“We decided that what we could do was to let the trees and the space know they were not alone … in community, communicate to them how deeply they are loved, and to be with them through their impending violation. Action in this sacred sense transcends human politics, bypasses it.”
With composite photography and video, Jennifer Leach — Director of Outrider Anthems, and supported by eco-scenographer Andrea Carr, Outrider Anthems Associate — documents and witnesses creative community resistance to the corporate felling of 112 trees and the sacrifice of a city’s green lung for more concrete.
‘They say that in time we will forget. We will become accustomed to the new environment. No. We learn to endure. We do not forget.’ An Outrider Anthems community intervention on Reading Golf Course, where 112 numbered trees, and countless smaller others, are to be felled to make way for a profit-motivated housing estate. We gently bound each doomed tree with a tie of white muslin, thus making visible what the developers and Reading Borough Council wish to keep invisible: a mutual community of powerful trees and all their interconnected ecosystems, earmarked for destruction. Our human community, having had our record number of planning protests ignored, stand in solidarity with the trees.
Jennifer Leach is a poet, writer, performer and storyteller whose wild work, forged in the fantastical reaches of deep imagination, brings to life new stories for our strange times.
This intervention began with a community desperately trying to safeguard its health, three times resisting a merciless building on one of urban Reading’s few green lungs. It was once agricultural land, then a golf course — until the golfing members handed it over to developers for a princely and undisclosed sum. In almost every way it is an inappropriate development, and yet on the third time of presenting it to Reading Borough Council, and with barely an alteration to the previous two applications, it was suddenly supported and passed. The community had objected with a borough-wide record number of objections, and our distress at the Council meeting was in itself distressing.
The meeting, with its clearly preordained conclusion, was a brazen travesty of the democratic process. The required green links — crucial to the bare survival of species — was, the developer suggested, “hypothetical”. The development, with its 223 largely luxury housing, was going to “improve traffic in the area” and the developers, the Council openly stated “are the ones with the money and they can do what they want.”
“It’s called Capitalism.”
This space is local to me, and in the post-golfing period in which it has rewilded, it has become very special, both to myself and to many members of my community. It is so rich in nature, and in magnificence, particularly in the hundreds of specimen trees that grow in the space. 112 trees are to be felled for the building of the houses, and each tree is unique, each is glorious. They have been categorised by the Council as ‘B – of moderate quality’, ‘C – of low quality’, or ‘U – unsuitable for retention’.
The democratic process was stretched as far as it could be, and appeals were made to central government, but the housing development will go ahead.
Andrea Carr, Associate Director of Outrider Anthems, and I as Director asked ourselves what we could do at this point. Andrea brought her ecoscenographic thoughtfulness and experience to the question, and we decided that what we could do — and we felt it was exceptionally important — was to let the trees and the space know they were not alone. We knew we could and should, in community, communicate to them how deeply they are loved, and to be with them through their impending violation. Action in this sacred sense transcends human politics, bypasses it.
I had the privilege of photographing every one of the 112 trees, and each one of them shared something of their intimate selves with me; they became a gift to me. Andrea came down on the weekend of 1st May and we spent two days measuring out and cutting vast reams of plain white muslin. On 1st May — Beltane in the old Celtic calendar, and a day traditionally associated with the great celebration and honouring of nature — we met with many members of the community and, armed with white muslin and site maps, we spent the day binding each one of the 112 trees to be felled. We stood tall beside them and photographed ourselves standing tall, in solidarity with the trees.
We have conjoined the action of this day with excerpts from the Reading Borough Council planning meeting, to create a composite film entitled Standing Tall. It is currently being screened as a part of the Ecostage contribution to World Stage Design 2022 in Calgary. It hurts to watch it, and it moves. We hope it will be widely shared, and that it will contribute to a changing world in which the sacred spaces and elements of nature become honoured and respected as they once were, and in which the hubris of a capitalist economy finally crumbles under its own insatiable greed. We hope it will inspire others to bear public witness to the non-human victims of human violence, and to stand in love and solidarity with them.
Click on an image to see the full-size series of photographs Jennifer took of the 112 trees.
And you can view more of the intervention with Andrea and watch the videos Jennifer made here at the Outrider Anthems website.
You can find more work at the Outrider Anthems website, and sign up to their mailing list to hear about and support their future projects. And you can explore Jennifer’s work as a writer and artist at her own website.