Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Imagining Woodlands in 2018

We have plans for Imagining Woodlands throughout 2018, starting in January with a Study Day to take place in York. Dr Freya Sierhuis, Lecturer in English and Related Literature , Dr Lynda Dunlop, Lecturer in Education,  environmental archaeologist Dr Suzi Richer and artist Jo Dacombe will meet to discuss ecocritical criticism, art and pedagogy, focusing in particular (but certainly not exclusively) on the idea of place, the relationship between walking and thinking.  We will share some of the outcomes of that day on this blog.

Following that, Freya, Jo and Suzi have developed a teaching module for Imagining Woodlands, which will be delivered for students at the University of York in May.  Collaborating with other experts, we will explore woodlands from various viewpoints and disciplines, and challenge the students to make their own creative responses to a day walking in the woods.

Also, Suzi and Jo are working with Dr Benjamin Gearey, an environmental archaeologist from University College Cork, to develop a special session at the EPPC conference in Dublin in August.  Artists, academics, archaeologists, scientists and anybody else interested are invited to submit a paper or other presentation on the connection between the scientific practice of palaeoecology and that of the visual and other creative arts.  Click here to read more about our special session no. 29:  Palaeoecology Through the Lens of Arts and Science.

Finally, Suzi and Jo will be collaborating on a project called The 72 Seasons, to identify micro-seasons in a woodland in Leicester through scientific and artistic observations. This project will start early in the year and run throughout the 12 months.  Regular updates will be posted on this blog.

So here's to new adventures in 2018, when we will launch The 72 Seasons project and let you know how you can get involved!

We leave you with a short, beautiful film by AP Film of woodlands in the snow at this link: Snow in the Woods.

Thanks for following.

Photos in this post by Andrew Postlethwaite.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Sacred Spaces of Milton Keynes

I will be leading a creative walk through Milton Keynes on Sunday 1st October, for the community organisation Back to Books, one of a series of walks they are commissioning to celebrate parks and gardens, woods and water, crafts and industry.

We will work as a group to create temporary art installations in some of the locations, reflecting on the spiritual and metaphysical designs, structures and geometry that can be found in the unique town of Milton Keynes.
The event is free and there is a free bus to and from Corby, or you can meet us in Milton Keynes.

The walk will be about 4 miles with a stop for a picnic, please bring your own! 
Places are limited, so please book via the Eventbrite page.

Back to Books' project is funded by Awards for All and Tesco Bags of Help.

I hope you can join us.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Introducing Imagining Woodlands' collaborators: Freya Sierhuis

Dr Freya Sierhuis teaches English literature at the University of York. By training a historian who specializes in Renaissance literature and literary culture, particularly of religious writing and of the stage, she has in recent years branched out into the field of ecocriticism and the environmental humanities.

At York, she teaches a module on literature and the environment which offers a variety of historical and critical perspectives on our relation to the environment, ranging from the poetry of Wordsworth and John Clare, to classics of nature writing, such as Thoreau’s Walden and Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, to the novels of Aboriginal writer and activist Alexis Wright. Drawing on studies in literary criticism, nature writing, and philosophy, it asks the question of what constitutes environmental literature, how such literature shapes environmental consciousness and action, and how new perspectives generated by the emergence of ecocriticism raise questions about the relationship between human perception and the natural world, and our co-existence as human beings in the larger living organism of the earth.
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it”.
Søren Kierkegaard
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in”.   
John Muir
A keen hiker and mountain walker, Freya is interested in the relationship between walking, writing and thinking. The connection between walking and philosophy as we know it from Rousseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker and Thoreau’s essay ‘Walking’ is part of a tradition whose roots stretch back far into history; perhaps to the very origins of philosophy with the peripatetic philosophers of ancient Greece. Walking, writers like Rebecca Solnit and Frédéric Gros have argued, can be a form of liberation through the crossing of spatial geographical and personal boundaries, and through the freedom afforded by simplicity and self-reliance. Yet walking also affords a particular kind of knowledge or insight, both of the self and of the walked landscape. The act of walking itself involves a kind of knowing that is both sensory, cognitive and embodied, reliant on physical sensation, movement, sight and smell as a medium for thought. Nature writers often describe this sort of knowledge as a process, rather than an outcome, and view it as ever-developing, and open-ended, rather than fixed, stable and finite.
“People exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love — and to defend what we love we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”
Wendel Berry

Walking can also be a way of retrieving, recuperating specific forms of knowledge about the natural world. In our late-capitalist, urbanized, and increasingly digital culture, time-honoured forms of knowledge of our natural surroundings are beginning to fall into abeyance. Words to describe the natural world, its flora, fauna, soil- and weather conditions are, as Robert Macfarlane noted in Landmarks, disappearing from our dictionaries and vocabularies at alarming rate and speed. If language does indeed shape perception, and if the limits of our language constitute the limits of our world, such a process of linguistic impoverishment must inevitably have a detrimental effect upon our relationship to nature.

