Living with Trees

“Imagine these islands with large forests, small woods and a countryside dotted with trees, covering about a third of the land.”

Robin Walter’s new book, Living with Trees, traces our long associations with woodland since the Ice Age, noting what we’ve lost, celebrating our remaining ancient woodland and trees, and calling for a wooded future.


“Imagine these islands with large forests, small woods and a countryside dotted with trees, covering about a third of the land. Some of these forests are hard-working and productive, other forests might emerge from the return of wild nature and native trees; others might be small community woods gently managed for wildlife and people; each wood will make our land that bit more resilient to a turbulent world. Are we just dreaming? Is this sort of joined-up thinking possible?”

Robin Walter is a  forester and writer of nonfiction and poetic work on trees and the changes needed in the British landscape to deal with climate and ecological emergencies.

The impulse to write Living with Trees came in 2010 when the government tried to sell off the Forestry Commission forests, only to be met with determined resistance from people keen to hang on to ‘their’ woods. This passionate display of interest in our woods prompted the environmental charity Common Ground to explore this new upsurge of concern. So they invited me to revise their 1989 book In A Nutshell and we set to work visiting woodland initiatives around the country. In particular we sought out community projects with social and environmental agendas, such as mental health, education and conservation. This seemed an important aspect of woodland ‘ownership’ which the government had neglected, at their peril. The charity changed hands and work resumed in 2017 amidst a rising interest in trees and our natural world, aided by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 series.

The book is ambitious in scope — tracing our long associations with woodland since the Ice Age, noting what we have lost, celebrating what jewels remain (in the form of ancient woodland and ancient trees), and imagining a future with more trees in our lives. We also consider a wide range of tree presence, from the trees in gardens and parks, to the trees in streets and towns, to the woodlands and plantations in the countryside. Throughout this exploration we find a strong bond between people and trees, passionate, caring and heart-felt. The book considers how we can use this affinity with trees as a portal to a closer relationship with the natural world, reclaiming our rightful place within it.


Living With Trees by Robin Walter is published by Little Toller Books and is also available from his website. Robin is giving illustrated talks on the book, online for now but in person later in the year.

Imminent: a Zine on Emergency and Connectedness

“I wanted to start the zine because I needed the outlet for myself, to try to connect with other people through my own rage and hope. I found that many others needed this too.”

Jo Dacombe‘s IMMINENT explores the experience we’re on the edge of: climate emergency, nature connectedness, working together, grief, loss, determination, optimism.

“You hold in your hand the texture of a tree. This is real. Hold it carefully.

Trees and writing are bound together through their etymology. The beech gave us the word for book. Some say this is because the beechwood was originally used as tablets for the inscription of runes by the Nordic peoples, that early form of writing which seemed to carry magic in its lines. To people that had never encountered writing, lines marked in bark that hold meaning must have seemed a strange power.”

Jo Dacombe is a multimedia artist creating work, installations and interventions, interested in mapping, walking, public space, sense of place, layers of history and the power of objects.

My opening lines to IMMINENT Issue 1 expressed why I did not want to make this thing online. There is something about holding the publication in one’s hand which I felt was important, because the tangible and material world is what the work is all about.

For many years my work has been about how we, as humans, relate to the natural world and the landscapes within which we find ourselves. My concerns over climate change and the effects that our society have on the environment have grown with my understanding of it. I had used my art to open discussions about some of these issues, I had spoken about it at conferences, run workshops and written numerous letters to politicians as well as supermarkets. I supported environmental charities, I planted my garden with pollinator plants and I tried to live well with less impact. But still I felt the huge task ahead and felt a deep tension, a frustration that bubbled inside me as it does in so many people, to express something somehow, to make some contribution. As an artist, writer and creator, what should I be doing?

I should write, create and make art, of course. And so I began creating IMMINENT. I wrote to artists and writers that I knew. I asked them if, like me, they felt moved to want to speak to people through words and images about the state of the world we find ourselves in, to please consider contributing. I was amazed by the response and generosity of the work that flooded in.

