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Sun through autumnal trees
Article
05 November 2019
Zakiya Mckenzie

Meet Zakiya McKenzie, journalist, academic, and emerging nature writer.‘Forest Collection’ is inspired by her time talking with those who live and work in the nation's forests. 

Zakiya's poems

Writer in the Forest

Writing in the forest is affirming. It owes me nothing and didn’t ask me to say these thingsRead now

My (w)rites of Passage

Dulwich in London is where I came into this world. This I do not recall but have made up memories in my head from the pictures I have seen.Read now

The Arborists

There are only three tree-climbers in Forestry England. They scale the tallest of trees, grooming and look after them. The tree-climbers know all the trees at Westonbirt Arbouretum personally. Fascinating!Read now

The Fern Ticket I

In the Dean, to have had your first amourous experience in the forest was to get your ‘fern ticket’Read now

When it rains in the Forest

Rain is not sadnessRead now

The Fern Ticket II

She checked to see what time it was. Looking up at the sun, she smiled because the rainclouds that had splashed the morning seemed to have moved on.Read now

The Old Heads of Elder Grove Learn About Air Pollution

A cobalt sky blanketed the morning and pockets of hazy sunshine beamed through morphing openings in the canopy high.Read now

Living, working forest

“Mining has been around since time out of mind,” I am told my Deputy Gaveller Dan Howell.Read nowDiscover more about Zakiya's residencyRead her Q&A about the residencyVisit her websiteWhat do forests mean to you?Take a moment to add your letter, poem, story or memory to celebrate the trees in your lifeTributes to Trees Read Zakiya Mckenzie's 'Forest Collection'. Read Zakiya Mckenzie's 'Forest Collection'.
Silhouette of forest at pink sunset
Article
05 November 2019

In the Dean, to have had your first amourous experience in the forest was to get your ‘fern ticket’

The Fern Ticket I

A taboo so sweetA myth so endearingA lover’s retreatA comfortable clearingWhere prying eyes hideCannot intrudeAnd lover’s do the things they doWithin the folds of thick forestBeneath the branches where birds nestThey share together nature’s delightWith woodland cover and sunlightIn rhythm with rain, in motion with moonTo give and take, to enjoy the bloomTo dance for days and to love with itCome with amour, here lies the fern ticket

Read more

When it rains in the Forest

Rain is not sadnessRead now

The Fern Ticket II

She checked to see what time it was. Looking up at the sun, she smiled because the rainclouds that had splashed the morning seemed to have moved on.Read now

The Old Heads of Elder Grove Learn About Air Pollution

A cobalt sky blanketed the morning and pockets of hazy sunshine beamed through morphing openings in the canopy high.Read now

Living, working forest

“Mining has been around since time out of mind,” I am told my Deputy Gaveller Dan Howell.Read now Read The Fern Ticket I by Zakiya Mckenzie. Read The Fern Ticket I by Zakiya Mckenzie.
Notebook and pen on green grass
Article
05 November 2019
Writer in the Forest

Writing in the forest is affirming.It owes me nothing and didn’t ask me to say these thingsbut I come with green greetingsThis world is for us all, and I must love the spaces I am inAs if my life’s purpose would have lagged and melted to noughtI must go where I can love and am loved thereInto the thicket, transplant me anywhereThe spinning globe around, I have been, and this is how I want to beThe forest is the place, among birch and beamThis land that I own as every part of myselfYet know I have no ultimate claim to contendWhen it wants, it reclaims exactly what it wantsAnd whether one is into a god, gods or none at allMother Nature is constant, in all ways it sustainsIt thrashes us too, we complainStill, the imposition is me and youIt is we who cut back and we who chooseto curb the realness of this placeWhen this kind of wildness is lostUncertainty is what we face

Read more

My (w)rites of Passage

Dulwich in London is where I came into this world. This I do not recall but have made up memories in my head from the pictures I have seen.Read now

The Arborists

There are only three tree-climbers in Forestry England. They scale the tallest of trees, grooming and look after them. The tree-climbers know all the trees at Westonbirt Arbouretum personally. Fascinating!Read now

The Fern Ticket I

In the Dean, to have had your first amourous experience in the forest was to get your ‘fern ticket’Read now

When it rains in the Forest

Rain is not sadnessRead now Read Writer in the Forest by Zakiya Mckenzie. Read Writer in the Forest by Zakiya Mckenzie.
Hand holding bunch of leaves
Article
05 November 2019
My (w)rites of Passage

Dulwich in London is where I came into this world. This I do not recall but have made up memories in my head from the pictures I have seen. My first recollections happen in Jamaica. Before me, my grandparents migrated to England from two different countries in the British West Indies. They were a part of the Windrush generation of post-war workers rebuilders. There was not a question of their right to be here, so they stayed and raised families. The immigration laws changed which tightened tensions in the time my parents grew up. They chose Jamaica and left. Jamaica, with its highland forest environment on mountains framing the panorama. Its mangrove forests on multiple waterways scattered around the island. It is home and I never questioned my place there, it is the only childhood I have. My world existed in another hemisphere and I rarely entertained the question of my Britishness.  

For me, nomadic impulses have always led me to live far and meet new people, it is a thing I cannot escape. But I wasn’t prepared for the yearning of home, a British home, my move back as a big person brought up.  I love this land, yet the history is often set against me. How peculiar that Windrush British are left stranded off the mothercountryship. How does one confront a colonial legacy, very much tied to the land, when we all need to save it right now? We harken not on the olden days to guilt the mass, for the present is bleeding and guilt has no use here.