Walking, then, Freya claims, can function as form of cultural resistance against environmental ‘forgetfulness’, by enabling an imaginative and affective re-possession of the landscapes that were shaped by centuries of human coexistence with the natural world. Beyond and behind the routes marked out on the Ordinance Survey map lies a myriad of itineraries and pathways, parish boundaries, pilgrimage routes and Holloways, many of them now sunk into oblivion. Taking imaginative possession of a landscape thus makes it possible to ‘read’ its physical and linguistic signs and features, to know the etymology of place names, and to understand how geography and environment evolved over time.  It is here that environmental activism and literary criticism converge. For the language of place, the ‘particularising language’ of which Wendel Berry speaks has common ground with literary criticism in its attention to what is historically specific, singular, and irreducible.

Such intimate attention to the particularity of place we can find for instance in the work of John Clare (1793-1864), perhaps England’s best, and certainly most radically innovative, nature poet. Clare was born in Helpston, Northamptonshire, and witnessed the transformation of the rural landscapes of his youth in the wake of the industrial revolution and the enclosure movement. As a naturalist, his knowledge far exceeds that of other Romantic poets like Wordsworth. Clare’s bird poems betray an intimate but entirely unsentimental understanding of animal behaviour, while a poem like ‘A Copse in Winter’ requires the reader to make the link between the woodland practice of coppicing, and the appearance of flowers in summer.

Yet Clare’s poetry does not simply celebrate the beauty of a vanishing world in a pastoral, elegiac mode, rather, it creates through its language a poetics of resistance. Clare’s highly personal, idiosyncratic spelling and frequent use of dialect words (eliminated by his editor John Taylor, but reinstated in most modern editions) shape a poetic voice that is as unique as it is specific to the particularities of place: only in Northamptonshire is a song thrush called a ‘throstle’, a ladybird a ‘lady-cow’. Local language, Clare knew, conveys forms of knowledge that is historically and locally specific, and which is often lost in attempts of classification or systematization. Throughout his career Clare rejected any form of language that was abstract and universalizing, and whose rules he associated with the rationalist, efficiency-driven impetus behind the enclosure movement. He had no patience with grammar, which he viewed as a tyrannical form of constraint on the freedom of language. A skilled herbalist, he was indifferent to the grand classificatory work of Linneaean botany, yet discovered in the vernacular language of plants and flowers something that filled him with delight, something which he regarded as a kind of poetry. Rather than nostalgic, or backward-looking, Clare’s poetic language is radical in the sense that it articulates a claim, made explicit in poems like ‘To a fallen Elm’, that the land belongs to those who truly know it, rather than to those who merely own it.

If you have any favourite literary quotes about woodlands, please send them to us at and we will share them.

Images in this post by Jo Dacombe.

This post was originally posted as a newsletter on 8 July 2017

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Introducing Imagining Woodlands' collaborators: Suzi Richer

Scanning electron microscope image of pollen grains

Dr Suzi Richer works in palaeoecology, in particular studying sub-fossil* pollen grains to start to reconstruct past ecologies and environments.

Suzi is interested in how palaeoecology interacts with other disciplines to broaden understanding and interpretations of environments over time. She is interested in “flattening knowledge structures” and sharing knowledge, not just from experts such as archaeologists and biologists, but also from oral histories and people’s local knowledge of their area.

Recently Suzi, in conjunction with Dr Benjamin Gearey from University College Cork, Ireland, has been talking and writing about “ecocritical palaeoecology”, which broadly means the way that palaeoecology can contribute towards the way we think, write, speak and respond to current global ecological and environmental problems. This crosses scientific and archaeological study with cultural responses.

Suzi instigated the Imagining Woodlands project to explore how cross disciplines such as palaeoecology, art and literature, can interact to connect us to woodlands and examine our cultural perceptions of woodlands.  Suzi has extensive experience undertaking pollen analysis and studying woodland, and will bring her knowledge to the project.

