Archive of Lost Woods
There's a wood on the border of Northamptonshire and Warwickshire that is teeming with life: among the trees - a mix of oak, ash, aspen, birch, hazel, hawthorn, elm, elder and alder - birds, invertebrates, mice, voles and other animals go about their daily lives. This woodland has been a thriving world for at least 400 years, possibly many hundreds of years more. And it's threatened with destruction because it stands on the line where HS2, England's new high-speed railway, is scheduled to be built. The Archive of Lost Woods was created in September 2019 in protest at this destruction.
and from the stillness of your body
the quiet of a wood is never silent
it is the busy peace of life, the floating
song of birds, the reach of trees
and the sway of leaves in wind’s persuasion
a fullness of cycles
where everything is connected
what this peace becomes
when broken into pieces
when trees stand as staves
for an orchestra of chainsaws
and birds flee
into an empty sky
Ancient woodlands are irreplaceable. A woodland is classified as ancient if it's featured on maps for at least 400 years, but many ancient woodlands could be thousands of years old. In their complex and ancient blend of trees, soil, fungi and animals, they support the most diverse range of species of any land-based habitat in this country. However many trees you plant today, you can't recreate an ancient woodland.
HS2 has 108 ancient woodlands on its proposed route. Some of these will be completely destroyed, many others will be partially removed. The crazy thing is that, as things stand at the time of writing, and despite many years of planning (and many millions of pounds of money spent), HS2 is under review. It may not go ahead at all. Yet the felling of woodlands, a task already contracted out, was going to continue. Within the wider context of wanting to stand up for ancient woodlands, this destruction before the need had been confirmed was what we wanted to contest.
We feel incredibly strongly that ancient woodlands should be protected from damage. The loss of these places, as sanctuaries for animals and as places for our own wonder, solitude and delight, would be devastating. Nationally, and globally, the numbers and diversity of wild animals are in decline - it's up to us to fight for a reversal of this sad, and potentially catastrophic trajectory. Some people counter our ire by saying that many woodlands will only be partially lost, as if this doesn't matter: but each time a woodland is harmed animals lose their habitats, and wild spaces that are critically important, are further fragmented. And of course there's carbon - while carbon release into the atmosphere is continuing to rise, and fuel the rise in global temperature, ancient woodlands offer to lock carbon into the soil and the trees. They're a natural carbon sink. Why lose them?
In September 2019, after several months in conversation wtih the campaigns team from the Woodland Trust, and visits to a number of woodlands sites along the HS2 route, we developed 'The Archive of Lost Woods' for location in Glyn Davies Wood. Using yellow cloth repurposed from an earlier landscape intervention ('Everything is Connected') we wrapped 108 trees, representing the 108 woodlands due to be bulldozed, and placed three canvases among the trees.Then we invited people to come, and curated a series of walks and talks through the woodland, providing a space for reflection, wonder, sadness, and conversations. It was an emotional few days, and a time for hope: many of the conversations turned to thoughts of action and ways to work together to protect these and other precious spaces. Now is not the time to do nothing.
The day after the weekend installation the government announced a halt to felling plans until the review was completed. This was a temporary happiness for us: only days later, they went back on their word and stated they would go ahead with plans to remove, wholly or partially, woodlands on Phase 1 of the HS2 route. Since then, largely thanks to pressure from the campaigns team at the Woodland Trust, and the many thousands of people who have added to petitions and expressed their wishes through emails, social media, and letters, the Transport Secretary has again promised to withhold felling plans until the review is completed in early 2020.
We wait to see what happens next, and continue to stand up for what we feel really does matter. The Woodland Trust provides regular updates on the situation and continues to gather voices for petitions: visit their page here to find out more and add your voice.
** Since the time of writing, the review has submitted its results and Phase 1 of HS2 has been approved. The country has also been caught in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic which is leading to a huge economic downturn, and may change the way people work and travel for years to come. In spring, 2020, at exactly the time when birds nest and are at their most vulnerable, trees and woodlands along the route are being felled. The campaign against this continues.
beneath a single sky
in our one shared home
each act matters
Huge thanks to Adam and Jack at the Woodland Trust, and to Sally - all hands were needed to install this. And thanks to everyone who joined us: that's what really makes the art work. And to Lizzie, thank you for making the film. We love it :)