When influential historian and ecologist Oliver Rackham died suddenly in 2015, he left behind several fascinating studies that were unpublished, incomplete and vulnerable to loss – until now.

The UK’s largest woodland conservation charity, the Woodland Trust, has successfully brought to publication his book, The Ancient Woods of the Helford River - documenting his long-term study of the Lizard Peninsula.  

Paula Keen, a senior outreach advisor at the trust, led an editing team consisting of Oliver’s old friends Dr David Morfitt and Simon Leatherdale, with the full cooperation of Corpus Christi College, Dr Jennifer Moody and with help from Susan Ranson. 

The trust also ran a campaign with the public to raise the funds to get the journal published.

Paula said: “This has been a labour of love by some of Oliver Rackham’s longstanding friends. They know how valuable this publication will be not just for those with a conservation interest in this beautiful area of Cornwall but also those who enjoy a well-researched and written, historical read.

“Oliver Rackham really was one of a kind. He spent his life researching trees and the countryside, with his extensive knowledge and insight bringing the history of woods to life. 

“His writings, in turn, have inspired a whole generation of ecologists, historians and conservationists. We have much to thank him for. We just didn’t want the work he had done for decades to be lost forever which is why we are so grateful for the help of so many to aid us in getting the work published, courtesy of Little Toller Books.”

A graduate, fellow and former master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Rackham was a prolific historical ecologist whose prime interest was the function, history, and management of British woodlands but he also worked in many countries worldwide, especially the Greek island of Crete. 

He spent many years researching the colourful history and ecology of ancient woods and the remarkable adaptability of trees. He began keeping a meticulous series of notebooks during his youth and continued until his death, in which he recorded observations on plants and related matters seen in his home surroundings and on his travels.

In 1986 he decided to write a number of distinct volumes on the Ancient Woods of Britain and although only one was published at the time, he worked on several others including Woods of the Helford River and Woods of South East Wales.

Sadly these were not quite completed and had remained unpublished at the time of his death.

The trust is currently in the final stages of bringing another of his books, The Ancient Woods of South East Wales, to publication.