Follow this link to see Suzi and her colleague Ben Gearey explaining the idea of ecocritical palaeoecology at the Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference last December - where Jo and Suzi met and first dreamed up the Imagining Woodlands project!

How do you imagine the woodlands of the past? Where do you think your idea of the past comes from and what are the cultural influences that affect this? Send us your thoughts at

Next update:  Introducing Dr Freya Sierhuis, Lecturer in literature at the University of York.

This post was originally posted as a newsletter on 23 June 2017.

Image by Dartmouth College Electron Microscope Facility - Source and public domain notice at Dartmouth College Electron Microscope Facility ([1], [2]), Public Domain,

*a stage before full fossilisation.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Introducing Imagining Woodlands' collaborators: Jo Dacombe

Imagining Woodlands is a cross-disciplinary project. Our next few updates will introduce each of the project collaborators, who all work in different areas and are coming together for this project, bringing their different perspectives to the work.

Old Law Beacons, Kings Wood, Corby 2014

First up is artist Jo Dacombe. Jo has created a number of art projects in and about woodlands over recent years. She is interested in the way that art can connect us with the sensory environment of woodlands and landscapes. Often Jo's art projects involve creative walks, participatory activity and moments to tune in to our sensory perception. She uses a variety of media and art forms, often as site specific work engaging with a sense of place.

The Hunter and the Hunted, Colwick Wood, Nottingham 2015
a storytelling walk by Sidelong

Jo collaborates often. She has been commissioned to work in woodlands to explore their history and heritage, through storytelling, family events, art installations in woods and through collaborating with other artists.

Jo is also interested in archaeology. She began working alongside archaeology in 2013, with her collaborative practice Sidelong with Laura-Jade Vaughan. Sidelong worked with Trent Archaeology to create a project about the caves of Nottingham.

This led on to Jo working as artist in residence alongside zooarchaeologists at the University of Leicester over two years, resulting in The Reliquary Project. Although this project pursued an interest in bones, the project also brought her back to landscape and thinking about how archaeologists read landscapes in different ways.

Bone Forest, drawing made for The Reliquary Project, 2016

The project also connected her with other archaeologists, including in the Wyre Forest and with the University of York. These archaeologists were working in woodlands and, with Jo's ongoing interest in woods and archaeology, their conversations began to form the Imagining Woodlands project.

For Imagining Woodlands, Jo is interested in ways in which she might respond artistically to the science and archaeological evidence of woods, and how a creative approach might connect people imaginatively with woodlands research.

Continuum, a time travelling woodland walk, Thoroughsale Wood, Corby 2017

Next update:  introducing project collaborator Dr Suzi Richer, palaeoecologist and research associate in Archaeology and Environment.

All images in this post by Jo Dacombe, except Sidelong photo taken by Matthew Vaughan.

This post was originally posted as a newsletter on 6 May 2017.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Forests, Woodlands - Your responses

We had a great response from our readers on the post "Woodlands - Forests - What's the Difference?" Here is a selection of some of the replies we received, ranging from the factual to the poetic. Thanks to everybody who joined the conversation.

When you close your eyes and imagine a forest, what do you see? And how is that different from what you imagine as a woodland?
The forest is thick with trees and dark... the woodland has open spaces, is lighter and there are varying shades of colour and light throughout.
The forest in my imagination consists mainly of conifers which go on for miles and miles.  The woodland in my imagination is smaller and has glades and rides and small streams and lakes with people and wildlife benefiting from all these things.
It's interesting that I should see them this way as my role as a social forester... woodland management for me is mainly done by hand through sustainable methods such as coppicing - which leads to something similar to what I imagine to be a woodland.  However the word forester suggests I would work in something more like the forest from my imagination using machinery and chainsaws.
Kirsten Manley

For me, and this links back to my childhood living in Canada, I imagine deciduous forests when I imagine the word "forest". It reminds me of my childhood running in the woods, going on hikes, and spending time with my family. Whereas woodlands have always been something from a fairytale, specifically English fairy tales, that should have woodland creatures, Robin Hood's and the like. As a result, my idea of a woodland is purely fantasy and is for some reason always associated with a hidden grove or picturesque field on the edge of a walkable woodland as a setting. So for myself, the difference is reality versus fantasy.
Charlotte Black

