Naturalist Nicol gives Prince Charles forest tour

by Edan Corkill

SHINANO, Nagano Pref. — Emperor and Empress? Check. Prime Minister Taro Aso? Check. So who else did Britain’s Prince Charles catch up with during his five-day visit to Japan? None other than longtime Japan Times columnist, naturalist and author C.W. Nicol.

The prince spent Thursday touring the C.W. Nicol Afan Woodland Trust, a 17.7-hectare forest regeneration project started and overseen by Nicol in the mountains of Shinano, Nagano Prefecture.

“The prince is a longtime supporter of conservation efforts himself, so he seems to have enjoyed the visit,” said a relieved-looking Nicol after his guest had departed.

During the visit, which lasted a little more than an hour, Nicol showed the prince around the property, stopping along the way to watch elementary school students enjoying an outdoor lesson in local fauna.

Afterward, Nicol’s guests, who also included Princess Takamado, watched a tree-climbing demonstration by junior high school students.

“The prince didn’t climb any trees himself. He wasn’t dressed for that,” Nicol reported with a chuckle.

The prince met students from Tokyo Environmental Technical College, an institution Nicol helped establish 15 years ago to train future park rangers, eco-tourism workers and other conservation professionals.

Nicol established the Afan Trust in 2002 to manage a tract of land he had spent the previous 16 years personally acquiring with the aim of regenerating and preserving the woods.

“When I first started buying the land, it was what they call ghost forest — really neglected brush. There were hardly any animals,” Nicol said. “Now we have frogs, snakes, foxes, weasels, ‘tanuki’ (raccoon dogs), even a few bears.”

It was this time last year that the prince launched his own Rainforest Project, an initiative he said would seek out “practical mechanisms that acknowledge the true value of the ecosystem services provided by the world’s remaining forests.”

In addition to their dedication to conservation, the prince and Nicol have one other thing in common: Wales.

“I might be Japanese now, but I’m always Welsh,” said Nicol, who has lived in Japan since 1980 and acquired Japanese citizenship in 1996.

Nicol said the royal visit was “greatly satisfying” after so many years of hard work. But he was quick to add: “It takes 30 or 40 years to really regenerate a forest. This place still has a long way to go.”