‘Bid the tree
Unfix its earthbound root’
Macbeth – Shakespeare
The idea of Walking Forest was seeded during a series of creative workshops between Shelley Castle, Lucy Neal, Ruth Ben-Tovim and Anne-Marie Culhane in 2016. During this time we discovered many areas of shared interest – the urgent need to stand up for the natural world; the global network of women Earth protectors; the performative genius of the Suffragettes; and deep concern about the climate and ecological crises.
Sketching, reading, walking and plotting together helped us focus the shape of Walking Forest as a project – whatever happened next would be out of doors, located on the land and involve trees and lots of people.
In 2019 Walking Forest was funded by Arts Council England having been commissioned by ArtsAdmin and Julie’s Bicycle for the Season for Change – despite much of the project being moved into 2021 due to Covid19, our earthbound roots are now on the move.
‘We are on Earth to be pollinators, we carry seeds’
Robin Harford, Forager
Walking Forest has become a project spanning ten years, culminating in 2028 with an ‘intentional woodland’: a place made up of trees that honour women activists as the Suffragette Arboretum had done. During 2020/21 the emphasis will be on exploring links between local and global Earth Defenders, researching natural forest networks, connecting with artists and communities in three UK sites and working towards a mass performance at the time of COP26 International Climate talks in Glasgow in 2021.
100 years ago Suffragettes and Suffragists took a stand and marched through the streets in their thousands to get votes for women. They showed ordinary people can make extraordinary change. Where they campaigned to change the way women were represented in legal and political systems, activists today work to change the way the natural world is represented in legal, political, economic and cultural systems.
During our research we discovered that the Suffragettes planted trees; creating an arboretum in Batheaston near Bath in Somerset, to honour acts of individual courage and to inspire onward action. Only one tree still stands today after the rest were bulldozed to create a housing estate in the 1960s. It is a magnificent 110 year old Austrian Pine, planted by activist Rose Lamartine Yates.
Each pine cone holds a handful of winged seeds. We are successfully propagating seeds from Rose’s tree and so far there are three ‘radical sister’ saplings in the UK.
The ‘radicle’ is the first part of a seedling to emerge from the seed during the process of germination: a seed is tiny, its possibilities, both real and imagined are immense. The sharing of this story and the gifting of these symbolic and fertile ‘radicle daughter’ seeds represent the continuously renewing, restorative centre of Walking Forest. Rose’s tree seeds have become one of the touchstones of Walking Forest, and we hope that by 2028 some will have grown enough to become part of the intentional forest.