In the Wyre Forest. Photo by Jo Dacombe

Common question, lots of different answers across space and time too...
The feeling at the meeting I was at the other day that woodlands are a British thing and forests are a continental and American thing...
Suzi Richer

The thoughts of wood and forest instantly conjure up our collective human awe and whispered reverence, of whatever is obscured in the world, both in nature and in spirit. The difference to me is that woods are small, local, friendly and familiar. The trees are well spaced and the undergrowth is deep as it scrambles around in dappled light. The woods woosh and creak and hoot and scuttle. The woods have a dawn chorus and a cacophonous roost. They shout in the Summer; “Come and climb my trees!”. They groan from their loaded lushness in August… “Come soon and relieve me of my heavy bounty. Prepare to kick leaves and collect conkers.” They shiver on the whitening air of Winter: “Tread softly now, we are sleeping.” And soon there are Snowdrops and Violets and Bluebells and last minute digging for stashed hoardes. “Oh…are we to start again? Splish splosh, then let’s get ON with it!

That Forest which jumps around enigmatically in our (usually so clear) minds’ eye, avoiding our direct glance and glamouring the view into its interior… That Forest is Dark. That forest invades your mind with stealthy fears of twisted boughs and sickened roots and shifting corners beyond your gaze. Gaze on…it will entrap your consciousness, remove your beliefs and replace them with something not of this world - that forest. Mostly, it is silent. The noise it makes cannot be heard with your pretty, clever, fleshy ear. But it speaks a roar that we all know. It screams; “If you value your teeth and your tongue, STAY AWAY FROM ME!” It places the notion firmly in your gut; “Do not play with me if you won’t forfeit your soul. DO NOT play near me even if you think you might want to be emptied and spat to the lurking Crows (who know to stay above and beside me, rather stalking the fields than even caw at This Forest.) Wise birds those Crows – See you follow their lead.” As through decaying stumps and rotting hapless wild things’ frozen jaws, IT chokes out, as it turns its ivy cloaked back; “Consider that your final warning.”
Clare Jackson


Woodland at Beacon Hill, Leicestershire. Photo by Andrew Postlethwaite

For me, woods are an area of land that is covered in trees. Some are managed to produce crops of wood and timber, others are wild or feral. As someone who enjoys being in the countryside and now makes a living riding mountain bikes, I spend a lot of time in woods and love being amongst trees. I find them restful but endlessly engaging places to be. There is always something new to experience and enjoy.
Forests mean two, very different, things to me. The first is “forest” which is legal term for a medieval crown hunting area. It was managed to encourage large game, particularly deer. In these areas there were particular laws about protecting the game for hunting and punishing (or at least raising revenue from) people who infringed upon the sole right of the crown to take game. Whilst the forests are no longer legal entities they often retain the personality of this former use. They often retain a feel of being “different” from place that were not forests.
“Forestry”, by contrast is an area where trees, usually conifers are managed as an arable crop to be harvested when mature or when the value of the crop is highest. This term appears to have come into Britain after the Second World War (though I stand ready to be corrected on that). They are often monocultural as befits an arable crop. As such, though they are often pleasant, they hold less of a joyous experience for me.
Andy Whincup
A forest might have only one species while a woodland will have several species.... What does Oliver Rackham say??
Dale Thomso

Good question. So we looked it up in The History of the Countryside by Oliver Rackham, 1986:

"Woods are land on which trees have arisen naturally. They are managed by the art of woodmanship to yield successive crops of produce in a perpetual succession. When cut down the trees replace themselves by natural regrowth."

"The word 'forest' has been much abused in its history. In this book I use it only in two distinct senses. A Forest (spelt with a capital F) is land on which the king (or some other magnate) has the right to keep deer. This is the original sense of the word: to the medievals a Forest was a place of deer, not a place of trees. If a Forest happened to be wooded it formed part of the wood-pasture tradition; but there were many woodless Forests...I also use forestry in the modern sense as the art of managing plantations. Historians of modern forestry often fall into the trap of assuming that it is the successor of the medieval Forest system, but the two have little in common but the name."

Interestingly, Rackham's definitions of woodlands, Forests and forestry all involve the interaction of humans with trees, and are not about trees being from a world of nature separate from us. I feel the idea of nature as "other" is a much more recent concept. Something we will discuss more in our project, no doubt.

In the next update:  An introduction to the first of Imagining Woodlands' collaborators, artist Jo Dacombe.

As ever, thanks for following.