Forests are where I think about this the most, ‘bush’ in Jamaica. Standing among trees that have been right here for centuries; the 2000-year-old coppiced lime tree at Westonbirt Arboretum, close to my home in Bristol. From the day it began growing, how much has happened in the world! I think of the millions of people that have lived through the time of this same tree. The original Jamaicans, the Pre-Columbus indigenous Taíno people who once thrived on the island called the placeXaymaca– land of wood and water.  Reverence for the wood, reverence for the traveling water. I cannot help but think of time stretching far back with the all-knowing ground I am on. There can be no pretence among these beings. They will not judge, though they see it all. The privilege of exploring nature, of experiencing the good in it, belongs to no woman or man more than the other. The forest itself holds no grudge, but I pity the man who does not own it enough to not own it.

I never argue these things with people anymore; let everyone speak though my ears may no longer need to hear it.

 

Read more

The Arborists

There are only three tree-climbers in Forestry England. They scale the tallest of trees, grooming and look after them. The tree-climbers know all the trees at Westonbirt Arbouretum personally. Fascinating!Read now

The Fern Ticket I

In the Dean, to have had your first amourous experience in the forest was to get your ‘fern ticket’Read now

When it rains in the Forest

Rain is not sadnessRead now

The Fern Ticket II

She checked to see what time it was. Looking up at the sun, she smiled because the rainclouds that had splashed the morning seemed to have moved on.Read now Read My (w)rites of Passage by Zakiya Mckenzie. Read My (w)rites of Passage by Zakiya Mckenzie.
Close up of blackberry flower
Article
05 November 2019
The Fern Ticket II

She checked to see what time it was. Looking up at the sun, she smiled because the rainclouds that had splashed the morning seemed to have moved on. The laces on her boots were dark brown with mud, but she made sure to hold the hem of her dress to save it from the woodland floor. She hurried past the cherry-lined row and picked up a leaf from a pretty tree. Leaf in hand, with the song of jingling bangles, she continued towards the meeting point. She hummed a tune her older sister had taught her.

At the meeting point, the bramble grew thick and hardy. Someone had even said they saw a grass snake disappear into the bushes once, its’ yellow neck band and haunting tongue zig-zagging away with it. The old logs her sister told her to expect were there but covered in ferns, it must have been a long time since her sister saw the space. Here, plants could grow free and sturdy. Today, so would she.

The pinkish white flowers of blackberry bloom dotted the scene. So did the vivid yellow-orange lichen which stood out with brash character against the backdrop of greens and browns. She slowed down when she got to the old hazel and walked into the taller grass to wipe some of the mud away from her boots. She stood up now and allowed her dress to fall, smoothing it out and walking towards the shadiest part of the hideaway. She looked up at the sun and wondered if she was too anxious, too early, but she heard the rustling and the soft steps of his gentle stride upon mudded grass in the opposite direction from where she came.

By the time she spun around he was meandering towards her like a fox in his forest. She didn’t notice the nerves; the way his thumb scraped against the walking stick in his left hand and the sweaty palm of his right. He too had only heard of this spot in the forest but never had he walked this far to find it for he had never had a reason to. But now, she was the reason and it was time to do what they had come to do.

He dropped the stick and tried to dry his hand on his shirt. As soon as he was in front of her he looked from one of her eyes to the next and again. He was unsure of his next move but trusted that in this part of the woods, with just her, they would do no wrong. Even with the church bells in the distance. He was surprised when, wary of his hesitance, she took one small step forward, raised on her toes a bit and put her face in front of his. His eyes were still open and wide when she placed her lips on his.

The world stopped. Time immortal took precedence and they entered a plane where only they existed. For a nanosecond they felt nothing, for the forest itself had halted to be. But like the crash of a flood that cleans everything anew, the feeling soon rushed in and flushed them with joyful frenzy. A steadied frenzy, for they kissed as if it was the one true moment and the one true place this was to happen. As if there was no need to rush for nothing could wipe away the moment of what is to be. They saw lightening and heard thunder, and amidst it all, they were together. Weathering the storm, riding the wave, filling the forest with life and love uninhibited. Everything around them sang with joy for them.   It felt like a good forever.

“This is the first of forever,” she said

“Like the evergreen who watches us now”, he replied.

“This is our timber-land, our place. Everyone has their moment but I’m sure the protector of the trees won’t mind us carving this bit of wood in our minds.”

“It is where we first made our mark in the world. Hallowed ground, this spot.”

He held out his hand, she put hers in his, they walked toward the tolling bell, they walked in bliss.

Read more

The Old Heads of Elder Grove Learn About Air Pollution

A cobalt sky blanketed the morning and pockets of hazy sunshine beamed through morphing openings in the canopy high.Read now

Living, working forest

“Mining has been around since time out of mind,” I am told my Deputy Gaveller Dan Howell.Read now

Writer in the Forest

Writing in the forest is affirming. It owes me nothing and didn’t ask me to say these thingsRead now

My (w)rites of Passage

Dulwich in London is where I came into this world. This I do not recall but have made up memories in my head from the pictures I have seen.Read now Read The Fern Ticket II by Zakiya Mckenzie. Read The Fern Ticket II by Zakiya Mckenzie.
Looking up
Article
05 November 2019

There are only three tree-climbers in Forestry England. They scale the tallest of trees, grooming and look after them. The tree-climbers know all the trees at Westonbirt Arbouretum personally. Fascinating!

The Arborists

Heights of great men, reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were climbing upwards, upwards, upwards…

towering giantaerial kingcrown grazerair thinbeyond cloudblessed bluesky abovegrey sky toowavering winddainty spreadfeather-likelimbs to treadleaping logstimber tightropepivoting blocksstill floatssky walkermajestic museskilled workerskill of useskilful arbouracrobatgraceful climbertrim the fattreetop gymnastnone like theebalancing beamsfelling trees

 

Read more

The Fern Ticket I

In the Dean, to have had your first amourous experience in the forest was to get your ‘fern ticket’Read now

When it rains in the Forest

Rain is not sadnessRead now

The Fern Ticket II

She checked to see what time it was. Looking up at the sun, she smiled because the rainclouds that had splashed the morning seemed to have moved on.Read now

The Old Heads of Elder Grove Learn About Air Pollution

A cobalt sky blanketed the morning and pockets of hazy sunshine beamed through morphing openings in the canopy high.Read now Read The Arborists. Read The Arborists.
Zakiya Mckenzie crouched on forest floor
Blog
08 November 2019

As the forest residency for our centenary year comes to a close we caught up with Zakiya Mckenzie to hear about her experience spending time behind the scenes in the nation's forests developing her work.

