Back in 2015 we embarked on The Long View: in all weathers, and through all four seasons, we walked to the seven trees that are spread like a constellation across Cumbria and feature on this website. We walked between them, we slept close to them, we photographed them and wrote about them and our journeys to them. We also introduced other people to these remarkably ordinary trees – walking with more than 350 people across stunning landscape with the sole goal of meeting a tree: with school children, on public walks and with environmental and arboreal experts. Naturally, along the way we talked about trees, shared our passion, and learnt from one another. We shared stories and we shared a common love and concern for trees.
It was also in 2015 that the campaign for a new charter for trees began. Initiated by the Woodland Trust and involving more than 70 cross-sector organisations, the campaign was proposed as a way of combating the problems that trees are facing including low levels of planting, lack of protection for ancient trees and woodlands, and threats from built developments, pests and climate change. By bringing together many organisations and involving people across the country – individuals and over 300 community groups – the campaign has allowed the composition of the new charter to be informed by voices from across the UK.
We joined the campaign as one of the UK’s Charter Branches and collected hundreds of stories about trees and woodlands. These stories became part of the collection of more than 60,000 stories that have contributed to the new Charter for Trees, Woods and People. It’s been a real pleasure to be part of this, and we were really delighted to take part in the celebrations for the launch of the Charter for Trees, Woods and People this week, beginning with a chilly start at some filming for BBC Breakfast, and ending with music and speeches in the grounds of Lincoln Castle.
The Charter has been written using oak gall ink – just as the Forest Charter was in 1217, 800 years ago. The new charter has ten principles, drawn from the stories that have been gathered and from consultations over the past two years. The words are from author Fiona Stafford, and the writing has been done by calligrapher Patricia Lovett. Looks beautiful doesn’t it?
Rob and I had a few nerves when we carried this new charter down the stairs of Lincoln Castle to position it next to the original Forest Charter that was written by hand 800 years ago. The Forest Charter set out the rights of free men to have access to the King’s hunting grounds. Written two years after the Magna Carta, it was a move towards democracy and social justice. The new Tree Charter outlines the rights of trees, and the rights of people to have trees around them: crucially it protects trees and the hope is that it will guide policy and practice in the UK now and for future generations.
It was an enormous privilege to be appointed Poet in Residence for the Tree Charter earlier this year, and as part of this I wrote a short verse to sum up the fundamental importance of trees. These words open the new Charter, appearing above the list of the ten principles.
Natural treasures in roots, wood and leaves, for beauty, for use, the air that we breathe.
Imagine – a wood starts with one small seed. We’re stronger together – people and trees.
These same words have been carved into an 18-foot-high oak pole – the Champion Tree Pole – that was installed in the grounds of Lincoln Castle on Monday. There are ten other poles for sites across the UK, each one representing one of the ten principles of the charter with words and motifs gorgeously carved by Simon Clements. Over the last few months I’ve been working away to distil the essence of the principles into short verses: as the English poet I have written poems for the seven poles that will be installed in England, while a Welsh writer, a Scottish writer and an Irish writer have written the words for the poles in their countries. It’s quite something seeing this first pole in place and I will be visiting all the others in the coming year. There’s a list of the locations on the tree charter website here.
One of the main reasons the campaign for a new charter was set up was that there were so many people, from many different backgrounds, who wanted better protection for trees and woodlands. The Charter presents an opportunity for a united voice and it feels as if there has never been a greater need for this. The UK has a low level of tree cover, when compared to other European countries, and its time proportion of ancients woodlands are vulnerable. If you’re a tree lover there is no doubt that there will have been trees near you felled for reasons you don’t agree with, and the principles enshrined in the charter provide tools for campaigning and offer a resource for businesses, communities, institutions and individuals to use when making decisions regarding trees. On a more positive note, there may also be woodlands near you that are cared for and are a source of great pleasure, and groups that look after them: the Charter encourages a lot more of this.
One of the launch events was a gathering in the Chapter House in Lincoln Cathedral – nothing quite like a Chapter House to give an event the feeling of formality and history! What an amazing space to be in, sharing poetry and talking about the power of art to add energy, depth and emotion to a campaign like this: The Long View is just one of many art projects that have been championing the charter. Afterwards children with lanterns led the crowds into the castle grounds for the formal launch and an evening of music, poetry and passionate speeches. I think we all felt the sense of something very important happening. As Beccy Speight, CEO of the Woodland Trust said, though, this is ‘the end of the beginning’: all the work to get to this stage has brought us to a starting point for more positive action.
So what happens next? The artistic legacy of the launch of the Tree Charter includes the Tree Poles and the art works that have been commissioned through the Charter Art Residencies – including the treefolds here in Cumbria. Every year there will be a National Tree Charter day that will be a chance for people to get together to celebrate trees. It will also be a focus for the organisations that are involved to review progress that has been made, guided by the principles, and discuss important issues and challenges. The launch of the charter is just the start and it’s about taking a long view – it really is up to us when it comes to the future for trees, and our future is utterly bound up with theirs.
The Charter has now been signed by more than 100,000 people and you can still add your name – just go to the Tree Charter Website and sign! It’s easy.