I wanted to start the zine because I needed the outlet for myself, to try to connect with other people through my own rage and hope. I found that many others needed this too. Both issues so far, by chance, have been produced under lockdown conditions: the first was ready for publication in March, but had to be delayed until June; the second was published in November. The sense of connection, at times when we all had to stay in our homes, was even more important and the exchange of ideas that has come about in making IMMINENT has been a lifeline for me.

In putting together both issues, I have found that loose themes emerge from the collection of contributions. This inspired my own writing, and I try to draw together the threads throughout each issue through my own words and images. The first issue introduced the reason for the publication to be a physical thing, to reconnect us with the material world at a time when much of our connection is increasingly virtual. The second issue is blue, and the poetry and images had blueness running through them; ideas of water, snow and ice, that most important element reacting to world temperatures, both essential for life but also deadly as it transforms our landscapes.

IMMINENT is about the experience that we are on the edge of. IMMINENT themes are about the climate emergency, nature connectedness, how we work together in collaborative, un-capitalist ways, how we can re-use things, what our future holds, about grief and loss, and about determination and optimism. It will both celebrate our world and rage against environmental injustice. Sometimes it will just breathe and sing.


Imminent is a 12 page, A5 zine
 costing just £2 + p&p and is available direct from Jo Dacombe online.

Issue 1 (June 2020) includes contributions from Linzi Bright, Jim Caruth, Jo Dacombe, Mark Goodwin, Mary Hayes and Andy Postlethwaite. 

Issue 2 (November 2020) includes contributions from Jim Caruth, Jo Dacombe, Peter Dent, Helen Goodwin, Mary Hayes, Rupert M Loydell, Penelope Shuttle, Mita Solanky, Deborah Tyler-Bennett.

The Wintermen III – At the End of the World

“You know, Tiny, it was sentiments like that that caused all the problems in the first place.”

In her climate thriller, Brit Griffin‘s future dystopia is a crucible for our moral choices today: how to find our way to be a better species in a world that’s already changed is a path of the imagination.


“You know, Tiny, it was sentiments like that that caused all the problems in the first place.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Things people would kill for. Chocolate. Cinnamon. Beaver pelts. Oil. You name it, buddy, someone says those words and then it’s mayhem.”

Brit Griffin is author of three near-future cli-fi novels and a writer of poetic/story musings, whose interests lay in reconciling with non-humans and exploring the human/creature boundaries.

It seems we are a species of excess. Appetites? Endless. Whether we are stacking buffalo skulls along the railway or the towering shelves at Amazon, it is the same human itch to want more. It might just be who we are — but I think many of us would rather not be quite so rapacious in our need and greed. So this is the moral conundrum I always return to in my writing: why do some people do the right thing, behave properly in the sense that they share, act with restraint and respect, consider others (both human and non-human), and other people do not?

I started working on the Wintermen series ten years ago. At that time, I was interested in dystopic scenarios because they act like a crucible in which we can explore the kind of moral choices and actions I am interested in. There are many literary crucibles out there to chose from: zombie invasions, natural catastrophes, fascism. At the time, I had a growing interest in climate change and the measures we needed to take as a species to avoid catastrophe.

So climate change became my crucible, and the Wintermen trilogy a means to discuss and ponder our relationship with the environment. At the time, my perpetual winter scenario seemed like a good frame for a book that explores ordinary people struggling with the aftermath of on-going climate disruption, breakdown and scarcity.

By the time I was working on Wintermen III: At the End of the World, it was clear that there was nothing speculative about a climate change scenario. The present, transformed into some sort of liminal space — the future concocted by the past leaving the here-and-now the odd man out. Existing in the present means we cannot re-write the future script, only make small but important edits to it. No rolling back the clock. Urgent mitigation only, no prevention. So in At the End of the World I wanted to think about simply behaving properly in its own right, not to save ourselves and our ‘way of life’, but to transform ourselves for a different way of being human.

In the liminal space of the story the question shifts from how do we prevent climate change to how do we find our way to be a better species in a world that has already changed? How do we begin to reintegrate ourselves back into the natural web, where can we look for the wisdom to guide us on the path away from desire towards ordinary, in situ joy?