Read Zakiya's work

What attracted you to apply to be a writer in the forest?I love writing, especially about things I love, so when I saw the call I thought I’d give it a go. Earlier this year, my uni studies had left me unconvinced of and unconfident in my ability to write well. I was stuck in a months-long writer’s block and thought it would be good to switch topics a bit, to remember why I’ve wanted to write in the first place.I’ve always written about the natural world but hadn’t experienced much of it in England outside of the south west and thought writing in the forest was a great opportunity to explore. I was right - travelling the country, meeting the trees, writing in the woods has opened my heart connection to England in a way I hadn’t experienced before - there is so much to love and appreciate here, I’ve found much of it in the forest.

You had an idea of what you wanted to write. What inspired your vision?I know that I am forever happy and at home in the midst of ‘bush’, which is what the thicket is called in Jamaica. My vision was therefore inspired by the universal love and appreciation I have for forest-like places, the world over.Still, I went in with an idea of what I wanted to write but had to relinquish a lot of preconceived plans once I got into the forests themselves. From the very first journey, it quickly became clear that each place was unique and would serve as its own creative impetus because of that nuance.

Your piece is written in celebration of 100 years of the Forestry Commission and you spent a number of days out in our forests, with our rangers, foresters, scientists and ecologists. What was it that captured your imagination and interest during that time?The work being done with the climate crisis in mind is most inspiring. Especially at the two arboreta or ‘tree museums’ that I visited, Westonbirt and Bedgebury, there are teams researching ways in which plant and tree species might survive under different and worsening climatic possibilities.  Just as it is human action (or inaction, one could argue) that has led to the crisis, it is human action that can mitigate some of the harshness, as well. One worker even spoke of a “moral obligation” to saving as much as possible that is here now as a personal duty in acknowledging England’s plant-hunting history, which often exploited the environment of other countries to enrich ours. Some of the species that grow ‘wildly’ in England now were brought from other places in the world, and the need to study and save them (in the UK and abroad) is not lost on many of the scientists and foresters that I met.

What has been the highlight of your experience?The Forest of Dean is a thrilling place. People live and work there, people have been born and bred there. There are so many stories, histories and myths connected to the woods there. I’m fascinated and have since been reading a lot of the folk tales about the place.

What’s next for you?I will keep writing, and hope I’ll end up with a book about my sojourning truths. And soon, I’ll finish my PhD and breathe new breaths of relief. 

Stay in touchBe first to hear about similar opportunities to our Writers in the Forest residencySign up now Find out about our writer in the forest residency from Zakiya Mckenzie Find out about our writer in the forest residency from Zakiya Mckenzie
Zakiya Mckenzie in the forest
Blog
Zakiya Mckenzie's reflections on writing in the forest
Creating a better today and tomorrow

Zakiya Mckenzie was selected to join ourwriters in residency programme back in 2019 to celebrate our centenary year. Here, she helps us to mark Black History Month with her important reflections from that time. 

Writer in the Forest. Resident writer of the English woodland. What a position it was to hold.

It was a year of exploration and understanding. Of recognising the many different uses for woodlands,  and the history of life (and death) they have endured. I am not the stereotypical naturalist in the English sense, so it was an honour to reflect on the forest from my point of view.

For one, though born in London, until my year in the forest, it was a landscape I knew very little of. I grew up in the Caribbean and never thought I could see beauty in the flat, grey of England. How could it compare to mountainous backdrops and rainbow spectrum of natural colour?

I found in the forest of England, its own beauty, its own worth, different pieces that together create budding ecosystems I have come to love.  Maybe it was having this outside eye that allowed me to welcome what others might have long forgotten. But as I express in my Nightvision podcast for BBC4 recorded in the Forest of Dean, I really just think that “a nature lover here is likely a nature lover anywhere.”

I’m a black woman, the typical naturist in England is not, but I hope to have showed that this very closed idea of who appreciates and interacts with the environment is wrong.

Frankly,England’s nature sector has a problem– it does not seem to see outside the old guard to focus on people and activities that are working in non-traditional ways. This is not confined to the nature sector though, all across the UK, people have rallied around the Black Lives Matter movement, various decolonisation efforts and evidence of covid inequalities to point out disparities in access and opportunities for minority, working class and migrant people.

I hold fast to the view that there is misunderstanding of abilities and interest that effectively shut out innovation andfresh approaches to old issuesthat could arise where people have various points of reference to draw on.

Forestry England turned this on its head by commissioning me to write. My collection is abouthow good I felt moving through the spaces, but it also stretches back to the Caribbean where my family moved from at a time when that region was still the ‘British West Indies’.

It was really heartening to meettree climbers, dendrologists, foresters and volunteers who acknowledged that some of the plants one can see in the arboreta and gardens of the forests were brought to England through exploitation. I will never forget Dan Luscombe at Bedgebury Pinetum expressing his commitment to protecting and conserving forests life, especially for the trees and plants taken from ex-colonies.

These are hard topics to broach, the wounds of the past haven’t easily healed, but with a climate crisis in the background at all times now, we have got to be thinking about a better today and tomorrow for our one planet.

Removing the barriers, so that more and more people learn to love and thus be invested in protecting it, is my vision of the future.

