Image: left to right: Elspeth Wilson, Sam Taylor, LiLi K. Bright and Laura Barker in Sydenham Hill Woods, July 2021. Photo by Bobby Nayyar.
As part of This Is Our Place, Spread the Word and London Wildlife Trust’s nature writing project for London, two of our writers-in-residence, LiLi K. Bright and Laura Barker, interviewed Sam Taylor, ranger at Sydenham Hill Woods. In a wide-ranging chat, they talk trees, fungus, dreams, increasing diversity and biodiversity, and what you can do to combat climate change.
What is your favourite tree and why?
This is such a hard question! My answer often changes but today I’ll say hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). It’s a very prominent species at Sydenham Hill Wood, along with oak. I love the muscular ridges the trunk develops as it ages, and it gives a particularly stunning display of autumn colour.
Tell me your trajectory, start to finish, of working in London Wildlife Trust?
I started working at London Wildlife Trust a couple of weeks before the pandemic hit. It was an unusual introduction to a new job! I came to the role from a tree planting charity – trees and woodland management are my areas of expertise. The wonderful thing about this job is how much I learn each week. From identifying birds by their calls to finding out about all the weird and wonderful fungi, I am gradually acquiring a much more intimate knowledge of the wood and its wildlife.
What is your favourite fungus and why?
It has to be one of the species we see in the wood, and of the many that we find, the chicken of the woods is my favourite. I love the name, which tells you it is edible with quite a meaty texture. I’ve eaten it once and it was delicious. It’s also really attractive when fresh – bright orange with pale yellow fringes. Always one I get excited about finding.
What do you think London Wildlife Trust should do to increase its social diversity and biodiversity?
Extensive and long-term engagement with underrepresented communities is key to increasing the social diversity of the volunteer base, staff and people that visit London Wildlife Trust reserves. For example, directly contacting community groups and offering free guided walks, family activities and training. It’s all about making that initial contact with a local green space and then I think these places speak for themselves and people will continue to engage with them. London Wildlife Trust has also been good at supporting and publicising movements such as Black in Nature and should continue to highlight issues relating to the inequitable access to green space and use of these places.
As for biodiversity, continuing to manage reserves for the benefit of nature and inspiring people to look after and campaign for their local green spaces. Ultimately London Wildlife Trust is working in the context of the global decimation of biodiversity and climate crisis so it’s vital to raise public awareness of these issues and lobby government on behalf of nature. We need urgent radical action to fundamentally reshape how our society works so that the environment is given primacy, not the endless pursuit of economic growth that benefits so few at the expense of so many and the health of our planet. London Wildlife Trust should use its voice to amplify calls for social and environmental justice.
Do you dream about trees?
I very rarely remember my dreams and when I do they’re often disappointingly mundane. I daydream about trees though!
What is ancient woodland?
Ancient woodland is defined as an area of woodland that has had a continuous cover of trees since 1600. They tend to be particularly rich in biodiversity. Parts of Sydenham Hill Wood are classified as ancient and the presence of certain plants can give a clue to this. We have populations wood anemone, wild garlic and English bluebells which are known as ancient woodland indicator species as they depend on the stable ecological conditions provided by continuous wood cover.
If you could get everyone to do one thing to help combat climate change what would it be?
Make your voice heard. Don’t be passive. It might be getting involved with Extinction Rebellion, attending a protest, supporting green initiatives in your local area, raising the issue in conversations with friends and family – there are ways to feel empowered as a community rather than helpless as an individual.
Answer the question you wish we’d asked you?
Sorry, I’m stuck. You asked plenty of good ones already!
This Is Our Place is a nature writing project for London. Eight free workshops took place in August 2021, and a project anthology featuring competition winners will be published online and in book format at the end of November. The anthology features new work written by workshop participants and writers-in-residence, all members of London’s diverse communities. The book reimagines how we live in London and reflects on our individual and collective relationship to nature and place.
LiLi Kathleen Bright is a writer, workshop leader and coach, specialising in asynchronous, remote communication. With a deep love of learning, LiLi is studying German and is an amateur dendrologist. Currently creating a collection of tree poetry and short stories, they were selected for The Future is Back writing award in 2019 and have performed at Gays the Word. LiLi is working in partnership with Laura Barker for This Is Our Place.
Laura Barker is a writer, artist, and facilitator. She runs an LGBT black writing group in London. Her work has appeared in Apparition Lit, midnight & indigo, and The Other Stories. She has guest edited for Apparition Lit, and her YA novel Picnics was shortlisted for the Faber Andlyn (FAB) Prize. Laura is working in partnership with LiLi Kathleen Bright for This Is Our Place.
Published 16 November 2021