This week is national tree week, so returning to our trees work has been an important part of this week’s story. On Tuesday I spoke at our Tree Summit — following directly on from Lord Deben to tell the story of our Woodland Opportunity Mapping. It was a real ‘dream big’ moment for my team: imagine if when we’d started this work we said “within 18 months we want to have gone from a local prototype to a national tool, influencing policy-making and grassroots change and be the showcase for our trees campaigning”. I’m not sure we’d quite have believed it. It’s a good prompt to be ambitious — but also to remember that by building the relationships, iterating and enquiring, good, big things can come. Working collaboratively with Guy was also super important in clarifying the narrative: our policy work shows that something (in this case doubling tree cover) is necessary, our experiments help show that it’s possible.

Zoom face.

Meanwhile, the spin-offs are often the bit that really matters. Off the back of this talk I was able to reconnect activists in south Wales pioneering a Tiny Forest (lovely future-casting blog here) with Bristol City Council who are planning something very similar in Southmead. And the progress we’ve made is also helping us support the Vana project — both our projects have now, slowly, matured to a stage where we can be genuinely helpful.

On Thursday I had hoped to take the day to support Black2Nature with a tree-planting day, but sadly they cancelled due to poor weather. In the middle of Tuesday’s tree summit I did plant my own tree: a fig, air-grafted from our neighbour (what an amazing frugal technology). Our front garden now boasts: an olive, an oleander, a fig tree and a cherry. It faces south west, so can get very hot in the summer, but it was only in putting in the fig that I realised just how much we have already internalised a set of assumptions about what might need to change in our immediate ecosystem in the next decade.

Meanwhile, the Government has announced new targets to cut emissions by 2030. At the tree summit on Tuesday there was much discussion of how targets are only valuable if they also includes mechanisms — checkpoints — to hold politicians account during the electoral cycle, and not just beyond. This of course is the logic of the carbon budgets, enshrined in the Climate Change Act (2008). Next week we can expect to hear how Government is failing to meet its current short-term budget. Listening to Alok Sharma evade the tricky delivery questions on Radio 4 on Thursday morning (and in particular the aviation one which he batted away as “ultimately it’s a matter of personal choice”) I was reminded of Rory Stewart’s corruscating take-down of Boris Johnson in TLS earlier this month, where he highlights the Prime Minister’s pathological failure to deliver on his commitments.

What a contrast in language to Patagonia’s 2020 Black Friday campaign.

The other big event this week was the relaunch of Bristol Black & Green Ambassador’s scheme. The launch event was one of the most inspiring celebrations of community leadership — and potential — I can remember. The choice of Julian Agyeman as the keynote was inspired too; I realise it’s unusual for an event like this to actually include a real opportunity for learning (rather than just ‘showcasing’). He had some startling conclusions, in particular about Minneapolis, both one of the most unequal cities in the UK (no suprises there) but also one of the ‘greenest’: a stark example of how the benefits of urban greening if unevenly distributed can exacerbate discrimination, rather than address it.

His reflections on who belongs in a city — and whose history is occluded — definitely need shaping for context. There was an interesting sidebar conversation about what a ‘land recognition’ practice for the Avon might look like? My mind pulled back to the 10,000 year old burial sites I visited in Mendips back in October and wondered what on earth would it mean to honour that legacy. We could all benefit from a deep time narrative. But any story of the land here, on the edge of the ocean, has to be about movement, flux and exchange as much as it is about deep roots.

The essence of Julian’ s talk was summed up for me by this quote from Cornel West, via Gentle / Radical, via Cassie Robinson.

I used this slide to wrap up a farewell slideshow from my team to Hugh and Miriam (who, whilst not leaving exactly, are closing this chapter with us). Love in public takes many forms — but it is also a thing that binds together a good team. The five of us (for that’s what we are at the moment) have seen each other through all sorts of challenging transitions in the last two years, and through it build a culture of trust and safety that has enabled us to do some great work . I was so glad we made this time — it would have been very easy not to — and that we also didn’t just fill an hour with reminiscence and chat (important glue though that is) and made sure we made space for gratitude and reflection. These workplace rites of passage matter.

The odds and ends

  1. This article from John Thackara is a really helpful compendium of grassroots action for biodiversity. This quote stuck out for me — as someone who wans to see thriving biosphere, but whose practice is definitely in the forging of human relationships.

As the biologist Andreas Weber points out, this is how nature works, too: The practice of ecology is the forging of relationships.

2. New tools for Uncertain Times (another Cassie Robinson production). These look brilliant — the description of experiments in the workbook, but also the planner as a reflective tool. One to experiment with myself, perhaps.

Last thoughts

I’ve found these notes hard to write and have been putting them off. As Oliver reminded me this morning, the important thing is the practice: to just start. I didn’t want to do it as I keep promising myself I’ll write up my Boundless Roots experience (which I haven’t yet) and also reflect on the OU module I’m currently doing (both ‘big’ thought pieces, getting in the way of the every day). One of the nice things about Advent is that it contains lots of opportunities for everyday small practice. We’re practicing a kindness calendar again this year (the kindness elf pays a visit every day — there are some examples here) and I’ve also set myself a dance challenge of learning a jazz step (this sort of thing) every day (on a theme of finding your edge -I find this hard because I’m not ‘good’ at it — yet). Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Climate, sustainability, nurturing community and self. Cycling comes into it a lot. I often use this blog to take the long view, or a sideways look.