Zakiya Mckenzie

Show Zakiya some love...Visit her websiteFollow her on InstagramFollow her on TwitterFind out more:Article

Zakiya Mckenzie

05 November 2019Read Zakiya Mckenzie's 'Forest Collection'.Find out moreBlog

Becoming a writer in the forest | Q&A with Zakiya Mckenzie

08 November 2019Find out about our writer in the forest residency from Zakiya MckenzieFind out moreArticle

Writers in the forest

14 September 2018Two writers have created work to celebrate our centenaryFind out moreArticle

Forests for wellbeing

15 April 2019Forests are places you can seek adventure, make memories or find escape. For 100 years we've been looking after the nation's forests, so that they can take care of you.Find out moreZakiya Mckenzie helps us mark Black History Month with her reflections on being a Forestry England writer in residence. Zakiya Mckenzie helps us mark Black History Month with her reflections on being a Forestry England writer in residence.
Raindrops on copper beech leaves
Article
05 November 2019

When it rains in the Forest

Rain is not sadnessIt’s falling does not send me to sorrowInstead I welcome the washing awayWrought by the fresh forest shower

Its thrashing is a mother's wombIt is heartbeat and pitter-patterIn this safe place, cocoonedTo be wet makes it no lesser

Read more

The Fern Ticket II

She checked to see what time it was. Looking up at the sun, she smiled because the rainclouds that had splashed the morning seemed to have moved on.Read now

The Old Heads of Elder Grove Learn About Air Pollution

A cobalt sky blanketed the morning and pockets of hazy sunshine beamed through morphing openings in the canopy high.Read now

Living, working forest

“Mining has been around since time out of mind,” I am told my Deputy Gaveller Dan Howell.Read now

Writer in the Forest

Writing in the forest is affirming. It owes me nothing and didn’t ask me to say these thingsRead now Read When it rains in the Forest by Zakiya Mckenzie Read When it rains in the Forest by Zakiya Mckenzie
Mine entrance black and white
Article
05 November 2019
Living, working forest

“Mining has been around since time out of mind,” I am told by Deputy Gaveller Dan Howell.

The Deputy Gaveller is a unique position that exists only in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire to oversee the mining of coal and iron ore here, an activity dubbed ‘freemining’. Only in this forest will you find people with personal plots (called ‘gales’) where they are allowed to mine. Deputy Gaveller Dan Howell is the only one who can issue a ‘grant of the gale’. Wait, don’t go running to the Dean expecting to be the next big extractor, for there are rules laid out by the Dean Forest Mines Act of 1838 that probably exclude you if this is the first time you are hearing about it. A Deputy Gaveller can only grant you a gale if (among other things) you were born and live within the “hundred of Saint Briavels” and you have already worked a year and a day in a mine close by. Clueless? Leave freemining to the real deal Dean.

Like all Deputy Gaveller’s before him including his father, Howell looks after everything below ground (while the Deputy Surveyor looks after things above ground). The deputies don’t actually have the final word; the Gaveller and Surveyor, is the one who wears the Crown. This is a royal forest. Freemining is a small cottage industry, worked by a handful of people, in this one forest in England. It comes with the commoner’s right to walk their sheep in the woods without any interference.

So why do people still freemine? The answer is what fascinates me about history.

“People do it because they can”, explains Howell, “because it is the heritage and tradition of the forest.”  Freemining enshrines local people’s rights. 

I am very aware of the words and language used by those I meet in the different forests. For people living and working there it is “the forest”, full stop. Little need to mention Dean when it is already the setting for life happening.

I get the chance to go down into a coal mine to see how it is extracted. The work is labourious and in unideal conditions. During winter workers would have gone down into the darkness of the mines during the day, and it would be dark again in the evening when they came up after work. This is the English forest; it is everyday life unfolding. Those of us concentrated in urban centres have to make an effort to ‘go to the forest’ and ‘connect with nature’. For others, it is ever-present. Now, it is seen as a privilege for us city-dwellers to be able to retreat and relax here, as if nature is something outside of ourselves that we have to go and search for to attain.

At Westonbirt Arboretum there are trees stretching back thousands of years, and the garden has been tended for centuries. Simply, it is wonderful to look at from near and far. There is also function; the arboretum has climate change in mind. Penny Jones, main tree propagator at Westonbirt, explains that while the arboretum is managed for its picturesque landscape and historical tree collections, the woodlands here are dedicated to biodiversity. This forest has nationally recognised champion trees, but also trial plots where research goes into finding out what plants might grow under different circumstances of our climate uncertainty. Likewise, the Pinetum at Bedgebury isn’t outright run as a forest (i.e with woodland technique) but the conservation efforts there ensure that everything is done so that there will be forests for centuries to come.

From its inception at the end of the wars, Forestry meant to grow wood for a country desperately needing material to rebuild (the country also needed people to do the rebuilding).

“The thing about a collection, the value in it lies in the information you have about it”, says world conifer expert and collections manager at Bedgebury, Dan Luscombe explaining the many different plant families on site. The people who work in these forests are dedicated to making sure that these natural beauties have long continued life.  One way the forest comes into our daily lives is through timber which is produced across different Forestry England sites. And as plastic goes out of vogue, maybe timber will re-enter more of our homes in wooden toothbrushes and other household objects. Maybe as we move towards cleaner and more environmentally friendly production and consumption, we’ll inevitably all be led back to the forest.

Then Luscombe says, “people don’t always remember what you tell them, but they remember what they feel”.

