From 2018-20, I was an artist in residence with Back from the Brink, a nation-wide conservation project saving some of England’s most threatened species. I delivered five projects exploring and celebrating the work that they do to make futures for the plants, animals, and fungi that we share our home with.
We are a many-bodied singing thing
Writing has always helped us to imagine possibilities for ourselves and the world around us. I wanted to imagine a future for endangered plants and animals – to explore how human and more-than-human beings relate to each other, and ways that we can live together better. I asked writers to take inspiration from two Back From The Brink conservation projects which spoke particularly to speculative fiction: the Willow Tit Project, who are protecting this little bird and its post-industrial habitats in South Yorkshire, and Ancients of the Future, who are working at sites across England to protect 28 threatened species which live in ancient trees. The resulting anthology is tender, fierce, wondering, sad, and ultimately hopeful.
To fly adventurous
With the Black-tailed Godwit project, I created a collaborative poem with visitors of all ages who came to the Godwit Festival at Welney Wetlands. I turned this into an artwork, which was unveiled at an event in Cambridge, with readings from Elaine Ewart, Matt Howard, and Stewart Carswell. The artwork now lives at Welney.
Moths and lanterns
With the Shifting Sands project, I made lanterns with local Cubs, Scouts, and Woodcraft Folk. We wrote messages to the Shifting Sands species on them, and lit them up together at a moth evening with expert Sharon Hearle, from Butterfly Conservation – we observed different species of moths, and learned to make a moth potion. I also created a giant moth lantern as a centrepiece, with my own poem about the Basil Thyme Casebearer Moth inked onto it.
Fans of the forest
Young visitors to Fineshade Woods made a fanzine for the forest by imagining it as a cast of celebrities to interview. Liz Morrison, of the Roots of Rockingham project, lead a walk to discover species around the woods – some favourites were mushrooms, huge dragonflies, grasshoppers, an old oak with a space big enough to climb inside, lots of colourful flowers, and big juicy handfuls of blackberries. There was so much curiosity and joy thinking about real and imaginary answers to these questions – from facts about Adders, to a caterpillar who dreamed of driving a tractor. Each person created one or more pages for the zine using these Q&As, things they had found on the walk, and collage materials. You can read more about the project and download the zine here.
Colour in the margins with words
The Colour in the Margins project works with farmers and communities to save plants and animals threatened with extinction in our arable environments. This was my very first Back from the Brink project, and I chose Colour in the Margins because they work very close to where I grew up – the Yorkshire Wolds. I wrote a set of poems, which I turned into an interactive booklet for a drop-in event at Scarborough Library, where people aged 4 to 80 investigated and wrote about species that Colour in the Margins focuses on. The booklet is available online, and anyone can have a go at the activities. You can also read more about my experience of running the project here.
Throughout these projects, I wrote poems that became part of events and installations alongside work from participants. I wrapped the residency up by bringing these together in a pamphlet, Hold Fast, which is free to download.