This path, I think, is one of the imagination as much as lifestyle changes or the development of new and gentler technologies. Returning to those liminal spaces, the book begins to explore and chip away at the hard boundaries between what is and what should have been, reality and dream, science and magic — this is an area of exploration I will continue to wander in, looking for the signposts left by birch and wolf and wiser humans than myself about how our species can find our way home.


The Wintermen III: At the End of the World by Brit Griffin is published by Latitude 46 (October, 2020) and can be ordered direct from them as a print book or an ebook, from Chapters (Canada) or from your local, independent bookseller.

And you can hear a great chat about nature, winter and climate change with Brit Griffin and Algonquin Anishinaabe writer from the Timiskaming First Nation, Karen McBride (author of Crow Winter, 2019).

Skyseed – Hacking the Earth might be the last thing we ever do…

“For the first time in the history of the world, it was literally raining carbon…”

In his thriller Skyseed, writer and scientist Bill McGuire explores what might happen if we start geoengineering our climate to ‘fix’ global heating, and everything goes pear-shaped. A cautionary tale from a researcher steeped in the natural history of disasters.


Jane Haliwell put her head in her hands. To tell the truth, she was still in shock. All the samples she had taken from inside and around the lab contained the enigmatic spheres in huge numbers. She had only had a brief time to think about the implications, but she was pretty sure already what was going on.

For the first time in the history of the world, it was literally raining carbon. Long before it stopped, the guilty would pay, but so would the innocent…

Bill McGuire is a researcher in the science of global heating and climate breakdown, and a writer of non-fiction on natural hazards and climate change and of speculative and climate-related fiction, who values his contribution to climate activism above everything else.

We all know that slashing greenhouse gas emissions is the key to side-stepping catastrophic global heating. Under the radar, however, others are promoting a very different way of tackling the climate crisis. So-called geoengineering is defined by the Royal Society as: ‘the deliberate intervention in the climate system to counteract man-made global warming,’ and it is attracting increasing support and funding. If messing with the climate some more, to sort out the mess we have already made, sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Geoengineering distracts from the main business of cutting carbon emissions as the science demands, threatens further damage to the environment and tramples over human and legal rights. Far more scarily, the cure might even end up being deadlier than the illness.

Perhaps the riskiest of all geoengineering schemes is a plan to mimic a volcanic eruption by pumping tens of millions of tonnes of sulphur into the stratosphere. Sulphur gases are especially good at reflecting incoming solar radiation back into space, which is why a period of global cooling is common after a major volcanic blast. Past episodes of volcanic cooling, however, are also associated with major changes in weather patterns and rainfall, the failure of harvests and widespread famine, so copycat cooling is really not a good idea. In my new novel, Skyseed, a massive volcanic eruption in Bolivia – true to form, but in an unexpected manner – provides the catalyst that transforms an illicit bid to ‘fix’ global heating into a fight for the survival of the human race.

For someone steeped in the natural history of disasters (I did after all write A Guide to the End of the World: Everything you Never Wanted to Know), the idea of following the geoengineering route in our increasingly desperate quest to come to grips with the climate crisis, has always fascinated, which is really why I wrote Skyseed. I am very much of the mind that stories, rather than lists of hard facts, are often far better at getting complex ideas across, which explains why Skyseed is a novel, rather than a technical analysis of geoengineering and the associated risks. Set in the near future, the book is — first and foremost — a thriller, but a thriller with a message. Without giving too much away, it is a cautionary tale that flags a warning to the reader of what might happen if we embark upon further climate tinkering and everything goes pear-shaped. I have tried not to be preachy, and my principal intention has always been to pen a damn good yarn. Do please read it and let me know if I have succeeded.


Skyseed by Bill McGuire is published by The Book Guild Publishing (September 2020) and can be bought direct from them, from Hive or from your favourite independent bookshop. 

Fellow ClimateCultures member and writer Rob La Frenais discusses Skyseed and geoengineering with Bill on our blog: see Hacking the Earth.

And you can hear Bill discuss the novel and the issues around geoengineering in this short Shaping the Future podcast from the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series (10/10/20).