Man of the Trees

We take the ideas of conservation and reforestation for granted, and putting them into practice varies around the world. These ideas have not always been present and they did not arrive spontaneously. One man whom we are indebted too is Richard St. Barbe Baker.

Richard St. Barbe Baker (1889 – 1982) initiated international reforestation and conservation.

Returning to Britain after working as a missionary in Canada, he started studying divinity at Cambridge, but was interrupted by the Great War to serve in the Royal Horse Artillery regiment in France and was seriously wounded twice. Perhaps this changed his perspective, as well as his observations of the soil loss resulting from deforestation, as upon returning to Cambridge he took up a Diploma in Forestry. After graduation he joined the Colonial Office and was sent as a Forestry Officer to Kenya. There he witnessed centuries of land mismanagement from the wheat farming of the Romans to the grazing of goats introduced by the Arabs. Determined to halt deforestation he formed an organisation called ‘Watu wa Miti’ with the local Kikuyu people – this translates as ‘Men of the Trees’, and would form the basis of an international organisation.

St Barbe Baker mobilising The Green Front

He joined the Bahá’í Faith after Kenya and continued to do forestry work in Nigeria, Australia and Palestine, uniting different faiths to work on the common goal of reforestation. He crossed the U.S. and toured the Redwood groves of California, and in the 1930’s he worked with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to establish the Civilian Conservation Corps. He was a popular speaker now and continued to grow chapters of his organisation, which became known as the International Tree Foundation. After World War II he toured through Europe and launched the idea of an international Green Front to promote reforestation, and ambitiously launched a project to reclaim the Sahara desert after a 25 000 mile journey around the perimeter.

His organisation and those he assisted planted many millions of trees and he was seen as one of the fathers of the organic agriculture movement.

His autobiography entitled “My life, my trees” was published in 1970 and in 1972, the board of directors of Friends of Nature (USA) awarded Dr Baker their Conservation Award, for “being the foremost world citizen to stress the importance of maintaining tree cover for the continued existence of life”1. He was presented an OBE by the Queen in 1978 and up until his ninety-third year he was still travelling the world and died on 9th June 1982, whilst visiting Canada.

“Planting and growing increasing quantities of trees is the scientific solution to Earth’s environmental dilemma.”  ~ Richard St. Barbe Baker