20 MARCH 1942, Page 14

Prairie England

The statisticians tell us that in 1939 Britain included a round two

million fewer acres under cultivation than in 1914. The plight of these scorned acres revealed some very suggestive botanical facts. The tale of the progress of British civilisation is the steady escape from the forest. We have seen in the interval between the two MB how very quickly nature resumes her native course. Just as at Rothamsted, where a patch was purposely left to relapse, some of these neglected lands became a woodland of sorts, chiefly consisting —so far as my analysis goes—of quick, oak and (as in Eden) bramble and briar. Reclamation has meant grubbing as well as draining and ploughing ; and both the oak and the thorn, as our most patriotic trees, have their roots peculiarly deep in the soil—they are. tap- rooted; and you cannot " expel nature with .a fork." A more potent tool is needed. Such relapse must not be again permitted, though the invincibility of the oak is a cheering fact. The chief sin of omission in the Forestry Commission is automatically cancelled. The loss of trees is lamented in many lands, not least in South Africa, because it leads to denudation ; but good cultivation is as preserva- tive as virgin forest ; and the Americans, who are suffering sadly from denudation, have decided that the best protection is afforded by wild white clover, one of the most beneficent of plants for both man and bee.