John Evelyn (1620-1706) was an English country gentleman who served on a variety of royal commissions and councils under King Charles II. Evelyn was a fan of gardening, designing his first garden at the age of 22. Over the course of his life, he authored about 30 books, including one of the most influential books on forestry in history: Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-trees, and the Propagation of Timber.
Sylva was the first comprehensive study of trees in the United Kingdom. It was presented as a paper to the Royal Society, a recently founded British national scientific society, in 1662 and published as a book in 1664. The book advocated for the replenishment of England’s forests, as industrialization and a recent Civil War had caused an increase in timber production, greatly depleting the nation’s woods. The book also provided detailed descriptions of the various types of trees in the United Kingdom, explaining how to cultivate them and cataloging their uses. Sylva was a best seller and encouraged wealthy aristocratic landowners to plant trees, eventually replenishing the depleted forests.
Keith Moore, the head librarian of the Royal Society, told BBC News:
Evelyn's work in planting forest trees and harvesting the products from them - whether it was wood or apples - really hit the mark. Of course, you have to remember that this was after the Civil War so trees across the nation had been denuded as part of the war effort but, as Evelyn himself says in the book, as a result of industrial activities - such as glass making - people were chopping down trees, therefore they had to be replaced.
Ten editions of the book were published by 1825, and the text is now available online for free.