Richard St. Barbe Baker (9 October 1889– 9 June 1982) was an English forester, environmental activist and author, who contributed greatly to worldwide reforestation efforts. As a leader, he founded an organization, still active today, whose many chapters carry out reforestation internationally.
Life and work
He was born on 9 October 1889 in West End, Hampshire, to John Richard St. Barbe Baker and Charlotte Purrott. He was brother of Thomas Guillaume St. Barbe Baker. He was descended from lines of farmers, parsons and evangelists – with the occasional adventurer amongst his forebears, as well. As a very young child he was attracted to gardening and, since the family’s Beacon Hill home was surrounded by a wood, he began to explore the forest at a fairly early age. He became very adept at manual work and harboured a lifelong belief in its value.
St. Barbe Baker’s father wanted him to enter the ministry, so at 13 he was sent to Dean Close School, a boarding school in Cheltenham, where he became interested in the sciences of botany and forestry. A clergyman recently returned from Canada appealed to his religious heritage and suggested that the young man prepare himself for missionary work in the western region of that country. He did so in 1910, sailing the Atlantic and heading far inland, where he lived in rough-hewn conditions, devoted to studies that would earn him a diploma from Emmanuelle College, University of Saskatchewan. Doing evangelical work, travelling widely on horseback, he became convinced that the agricultural practices (including the razing of the natural scrub trees) by European settlers were leading to deplorable soil degradation and potential aridity on Canada’s prairies. Working for a short while as a logger and managing to save some money, he returned to England to study at Ridley Hall, Cambridge.
When World War I intervened, he served in France with Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) units and was wounded on three occasions. After discharge, he worked in the British Government’s social services for a period.
Work in Africa
St. Barbe Baker soon resumed studies at Cambridge in forestry. He had realised through observation that deforestation, resulting from the removal of trees without sufficient reforestation, results in soil-loss problems, declines in habitat and biodiversity, declines in availability of wood for fuel and industrial use, and reduction in quality of life.
Graduating from the Cambridge forestry programme, he applied for work in British-ruled Kenya. In North Africa he saw the effects of centuries of land mismanagement, first from wheat farming in the later days of the Roman Empire and after that from the grazing of goats first introduced by Arabs. Immediately concerned with these deforestation problems, in 1922 he set up a tree nursery and founded an organization with Kenya’s Kikuyu people to carry out managed reforestation in the region, utilizing native species. In the regional dialect, the local society was called “Watu wa Miti”. This formed the foundation stone for what was to become an international organization, the Men of the Trees (a translation of the original name). He left Kenya in 1924 and went back to England. After giving a talk at the First Congress of Living Religions within the Commonwealth, he was approached by Claudia Stewart Coles, who introduced him to the Bahá'í Faith because of the way he had approached a living religion among the tribes there in formulating the Men of the Trees; St. Barbe Baker studied this religion and embraced it shortly after (in 1924). See Bahá'í Faith in Kenya.
He then returned to Africa, where he was appointed Assistant Conservator of Forests for the southern provinces of Nigeria from 1925 to 1929; he went on to do work similar to his work in Kenya. He also did forestry planning work in the Gold Coast. During this time, he devoted himself in part to a study of the ecology of extremely complex tropical forests. However, an incident occurred in which he defended an African man against abuse by a British official and, thereby running afoul of the Colonial Office, he was discharged from his duties.
Work in Palestine
He attended the First World Forestry Congress in Rome and then went on to work in Palestine and set up a chapter of the Men of the Trees there. There he met and won the support of Shoghi Effendi, then head of the Bahá'í Faith, who became the first life member of the Men of the Trees in Palestine. This support led to the backing of Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders for a programme of reforestation in Palestine.
Work in America
Travelling to America, where he crossed the country and toured the Redwood groves on the West Coast, St. Barbe Baker became an author and sought-after lecturer, and received laudatory national attention from popular radio host Lowell Thomas. Returning to England via Australia, his thoughts returned to California and he started the Save the Redwoods campaign. Sir Francis Younghusband, first president of the British chapter of the Men of the Trees, championed the cause in the UK. St. Barbe Baker’s connections with the United States remained strong, and in the late 1930s he worked with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to establish the American Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), said eventually to involve some six million youths.