This post was originally posted as a newsletter on 21 April 2017.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

What are we planning next?

In our project, we hope to explore perceptions of woodlands in the UK by bringing different people together with various expertise and ideas. This will include perspectives from art, science, archaeology and literature. Importantly, we also hope to include people who live and work locally to woodlands, and integrate their viewpoints in the project.

Our initial online conversations have been really useful so far, so thanks to everybody who has been joining in, either in response to these email updates or via the twitter account @imagwoods. We are currently collating your responses about the difference between Forests and Woodlands, and will post these in the next couple of weeks.

We also plan to organise events in woodlands around the country, and we are currently making funding applications in order to do this.

Meanwhile, we will be posting short introductions to the people who are currently involved in Imagining Woodlands, with insight into their practice. They are a fascinating bunch!

If you have anything to share relating to woodlands, we welcome contributions, so do send it to us to keep the conversation going! You can email us at

So in the spirit of sharing, here's a seasonal tree tradition from Medievalist Eleanor Parker (@ClerkofOxford):

"On Palm Sunday eve, people went 'palming' to collect willow, box or yew branches - originally to be blessed at church, later just for fun."

and here's the extract from Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain by Ronald Hutton that describes this practice:

This post was originally posted as a newsletter on 9 April 2017.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

What's the difference?

When we were planning the Forests and Woodlands questionnaire (you can read the results in the March newsletter at this link), we started to talk about the difference between a "woodland" and a "forest". I didn't get into that in the first survey, it would have become too long - so the question remains open.
One of our survey respondents did touch on this. When asked about their first thought regarding forests and woodlands, they wrote:
"Forests aren't woodlands. After that it's trees (which don't necessarily occur in forests)"

If you work in an occupation that involves you with forests, you will probably know that there is a legal classification of what comprises a "forest", for the purposes of land use in planning. A forest is a legally defined area under management - which may or may not include any trees or vegetation!

If you try to look up the definition of a forest, you will come up with a number of other answers too, with can vary depending on which country you are in.

If, like me, you don't work in planning or a forest related occupation, you may have a different perception of what is "woodland" and what is "forest". When you close your eyes and imagine a forest, what do you see? And how is that different from what you imagine as a woodland? Rather than official definitions, I'd be interested to know what we feel is the difference between a woodland and a forest.

I know what I think, and I will reveal that at a later date - but not now, for fear of biasing your own opinion! But I think there is more to it than just the size of an area of trees. I'm not sure this merits another survey, but I would love to hear your thoughts:

In your imagination, what's the difference between a forest and a woodland?

Please email us a couple of sentences to  I will collate any responses at a later date and share them with you.

Thanks for following.

This post was originally posted as a newsletter on 31 March 2017 by Jo Dacombe.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Forests and Woodlands Questionnaire Results

Thank you for completing the Forests and Woodlands Questionnaire. (The survey is now closed)

I was overwhelmed by how many responses I got in just a few days! So it has taken me a little longer than I expected to go through the results. I am still analysing what it all means.

I'm working with Dr Suzi Richer, Research Associate in Archaeology and Environment at the University of York, who is helping me respond to the questionnaire results. I've summarised some of the results below.

Suzi recently published an article From Rackham to REVEALS: Reflections on palaeoecological approaches to Woodland and Trees . Her interest in cross-disciplinary approaches and integrating alternative perspectives into research has inspired this project. Suzi and I are intending to develop activities to further investigate people's relationships with woodlands in the UK, and we hope you will be involved. Your input in the questionnaire has given us our first evidence to inspire and develop the project, and we hope to stage workshops and events in various woodlands in the months to come. I will continue to update you as we progress.


238 people responded to the questionnaire. The distribution was wide, stretching from the furthest tip of Cornwall across to South London, from Worcestershire across the Midlands, to the Yorkshire coast and up to Fife in Scotland. There were a few from outside the UK too. I am still putting together a map of all the places... if I ever get to finish it I will share it!

The first question asked for people's first thought when they think of forests or woodlands. A significant number, 25% of respondents, used words such as "peace", "tranquility", "silence", with a further 10% using words like "calm", "relaxing", "slowing down". An additional 4% said "freedom", "escape", "liberating", and another 4% wrote "breathing", "clean air", "fresh air". These were by far the gist of most responses, associating woodlands with leisure and escapism from "modern" life.

