What follows then is, in one sense, an expanded diary of this project over the arc of a year, except Fortey is not just any retiree keeping notes on a new hobby. His remarkable scientific knowledge, intense curiosity and love of nature mean entries erupt with the same richness and variety as the woods they describe. From recipes for ground elder soup to musings on bumblebee varieties or gruesome tales of murder, Fortey’s enthusiasm for his new wonderland is infectious and illuminating. His style echoes the great Gilbert White and his approach is proudly old school ... These long taxonomies could easily be dry and exhausting, but they come alive thanks to Fortey’s vivid descriptions ... In this deep and interesting book, Fortey warns that without a return to hands-on management, a renewed sense of value and increased human engagement, our native woods are doomed to become empty 'rural decoration' left 'to age to a kind of senility that would benefit only wood-eating beetles.'
Fortey realized that the account of his wood needed to be conducted on two levels, the human as well as the scientific, because the English countryside has been shaped for millenniums by people. The results, presented in The Wood for the Trees, are fascinating ... If it has a fault, it is that this is a book that does not really catch at the heart. Toward the end, Fortey proclaims his contempt for the emotional aspects of modern nature writing; he is inflexibly empiricist ... Yet these are trifling blemishes in an account of one small place that conveys unforgettably the staggering variety and abundance of the whole natural world.
Thankfully, Mr. Fortey doesn’t pretend to be treading virgin territory either in literature or in his forest. But he makes the genre a fine playground for his characteristic blend of wide-ranging curiosity, deft observation and deep research. His heart is in the intimate examination of nature, but he pursues this passion without sentimentality ... The writing is wryly erudite ... The book is less successful, though, in its supposition-heavy attempts to fit Grim’s Dyke Wood into the larger scheme of history ... Even so, the book sets an excellent model for people wondering whether there should not be more to life than the necessary round of getting and spending followed by endless click time in front of the television set.