And he is right, because I remember what it felt like to commune with towering Eucalyptus trees in the Johannesburg Botanic Gardens, and then as Dan if that was its cousin. I remember the breath-taking jagged lines of the monkey puzzle. The giant redwood that drew me into its bark to touch it, wanting now to visit the North American west coast and see them in swarms. I remember being thrilled by the fantastically green matting of rock flora that seem to rise with the outstanding whitebeam deep in Leigh Woods, instantly bringing me back to the awe-inspiring experiences of going through green-canopied Fern Gully in St Ann, Jamaica. I know how I feel when I’m back home in Bristol and can identify hazel or hornbeam because of what I’ve learned along the way. These are small successes but they allow me to feel that I am a part of something wider, yet closer – the forest, the land. Something that feeds my needs every day. The one sky above, the leaves, the dust, the aura, the sun, the fauna around – the universality of the woodlands has brought me full circle, it has grounded me before myself. 

Read now

Writer in the Forest

Writing in the forest is affirming. It owes me nothing and didn’t ask me to say these thingsRead now

My (w)rites of Passage

Dulwich in London is where I came into this world. This I do not recall but have made up memories in my head from the pictures I have seen.Read now

The Arborists

There are only three tree-climbers in Forestry England. They scale the tallest of trees, grooming and look after them. The tree-climbers know all the trees at Westonbirt Arbouretum personally. Fascinating!Read now

The Fern Ticket I

In the Dean, to have had your first amourous experience in the forest was to get your ‘fern ticket’Read now Read Living, working forest by Zakiya Mckenzie. Read Living, working forest by Zakiya Mckenzie.
Eerie trees in the forest
Article
05 November 2019
The Old Heads of Elder Grove Learn About Air Pollution

A cobalt sky blanketed the morning and pockets of hazy sunshine beamed through morphing openings in the canopy high. Common blue butterflies flitted through moist air, floating for a split second, wings stretched, then in and out of a buddleia bush. Beneath, on the woodland floor, studious bugs and sapphire bachelor’s buttons lived together in a teeming buzz of little breaths inhaled by each organism and exhaled again, back to the earth. It was a ritual of survival that had taken place for so long that the Old Heads in Elder Grove took it for granted.

These old trees had bantered for centuries, each one rooted in a place of wisdom, trying to outdo the claims to true splendour and insight of the others. They had been there so long, these old trees, that they may have even known your ancestors. Nestled in a pristine wooded hideaway, the Old Heads had only ever known perfect air. Or maybe it was that they had just ignored the growing concerns of the less imposing, younger trees who were coughing and spurting strange apparitions lately. Being that mighty and majestic meant no other species ever challenged their views, thus, the Old Heads were left to converse among themselves as the creatures with legs and wings scampered about and roots and bark.

The only ones the Old Heads didn’t understand, and sometimes feared, were the humans. They came to see them less and less nowadays.

“The bats came home this morning, with an odd warning,” Welly, the giant sequoia who only spoke in rhyme and melody crooned, “they said the humans are complaining, and our air? They are cursing. I don’t understand, how can this can be, we make the best air here, we are such beautiful, dutiful trees.”

She sighed and the wheezy hum whooshed wind through her branches.

“Preposterous! It is necessity, how can they complain about something they need and are given for free?” said Tembi, a grand old juniper who showed light and shadow patterns on the ground with her needle-leaves.

“They could never be so dense and ungrateful,” added bold-faced Woodson, “all the years I, on my own, have stretched to the sun and brought better (and beauty) to this world and yet they still complain. Oh, to be a flailing tree uprooted in a storm, to crash down on the fleshy brutes.”

“Maybe it’s their ears”, said Tembi contemplating, “those bats are pretty deaf, right? Yes, absolutely.”

“No, they are blind and hear acutely, but maybeyouheard hair”, Welly said astutely, “and with fronds on your head that don’t help feed you like our leaves, I understand and I too would be aggrieved.”

“I bet you they said heir,” Woodson wind-chimed in, “for offspring and small shoots come with growing pains…”

The elders of the grove spoke about it all day awaiting the awakening of the bats, for they were self-centered and thought the humans were cursing them. Their egos were bruised because who could abuse, who can curse evergreen magnificence, who among you can curse the ever-wise? Blasphemy, they thought, they were sure that the sing-song sequoia had sung in the space to be silent.

The elders never once thought that the humans had done it to themselves. The Old Heads could never imagine that the humans were polluting their own air.

Read more

Living, working forest

“Mining has been around since time out of mind,” I am told my Deputy Gaveller Dan Howell.Read now

Writer in the Forest

Writing in the forest is affirming. It owes me nothing and didn’t ask me to say these thingsRead now

My (w)rites of Passage

Dulwich in London is where I came into this world. This I do not recall but have made up memories in my head from the pictures I have seen.Read now

The Arborists

There are only three tree-climbers in Forestry England. They scale the tallest of trees, grooming and look after them. The tree-climbers know all the trees at Westonbirt Arbouretum personally. Fascinating!Read now Read The Old Heads of Elder Grove Learn About Air Pollution by Zakiya Mckenzie. Read The Old Heads of Elder Grove Learn About Air Pollution by Zakiya Mckenzie.
Life in the hedgerow illustration - Tiffany Francis
Blog
21 February 2019
Introducing Zakiya Mckenzie and Tiffany Francis

As our two successful applicants to ourwriters in the forest residencyZakiya and Tiffany join us in our centenary year to tell the story of our forests. Ahead of starting their residencies we caught up with them to hear about their background, what inspires them, and how they plan to use the forest residency. 

Tell us a bit about yourselves – where are you based, what are you working on at the moment?

Tiffany

I’m a 27-year-old author and artist from Petersfield in the South Downs, Hampshire. I work from my home studio as a freelancer but it’s a little varied! I write books, write and illustrate magazine features, give talks, host a podcast, make my own zines, manage an Etsy shop and occasionally appear on TV & radio. Everything I do is inspired by environmentalism, creativity and a passion for the natural world, and I also follow a vegan, minimalist lifestyle to rebalance my relationship with the planet. At the moment, I’m working on the launch of my next bookDark Skies, published by Bloomsbury in September 2019. It was inspired by a year exploring the landscape at night to see how we connect with nature after dark.

