Beware of the Trees

 Forest of fairies: light coming from the sky creates an ethereal feel to the forest

This is a guest post from Emily Duncan of

Being a townie, I don’t naturally feel at ease in the forest or the bush. If I really want to enjoy myself I have to not think too hard about what may be hidden amongst the trees. As we are heading into summer in the Southern Hemisphere there will be more opportunities to enjoy time in the bush or the forest with our families. So it is worth questioning whether our fears are rational.

Hylophobia is the term used for a fear of forests, while nyctohylophobia is the particular fear of forests at night. I’m sure I don’t need to do much to summon up the sense of unease that these two words provoke; tall sinister trees, darkened spaces, and the disorientation one experiences amongst the trees.

Most of us have the good sense to know about the ecological benefits of trees: the amount of oxygen they produce, the carbon dioxide they absorb, and the food, water and nutrients they provide for the earth, humans and animals.

But, many of us still have an ingrained terror of entering densely wooded areas because we know we’re not alone. We know that there are other creatures in the forest that are camouflaged, move with more ease, and have a really nasty bite.

Several years back during a beautiful bush walk in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales I was startled in such a manner that I leapt two feet in the air, my heart leapt into my throat, and my voice leapt out with such a terrified yell that my family (who had been taking their time several bends back along the track) came running to my rescue.

When they got to me they laughed.

The subject of my terror was an Eastern Water Dragon lizard. He was actually quite a handsome specimen and once I calmed down from my shock I appreciated that he was just as, if not more, scared than me. He gave me a look that said “What is your problem, lady?” then made his way off into the undergrowth.

So, is my fear of the forest legitimate or am I overreacting and depriving myself of wonderful, nature-based experiences? It is definitely worth asking yourself whether you are allowing your emotions to rule your decisions around taking your family walking and camping in the bush. While Mr Eastern Water Dragon (I must admit that he could have actually been a she) posed me no real threat, what about the other lizards, snakes and spiders?

Did you know that the incidence of death from snake and spider bites is decreasing? Medical experts have far more knowledge and resources to treat snake and spider bites than they once did. Even if a snake does bite, the chances that it will envenom are less than half.

Yes, the Eastern Brown Snake and the Sydney Funnel Web Spider in Australia are real nasties, and other countries have their own venomous species, but attacks are rare and can be treated. More people die in Australia each year from bee stings! (Not to mention horse riding, scuba diving and road accidents).

Most importantly, just like Mr Eastern Water Dragon, snakes and spiders are far more likely to try and get away from you than attack. The common sense thing to do is NOT to try and pick up the snake, or spider, or lizard. If it is a snake, stand perfectly still and wait for it to move away. They will generally only strike if provoked. Most attacks occur when people try to catch or kill snakes. For the most part he (or she) will be happy to share the forest with you if you respect their space and leave them in peace.An Australian Forest - Jerusalem creek walk by Robyn Jay.

So next time you get that pang of fear when you are about to enter the bush or a forest, take a moment to stop and consider: is this a legitimate fear or am I responding to something I have heard of, seen, or read in the past? Is this tingly feeling and short, sharp breathing a necessary response to a real threat, or is it a panic that has resulted from faultily formed beliefs.

Forests all over the world provide exquisite nature-based experiences. Don’t deny yourself or your family opportunites to enjoy firsthand the incredible wooded areas in your region that are necessary for the sustainable future of our planet.

Emily Duncan writes for which promotes sustainable tree farming and provides education around polycultures. She has a particular interest in the fear that is created around trees.


Top photo: Forest, copyright Moyan Brenn. This photo was taken in the forest of fairies, in the town of Nettuno, Lazio, a region of Italy. Used with permission.