Not a surprising result. Nobody mentioned woodlands as worked or managed (apart from one response of "work"), although a majority of woodlands need to be managed. In more ancient times, woodlands in the UK would have been hives of industry and activity, so this shows how much our perception and use of woodlands has changed.

Hence the question asking if your occupation involves you with woodlands. 29% replied that their occupation associated them with woodlands, which is quite a significant number. However it's likely that our survey is biased and would have attracted more people associated with woodlands through work than the national percentage.

Respondents seemed to come from a variety of both rural and urban areas, with 70% saying that they visit woodlands regularly, listing woodlands of varying sizes and age, from small local copses to significant managed forests.

I found it interesting that the question about cultural references to woodlands, whilst generating a very wide range of responses, also had a significant cluster giving similar responses. 19% mentioned Robin Hood or Robin of Sherwood; 11% mentioned Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit or the Ents; 5% a Midsummer Nights Dream. There were a number of other fantasy or fairy stories (Red Riding Hood, Narnia, Enid Blyton's Enchanted Forest and more) that connects with our sense of fairy tales associated with woodlands.

I thought Robin Hood was interesting as the most common response. It's a story with many levels, including ideas about hiding and living out in the woods as an outlaw. Does this connect with our idea of woodlands as wild places, dangerous places, disconnected from the everyday town dweller? Or as a place of freedom?

If you want to read all the responses, you can see a spreadsheet of them at this link. I have removed any emails that were supplied. You could certainly compile a great reading list or playlist from the suggestions!

Thanks again for taking part, and I hope you will stay subscribed so that I can bring you more updates of the project as it progresses. In the meantime, feel free to send any comments - all thoughts and responses welcome!

Errol Flynn, The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938

This post was originally posted as a newsletter on 18 March 2017 by Jo Dacombe.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Imagining Woodlands

Ash trees, Thoroughsale Woods, Corby
Imagining Woodlands is the new project I am working on in collaboration with Dr Suzi Richer at the University of York. We aim to explore perceptions of woodlands and forests through a series of events and conversations: bringing together science, archaeology, art and literature, through a collaboration between academics, artists and people in their local woodlands.

The following are my own notes, written when we began devising this project.

“Culture is ordinary”1– it is a lived experience, and an inherited one. Socialist writers such as Raymond Williams and Antonio Gramsci2 defined ways in which we learn through being surrounded by cultural hegemonic messages, which determine the way we think about things. By unpicking these influences, Williams and Gramsci wanted to break down the inherent power systems within them.

How does this relate to woodlands? Through Richer’s research3 she has identified that the way people think about woodlands and about nature is seen as ‘other’ to their own lives. Where does this attitude come from? As a palaeoecologist, Richer understands that humans and woodlands have long been interconnected; humans worked with woods as part of their everyday culture. So how has the more recent notion of separating woodlands and nature from ourselves come about?

It is important to think about this because, as Schiffman writes, “We need a story that properly situates humans in the world — neither above it by virtue of our superior intellect, nor dwarfed by the universe into cosmic insignificance. We are equal partners with all that exists, co-creators with trees and galaxies and the microorganisms in our own gut, in a materially and spiritually evolving universe.”4 If we think of nature as separate from ourselves, it affects the way we act in terms of issues like climate change. We act as masters or custodians to the woods, rather than as connected to them.

Williams uses the term “cultural materialism”5 to discuss ideas about how our beliefs about the world are formed: that is, through the absorption of material and mediated ideas through visual culture, literary culture, the naming of things, the terms we use in the news and media; these all affect, often in subconscious ways, the way we think about things and concepts around us.

I have long been fascinated by the naming of things. When we name something, it both reflects what we think of that thing, and influences what others think of that thing. Naming conceptualises how we perceive the things around us. Names also make things real. Once something is named, you see it properly. As Robert Macfarlane writes in his book about names, Landmarks6 “This is a book about the power of language…to shape our sense of place… 'The hardest thing of all to see is what is really there,’ wrote J. A. Baker in The Peregrine (1967), a book that brilliantly shows how such seeing might occur in language”

Richer’s research also discovered that the naming of trees in the woods has changed over time. Fascinatingly, in the medieval woodland, people did not name the species of trees; instead, they called them by names for their use. For example, the hazel and the birch were known as “poles” because their straight grains made them ideal for making staffs. Now that you know this, you will see hazel and birch differently from now on!

But these colloquial names have been lost to us over time. As our perception of woods and trees changed, affecting our use of language for them, thus our words for them further shaped our sense of them.