Zakiya

I’m a researcher and community volunteer based in Bristol. I’ve always been interested in nature and culture having lived in 4 different regions of the world.

I’m working through a PhD in English at the University of Exeter on Caribbean literature in the UK. I want to unearth stories that may have been missed in the history-writing of West Indian literature, the canon of which found its footing in post-war, Empire Windrush London. I am a volunteer at Ujima 98FM and BCFM community radio stations in Bristol.  

What are you most looking forward to about your forest residency?

Tiffany

I can’t wait to talk to the people who spend time in our forests every day - the researchers, conservationists and educators who know their landscape inside out, to share some of their stories and unearth the secrets of our national woodlands. The residency will be such an amazing opportunity to delve right into the heart of Britain’s forests, and I can’t wait to see what I discover.

Zakiya

Firstly, I just want to be in the spaces. Closing my eyes, opening them, breathing in, breathing out, appreciating what is there that none of us can make. None of us can ultimately control.

I’m also looking forward to meeting the different forest workers and nature lovers who I am bound to encounter on my journey. What I will learn is yet to be known, but I welcome all the lessons that come from that which has life.

Is there is there a particular forest you want to spend time in, or learn about?

Tiffany

I haven’t got a specific forest in mind, but I’d love to spend time in places where conservation work has been carried out to revive rare populations of wildlife, such as butterflies and small mammals. For example, where I live near the River Meon, a very successful project was carried out to reintroduce water voles and eradicate all the mink. I’d particularly love to visit a forest with purple emperor butterflies or pine martens - two species I’ve never seen!

Zakiya

Hicks Lodge stands out because of its history as a coal mine. I love that it has been repurposed from an environmentally-dirty use to a site that promotes better use of natural space for humans and wildlife.

Life in the hedgerow - Tiffany FrancisWhat types of storytelling and writing most inspires you?

Tiffany

Sometimes people think fiction is the only place to find a good story, but I particularly love evocative non-fiction and narrative poetry that uses the shape and texture of the words to help tell the story. At university I studied the Romantic poets and their long-form narrative poems, as well as the ballad poetry of the Victorians, and both of these had a huge influence on my relationship with poetry. I love fiction as a reader, but as a writer I’m naturally more drawn to non-fiction prose and narrative poetry.

Zakiya

I recently gorged on Game of Thrones and I truly understand why people everywhere are such adamant fans. A lot of scenes are unforgettable, but the moment of wondering ‘yow, is that Ed Sheeran?’ is stuck in my memory. The idea of seeing him character-deep in a setting so far removed from today was fascinating to me. It’s not like it hadn’t been done before, but the plot offered such profound character development and intertwined story at every level that when the soldier turned around to be a 21st century pop star I was blown away, left wondering where he fit in to George R. R. Martin’s story. It made me think of the different identities and positions that people hold, simultaneously or at different times of their life. I’d most recently been bumping him in his ‘Your Body’ with Stormzy or on ‘Dark Times’ by The Weeknd, and here he was stripped of all that, embodying something entirely out of this world.

I am always interested in storytelling that draws me in (or, sometimes, is jarring) because it disrupts my sense of what is normal or what people should be. I like to be reminded that no one deserves to be put in a box.

Photo credit: Simon BoundHow do you think you could help nature writing as a genre appeal to a wider audience?

Tiffany

I like nature writing with context, and I think the most important aspect of my work is to try and connect our species with the rest of the ecosystem - to remind us all that we are part of nature, and that nature writing is essentially writing about ourselves. For this reason, I love nature writing that incorporates history, geography, culture, folklore - anything that fills the disconnect we have allowed to form between ourselves and the rest of the natural world. I would love for my work to remind people that we are all connected to our environment, and to inspire others to protect what we love.

Zakiya

I would hope that my point of view is seen as valuable as a British person telling a British story. Nature writing or writing about/within the natural landscape has always been a part of literature in England, I hope to add to this tradition. 

Who are your favourite writers, artists and musicians?

Tiffany

I loved Amy Liptrot’sThe Outrunand can’t wait to see what she writes next. Daphne du Maurier, Agatha Christie, Lord Byron, Philip Pullman and Tove Jansson have been a huge creative influence, and Rachel Carson’sSilent Springis a book I think everyone should read in their lifetime. Musically, I love anything with soul, groove or a juicy hook, particularly Kate Bush, Sam Cooke, Laura Marling, Johnny Cash, Gorillaz, and calypso musicians like Mighty Sparrow and Harry Belafonte. Last year I saw Paul Simon play at Hyde Park - my great musical achievement to date!

Zakiya

I’m not loyal to any one writer or musician bit I do go through phases where I’m totally engulfed in one body of work.

I love reading Karen Lord’s stories out loud -  the feelings her fantastical worlds give me are not dissimilar to those I get from the imagined world of Game of Thrones. I read, with anticipation, anything by friend Gladstone Taylor (who has published with another friend at Bookman Express and has self-published his own work from Kingston). Gladstone at times writes vivid magic realism (there’s a theme here), but they are extra special for me as a reader since they are set in Jamaica, on a geography and culture that I know first-hand.

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of Jah9 and Kabaka Pyramid – reggae acts who are making moves across the world. I watch performances by US Virgin Islander Dezarie on Youtube over and over again, and when I’m researching or writing I usually have instrumentals from Earl Klugh or J Dilla in the background.

Do you have social media accounts where we can follow your progress?

Tiffany

Yes! I have an Instagram account - @tiffany.francis - and I also intend to keep a blog on my website, separate from my regular blog, which I want to use to document my time with the Forestry Commission and project updates.

