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.

Fifty Words for Snow

“The snow lay in waist-high drifts, and kept falling. I’d gone to Iceland to write about snow, but I found that snow had other ideas…”

Nancy Campbell‘s new book, Fifty Words for Snow, reflects on snow’s role in cultures around the world and the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity in a rapidly changing world.


Yuki-onna – snow woman (Japanese: 雪女)

Taoist philosophy suggests that when there’s an abundance of any natural matter, a life will come forth from it: the river will create its own fish when the water is deep enough and the forest will produce birds when the trees are dense enough. And so it follows that that a woman may be generated in the heart of a snowdrift.

Nancy Campbell is a writer and book artist interested in polar regions and water conservation, winning the Royal Geographical Society’s 2020 Ness Award for her research with Arctic and Scandinavian museums.

A few winters ago I rented a former Salvation Army meeting house in the north of Iceland for a few months. Since the snows of Siglufjörður don’t usually melt until April, I soon learned how the inhabitants of this small fishing town distinguish themselves from their neighbours in Ólafsfjörður, another small fishing town beyond the mountains. Folk in Ólafsfjörður do not clear the snow from the paths leading to their homes. In Siglufjörður the sweeping of snow is a social duty. I lived alone, and it was some distance from my front door to the road; the snow lay in waist-high drifts, and kept falling. I’d gone to Iceland to write about snow, but I found that snow had other ideas — it wanted me to do some physical labour. In his poem ‘Digging’, Seamus Heaney describes how his trade differs from that of his ancestors: ‘I’ve no spade to follow men like them,’ he writes, using instead a ‘squat pen’. Now I had to put down my pen and borrow a shovel from my elderly neighbour Kristján. Then, of course, I cleared his path too.

Fifty Words for Snow is a journey to discover snow in cultures around the world through different languages. The climate is a prism through which to view the human world — just as language can be. Inevitably, a book about climate also looks forward, considering what we miss, as every winter many countries see fewer snowflakes, and some years now, none at all. Just as the ecosystem is changing, so are the languages that describe it and the way they are understood. When I began to learn Greenlandic in 2010 I discovered the fallacy of the many ‘Eskimo words for snow’, a popular concept that was dismissed by linguists in the 1980s. More pertinently, that same year Greenlandic was added to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. While many of the languages in this book, such as Spanish and Urdu, can be heard spoken around the globe, others, such as the Inupiaq dialect of Wales, Alaska, are remembered mainly by elders in relatively small communities.

I started to write this book in September 2019 amid debates about Brexit and the climate crisis, while attending Fridays for Future marches in Germany. I finished it six months later, a week before gathering with other masked and silent Black Lives Matter protestors in the UK. The process of tracing a single theme across many languages new to me seemed a powerful way to overcome the borders that were going up around the world. Ironically, one of the first entries I researched concerned the photograph of boys in a snowball fight taken by Robert Capa in war-torn Hankou (modern-day Wuhan) in 1938. Within weeks, the location had become infamous for the outbreak of COVID-19. Even under lockdown in a pandemic, it was still possible to voyage around the world through dictionaries.

A snow crystal is part of the endless cycle of the water molecule: from its six-cornered solid state it becomes liquid and then gas, and thus a snowflake that falls on the glaciers of the Rwenzori peaks in Africa might melt and evaporate and later freeze again and fall in the apple orchards of Kashmir, and melt again and fall fifty times and more. Just so, a single unit of meaning — one word for snow — offers an approach to new places, a clear path of understanding to travel forwards along.


Fifty Words for Snow by Nancy Campbell is published by Elliott & Thompson (November 2020), richly illustrated with William Bentley’s early photographs of snow crystals. It is available from Hive or from your favourite independent bookshop

Follow @nancycampbelle on Twitter or Instagram.

The Long Return: an Essay on Belonging

“The key to a sense of connection is spending time in natural places. These are intimate acts of slow and patient observation.”

In her personal, revelatory essay for a new book from artist Paul Harfleet, Nadine Andrews explores ideas of belonging and connection through reflections on birds’ migration, human ambivalence and serendipitous encounters with nature.


“The key to a sense of connection is spending time in natural places. These are intimate acts of slow and patient observation. It is not about ticking species off a list, the rarer the better. No, this is about getting to know the inhabitants of a particular place – the place that I also inhabit.”

Nadine Andrews is a researcher, coach, facilitator and consultant with cultural, arts and heritage organisations, specialising in creative nature-based and mindfulness-based approaches.

When my old school friend, the artist Paul Harfleet, asked me to contribute some writing for a book he’s been working on, Birds Can Fly, which he envisaged would contain illustrations, natural history information, reflections and stories as well as conceptual pieces on ideas of nature and identity, I knew immediately I had to do it.

My strong sense was it would need to be a personal reflection on my relationship with nature, rather than an abstract theoretical piece. Until this point, my published writing had mostly been academic papers and research reports with little personal information, so this was going to be a departure for me but it felt not just important but critical.

On a walk with my friend Margaret Kerr, a psychotherapist and artist who’s been exploring the ecopsychology, history and mythology of Traprain Law in East Lothian, I told her about this invitation. As we walked around the hill we explored the idea of belonging, how migrating birds feel when they come here — do they feel they belong? I realised this was it, this was what I had to write about, my sense of belonging.

I knew the start — my feelings about the Swifts that I had talked about when interviewed by Laurence Rose from the RSPB a couple of years earlier. The writing of the essay flowed quite easily. The end took a while though. I had written something more in the style of my usual writing, which I knew didn’t quite work.

I asked a few friends and family what they thought, then left it for a while. A couple of weeks later, when listening to a module in a course on ancestral trauma, I heard a definition of shame that struck me sharply: “the intensely painful feeling or experience that we’re flawed and therefore unworthy of connection, love and belonging.” When I heard that, all the pieces fitted together — I realised my essay about belonging and connection was also about healing shame. At that moment of insight I felt this lightness, something was released. This incident coincided with an I Ching reading I did that contained the line “the flying bird brings the message” which took me to the realisation that just as the Swift flies where it will with the freedom of the skies, that I am not dependent on others allowing me to belong but that I am, and have been all this time, claiming it for myself through my nature connection practices. Now I had my ending.

Writing this essay has been a revelation, unexpectedly therapeutic. It’s also opened up new possibilities as I’ve discovered the power that comes with this different voice, which lays it out there with clarity and honesty yet somehow transcends vulnerability. So thanks very much Paul for asking me to write something!


You can read Nadine’s essay, The Long Return: an essay on belonging, on her Cultureprobe blog – where you can also explore many more of her articles and reports and her nature awareness audio recordings.

A version of this essay will appear in artist Paul Harfleet’s new book Birds Can Fly, and you can find out more about his Birds Can Fly project and other work at his site, The Pansy Project