Establishment of the Men of the Trees
In good part because of St. Barbe Baker’s continued travels, chapters of his organization, the Men of the Trees (now the International Tree Foundation in the UK), were founded internationally. After World War II, a lecture tour into Austria, Germany and other countries launched his concept of an international Green Front to promote the idea of reforestation worldwide. Probably the largest single challenge that he addressed himself to was the concept of gradually reclaiming the Sahara Desert through the strategic planting of trees. This idea took shape after a 25,000-mile expedition around the desert (through 24 countries), which he undertook with a team in 1952-3.
St. Barbe Baker’s organization, the Men of the Trees, eventually grew to be known as the International Tree Foundation. Ultimately, there were chapters in over 100 countries. By some estimates, organizations he founded or assisted have been responsible for planting at least 26 trillion trees, internationally. St. Barbe Baker is grouped as one of three progenitors, along with Sir Robert McCarrison and Sir Albert Howard, of the organic agriculture movement.
Death and legacy
St. Barbe Baker died on 9 June 1982 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Just days before his death he planted his last tree on the grounds of the University of Saskatchewan, and he was working on his thirty-first book.
A memorial to St. Barbe Baker was unveiled in his birth village of West End in Hampshire in March 2003. The memorial includes a bronze bas-relief image of St. Barbe Baker sculpted by Jill Tweed, set in granite atop a Portland stone column. There is also a street in the village named Barbe Baker Avenue.
David Hofman, a Canadian Bahá'í who served on the Universal House of Justice, said of St. Barbe Baker's acceptance of the Bahá'í Faith (shortly after 1924): "He always said that this was the beginning of his true life, and he realised that he derived so much benefit from these Bahá'í prayers that it was only fair that he should serve the Bahá'í Faith to the best of his ability." Mr. Hofman has also said that, "... he spread knowledge of the Faith wherever he went and was greatly admired by Shoghi Effendi for his dedication to the cause of humanity." See also Bahá'í Faith in Kenya and Bahá'í Faith in Nigeria.
- Richard St. Barbe Baker (1985) . My Life, My Trees (2nd edition ed.). Forres: Findhorn. ISBN 0-905249-63-1.
- Richard St. Barbe Baker (1944) I Planted Trees. Lutterworth Press: London and Redhill
- Memorial to Richard St.Barbe Baker West End Local History Society - Local History, 28 March 2003
- St. Barbe Baker, Richard (1985). My Life, My Trees. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn Press. ISBN 0-905249-63-1.
- prepared under the supervision of the Universal House of Justice. (1986). In Memoriam. XVIII. Bahá'í World Centre; Universal House of Justice. Table of Contents and pp.619, 632, 802–4. ISBN 0-85398-234-1. http://bahai-library.org/books/bw18/800-825.html.
- St. Barbe Baker, Richard (1954). Sahara Challenge. London, England: The Camelot Press Ltd.
- "26 trillion tree estimation". 1979. p. 77. http://books.google.com/books?id=n4deAAAAIAAJ&q=%2226+trillion+trees%22&dq=%2226+trillion+trees%22&hl=en&ei=ueBmTI2wLYOycdOYiZAF&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CEMQ6AEwBA. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
- Warren, Piers (2006). "British Native Trees: Their Past and Present Uses". Wildeye. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-9541899-5-2. http://books.google.com/books?id=D95yQLOiP4MC&printsec=frontcover&dq=british+native+trees&hl=en&ei=teZmTOjzOMW9ccrAyL4J&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
- Mantle, Paul. "Two Reviews (see review of Origins of the Organic Movement)". Tributes. The Man of the Trees: Richard St. Barbe Baker. p. 7. http://www.manofthetrees.org/HTMLS/reviews.htm. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
- Sayre, Laura (4 March 2004). "Review: The Origins of the Organic Movement". The Rodale Institute. http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/books/reviews/march04/origins.shtml. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
- Map Barbe Baker Avenue from Southampton, satellite map and road map for Barbe Baker Avenue, UK street map
- In Memoriam, Published in Bahá'í World, Vol. XVIII: 1979-1983, by Hugh C. Locke
- Hugh C. Locke (10 June 1982). "Richard St. Barbe Baker, O.B.E. 1889-1982". bahai-library.org. http://bahai-library.com/books/bw18/800-825.html. Retrieved 11 July 2006.
- St Barbe – a man ahead of his time
- International Tree Foundation
- Richard St. Barbe Baker honored as Interfaith Hero on ReadTheSpirit.com
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