Zakiya

Twitter:@ZakiyaMedia

Website:www.zakiya.me

Radio:www.mixcloud.com/zakiya-mecca/

Green & Black Radio (environmental sustainability podcast with Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley, 2016-2018):soundcloud.com/ujimagreenandblackradio

 

Stay in touchBe the first to receive news about our art programme and events around the countrySign up now Telling the story of our nation's forest – introducing writers in the forest Zakiya Mckenzie and Tiffany Francis Telling the story of our nation's forest – introducing writers in the forest Zakiya Mckenzie and Tiffany Francis
Woman writing in a notepad by a pond
Article
14 September 2018
Telling the story of our nation's forests

During our centenary year in 2019 two writers created work to celebrate our centenary, following a high volume and exceptional standard of applications to our residency opportunity. 

Zakiya Mckenzie and Tiffany Francis-Baker spent the year producing work inspired by following our expert foresters and rangers at work to hearing from our world-class scientists.

Read Zakiya Mckenzie's "Forest Collection"Photo credit: Tony BartholomewRead Tiffany Francis-Baker's "The Tangled Web"Stay in touchBe first to hear about similar opportunities to this residencySign up now Two writers have created work to celebrate our centenary
Woman with closed eyes facing out of a window
Blog
07 April 2020
Connecting to forests at home

This is a guest post written by Ellen Devine, Wellbeing Projects Manager at Forestry England.

Spending time in forests is good for ourmental, physical and social wellbeing. So how do we continue to experience the wellbeing benefits of trees and forests whilst following the important Government advice to stay safe and stay home?

Well, the good news is thatrecent researchsuggests that connection with nature is more important for mental wellbeing than simple exposure to nature. Nature connectedness describes our emotional relationship with nature.

Research showsthat people who are connected to nature, rather than simply exposed to nature, have better wellbeing and are more likely to do things that benefit nature.

Now is the perfect time to focus on how we can best connect with the natural world and in doing so reap the benefits for ourselves and the planet.

We’ve found three effective ways for you to connect with nature without leaving your home. Fromforest bathing,creative storytelling, andswitching off.  

Mindfulness – learn to forest bathe at home

Our brains find it hard to distinguish between something that we’re visualising, picturing in our minds, and something that is actually happening.

That’s why successful athletes often talk about visualising themselves winning a race – just picturing their success has beenproven to improve their performance.

The same trick can be used to reduce anxiety and stress. The Japanese practice offorest bathing, or shinrin yoku, is the simple method of being calm and quiet amongst the trees and has been proven to help both adults and children de-stress. We may not be able to get to a forest at the moment, but we can bring the forest to us. Here’s how:

First turn off your devices to give yourself the best chance of relaxing, being mindful and visualising your sensory forest experienceFind a comfortable place to stand or sit – perhaps by an open window or in your gardenSlowly close your eyesImagine yourself standing amongst trees – this could be in your favourite forest or you could create yourself an imaginary forestBreathe deeply and imagine feeling the warmth of the sun on your faceA breeze rustles the leaves and you hear bird song close byTake long deep breathes into the abdomen, extending the exhalation of air to twice the length of the inhalation – this sends a message to the body that it can relaxAs you picture yourself standing amongst the trees, what do you see around you?What can you smell?What can you hear?Take in your forest surroundings using all of your senses. How does it feel?Remember, you can stay here as long as you like and return whenever you wish. This is your forest, your safe, calm, peaceful placeWhen you’re ready to move on, take a deep breath and slowly open your eyes.Get creative – tell the story of the forest

Forestry England is the nation’s largest land manager. We look after more land and trees than any other organisation in the country. Forests are vital for the future of our planet. They improve the health and wellbeing of everyone, provide homes for wildlife and help combat climate change.

Considering the important role they play, wouldn’t it be amazing if trees could talk and tell us what they’re thinking?

Try this

Try writing a poem or story from the perspective of a tree – what has the tree seen in its lifetime; what are its hopes for the future; what would it say to humans?Illustrate your story – take inspiration from any trees you can see from your window, or use photos from a day out in the forestIf you’re confident sharing your art, share your creations with us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out these wonderfulTributes to Trees written by the public and famous poet Carol Anne Duffy. Or if you've got time for a longer read, make yourself a cup of tea, get comfy and immerse yourself in the magical forests ofZakiya Mckenzie's 'Forest Collection' and Tiffancy Francis-Baker's 'The Tangled Web'.

Photo by Frank Busch on UnsplashBe curious - switch off the noise and start noticing

We know that forests are a haven to escape and a place where we go to regain balance and escape from the pressures of everyday life. Finding ways to recreate this escape whilst staying at home is essential for maintaining positive mental wellbeing.

It can be tempting to turn to technology to keep us entertained whilst self-isolating, but surrounding ourselves with indoor technology and devices all day scatters our focus and attention and can increase stress.

These simple tips will help you switch off and unwind: 

Try going for your daily walk/ exercise without putting on your headphones. What sounds can you hear? What trees do you see? Can you identify them?Instead of scrolling through your social media, look out of the window for 5 minutes. What can you see? Do you notice anything new?Take a walk around your home, how many items can you see that have been made from wood? Can you see the grain of the wood?Do you have a garden or balcony? Give yourself 5 minutes to escape the news alerts and notifications and just sit. What can you feel?

And when you switch the tech back on, check out#TeaTimeTreeTimefor a daily dose of the forest to help you wind down and escape.

