will be a luxury we can no-longer afford;

8. In supporting the above we are obliged to try to bring about changes.

The woodland I ‘own’ has features indicating that it has been here since the end of the glacial period twelve millennia ago. I am therefore conserving it as a demonstration of how the natural broadleaf forest ecosystem works and which forms the basis for Natural Forest Practice and which is applicable in all types of forest.


Herein lies the basis for a new relation between humans and the forest; one that is based on respect. When I first came across Deep Ecology I immediately sensed its relevance but could not find anyone worldwide who had applied the concept in their forest. This kept on surfacing with me but it was some time before I seriously gave it thought and began to question- “Why did I feel it important to conserve my ancient woodland? Why protect the native fauna that took the farmer’s sheep? Should I cull the non-native plants and grey squirrels, etc? Indeed, what was my place in the forest? Deep Ecology poses difficult questions concerning these issues, challenging my thoughts and ideas. For example, “Who owns the land and therefore has right to use it? It’s hard and questions raise more questions. To some there is no clear answer, for example our attitude and response to non-native species, especially those which become invasive and damage the native fauna and flora. Each of us must decide for ourselves our response to such issues. Thus my attitude is developing and even as I write this me relationship with the woodland is maturing.

This interacting whole is something I’m learning from Darwin how to observe. It is beautifully described in Joan Maloof’s collection of essays- ‘Teaching the Trees’ in which she introduces her students to the complexities of the forest ecosystem (ref. Maloof). That she holds her seminars in the forest has particular appeal to me, for too many people are lectured in the classroom rather than actually experiencing first-hand observing and learning in the forest (recognisably a Darwinian technique).

Implied in the Platform Principles is a hands-on practical approach of a scale that is harmonious with the functioning of the forest. Thus intervention decade on decade can achieve considerable progress in restoring forest health, whereas one major intervention then nothing for three or four decades is unnatural and actually harms the holistic health of the forest. I’ve been increasingly working with this hands-on approach for some time and a truly sustainable forest is emerging of which I feel myself an integral part. By comparison other woods and forests that I visit really cause me to appreciate what has been achieved in my own woodland. The challenge now is for others to think deeply and make changes- something that is proving remarkably difficult.

Iliff Simey

DEVALL W, Simple in Means Rich in Ends: practicing Deep Ecology,
Green Print London 1990.
MALOOF J, Teaching the Trees, University of Georgia Press 2005.