Dr Mark Jenner at the University of York has written about Culture and Communication7 and how, if the concept of cultural materialism is correct, then our culture is communicated through much wider fields than that of the arts and humanities: “More interesting is the way sociologists and anthropologists have used the term culture much more inclusively in order to make sense of sets of shared meanings, of communication practices and ways of life”8. Jenner advocates that people working within different disciplines including the arts, sciences, history etc. must work together to discover how cultural communication of ideas, such as the perceptions of our woodlands, come about. More importantly, how can this knowledge be utilised to engage people more meaningfully with issues such as climate change and other global issues, which can be extremely difficult for people to grasp or conceive of fully, and especially difficult to relate to their everyday lives?

Our project with the woodlands aims to address these two things: 1. What are the perceptions and daily relationships that people have now to their woodlands? and 2. How can artists and scientists work together to formulate cultural materialism which engages people more meaningfully about the complexity of woodlands?

You can sign up for email updates for the Imagining Woodlands project at this link, or follow on twitter @imagwoods

1 Raymond Williams, Culture is Ordinary (1958), in Resources of Hope, R. Gable (ed.) London and New York, Verso, 1989
2 Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks. International Publishers, 1971

3 Richer, S and Gearey, B,  ‘From Rackam to REVEALS: thinking towards a palaeoecology of woodland dwelling’, Environmental Archaeology, 2017

4 Richard Schiffman, March 2, 2015, We Need to Relearn That We’re a Part of Nature, Not Separate From It:

5 Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Chatto and Windus, 1958

6 Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks, Penguin Books, 2015

7 Dr Mark Jenner, Research Champion for Culture and Communication

8 Jenner, ibid

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Continuum Postponed

I'm sorry to say that our woodland time-travelling walk Continuum has been postponed due to the continuous rain. The woodlands have become very boggy, so we have made the decision that the event will run later in the year instead.

The new date is Sunday 21st May 2017. Please note the date in your diaries and check the website here, the new details for booking will appear soon.

If you already have tickets, you should have been contacted about this already. If not, please contact The Core.

Thanks and I look forward to a lovely event in May when, we hope, the weather will be better!

I should have news by then of other walks I will be running - check back on this blog or sign up for email updates so you don't miss out!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Forests and Woods Survey

Please complete this short questionnaire for me!

I am planning a new project which will respond artistically to people's perceptions of forests and woods. It would really help me if as many people as possible respond to this survey. It only takes a few minutes - and please feel free to forward the link to others! Just click on the image below to open up the survey. Many thanks.

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Charter for Trees

Thoroughsale Wood, Corby, July 2016
Bringing together my interests in history, trees and how people relate to place, The Charter for Trees, Woods and People aims to guide policy and practice in the UK, "enabling a future in which trees and people stand stronger together."

The Charter is to be launched on November 6th 2017, the 800th anniversary of the historic 1217 Charter of the Forest which established rights of access and use for the Royal Forests in England.

I am currently working with other researchers in science, archaeology and literature, to think about how we relate to trees and woodlands. This also springs from my current project in collaboration with artist Carole Miles for Our Woods festival in Corby, celebrating parts of the Rockingham Forest. For this project we are considering time travel through the woods, how we experience the woodland's constant change from season to season.

Past projects are also informing my thoughts at the moment. Forests and woodlands stimulate our imaginations as we consider them as places of folklore and enchantment, places of sanctuary but sometimes fear, and places of the wild. Our Sidelong walk The Hunter and the Hunted played with these ideas, of how woodlands exist in our imaginations.

Woodlands are also places of industry, and they share their history with people who have had working relationships with trees over centuries. They have also been useful for hiding things. In my project for Dukes Wood I had an intriguing time exploring the woods and stumbling across traces of its past as a secret inland oil field, hidden deep within. Last autumn at the University, learning about LiDAR, a technique using lasers which can penetrate woodland canopies to reveal what is beneath, I was startled by a number of large manmade structures that suddenly became clear on the images. These were 20 or more ammunition parks, making use of the tree canopy to store explosives where the enemy in the air would never spot them. (Unfortunately the images are under copyright so I cannot share them here.)

I hope that I can link up some of my projects with the Tree Charter as it resonates so well with me. Carole and I were delighted to find that our Our Woods event, Continuum: a time travelling woodland walk has been included in the Charter's winter publication of LEAF!

I hope some of you will be able to join us to explore the woods in March.