Keep exploringBlog

Your guide to forest bathing

06 September 2018Forest bathing is an ancient Japanese process of relaxation - know in Japan as shinrin yoku. The simple method of being calm and quiet amongst the trees, observing nature around you whilst breathing deeply can help both adults and children de-stress and boost health and wellbeing in a natural way. Step by step guides to help you relax, reset and practice mindfulness in the great outdoors.Find out moreArticle

Forests for wellbeing

15 April 2019Forests are places you can seek adventure, make memories or find escape. For 100 years we've been looking after the nation's forests, so that they can take care of you.Find out more

We are Forestry England

We are Forestry EnglandForests care for us. Together we care for forests.Find out more

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Ideas for places and events to explore near you Updates from your favourite woodlands  Family friendly activities and free downloads Competitions and offers  Inspiring stories and photos

 

Find out more Spending time in forests is good for our mental, physical and social wellbeing. So how do we continue to experience the wellbeing benefits of trees and forests whilst following the important Government advice to stay safe and stay home? Well the good news is that recent research suggests that connection with nature is more important for mental wellbeing than simple exposure to nature. Nature connectedness describes our emotional and relationship with nature. Research shows that people who are connected to nature, rather than simply exposed to nature, have better wellbeing and are more likely to do things that benefit nature.
Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest Louisa Lake view in summer bench
Blog
21 July 2020
Forest bathing wellbeing guide for teachers

Being a teacher is hard work. Being a teacher during COVID-19 is incredibly hard work. You’ve been adapting at pace, organising bubbles and staff logistics, and continually striving to ensure children and young people remain engaged and learning whether at home or at school.  

We know that you’ve been looking out for everyone else’s wellbeing and that can sap us of our energy and leave us feeling drained. That’s why we want you to take some time out and allow the forest to help you recharge, regain balance and have some time for you!

So take a moment to sit back, make yourself a cuppa and allow us to look after you.

David JennerRest

When we feel stressed, we can lose our perspective and patience. It can be hard to escape the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Often we become tempted to turn to technology, scrolling through social media or checking email notifications ‘just in case’, keeping busy with constant distractions. Scattering our attention by constantly switching tasks can actually increase stress however. At the same time, just stopping and ‘doing nothing’ can also feel overwhelming. So what’s the answer?

Well that’s where forests come in. The sights, sounds and smells of the forest environmentprovide a gentle sensory stimulationthat softly captures the attention, fascinates our busy minds, and allows us to become immersed in nature.

Did you know?

Forest bathing, or shinrin yoku, is a Japanese practice of relaxation. The simple method of being calm and quiet amongst the trees, observing nature around you whilst breathing deeply can help both adults and children de-stress and boost health and wellbeing in a natural way.

Boost your well-being and have a go at this 360 degree immersive experience video.

Simply turn off your devices, sit somewhere comfortable and take a few moments to:

Pause – focus on your breathing and taking slow deep breathsListen to the sounds of the forestLook up into the canopy and down to the forest floorImagine the breeze on your arms, the sun breaking through the leaves and warming your faceThis is your time, stay as long as you wish

And if you enjoyed that, you can continue to transport yourself to the heart of the forest with the help of ourvirtual forest bathing galleryandvideos.

Recharge

Forests offer unique sensory experiences, a chance to regain balance and escape from the pressures of everyday life.

Researchers have foundthat reading offers health and wellbeing benefits including reducing stress, preventing cognitive decline, improving sleep and can also enhance social skills and boost intelligence.

We might not always be able to physically get to a forest, but we can get lost in a good story and be transported to another world, providing an opportunity to recharge in the hands, or words, of another person.

Discover the magic of the forest as captured and brought to life by our writers in residenceZakiya MackenzieandTiffany Francis-Baker.

Forests provide a backdrop to a huge variety of activities and are the perfect place to improve physical and mental health.

Studies show that forests make physical activity feel easier and more enjoyable compared to working out indoors, while getting active in forests can provide much-needed distraction from fatigue, increases the satisfaction you feel after your workout and plays a major role in reducing stress and improving mood.

Whether you choose a gentlewoodland walkor adrenaline-fuelledbike ride, being active in the forest will make you feel great and have you feeling revitalized and ready for the start of the school year.

Restart

Sign up for our schools and learning newsletterto get the latest lesson plans, activities and learning resources - direct to your inbox.

Return

Planning for the new school year is underway, and looking after your health and wellbeing is now more important than ever.

Next month we will be sharing more ideas and resources to help you maintain your equilibrium and support your students as they adapt to being back in the classroom. Follow us onFacebookorsubscribe to the learning newsletterto be the first to hear!

Can't wait? If you want a sneak preview, bring the outside in, clear a space and lead your class withourForest Bathing activity sheet. Or maybe try ourTree of Life wellbeing activity sheet - useful for helping your class to think about what is important to them and encouraging them get to know new class mates.

Keep exploring

Educational forest visits

Forests offer fantastic opportunities to bring learning to life through hands-on experiences.  No matter what the age or ability there is something for everyone. 

We deliver a wide range of educational options for nurseries, schools and colleges in the nation's forests.

Search for your local forest using the map below to discover what's on offer.

 

Find out moreArticle

Forests for wellbeing

15 April 2019Forests are places you can seek adventure, make memories or find escape. For 100 years we've been looking after the nation's forests, so that they can take care of you.Find out moreFamily activity

Tree of Life wellbeing activity

26 June 2020Take some time out to have a go at our activity, as we use trees as a way to think about our lives and all the wonderful things in them.Find out morePDF download

Early Years Teacher's Pack

21 May 2019The Early Years Teacher's Pack is a free learning resource, which contains curriculum-linked activities, to teach learners about forests and how they're looked after for people and wildlife.Find out more Being a teacher is hard work. Being a teacher during COVID-19 is incredibly hard work. You’ve been adapting to changing expectations, working at pace to develop new ways of delivering lessons, and continually striving to ensure children and young people remain engaged and learning.  We know that you’ve been looking out for everyone else’s wellbeing, but that can sap us of our energy and leave us feeling drained. That’s why we want you to take some time out and allow the forest to help you recharge, regain some balance and have some time for you. So sit back, make yourself a cuppa and allow us to look after you.