Following two days of performance action around Coventry city centre in October and a visit to COP 26 climate talks in Glasgow, Walking Forest’s local “anchor women” and wider women tree carriers meet at Floyds Fields this weekend, bidding farewell to the tree they carried through the streets of the city as well as planting seeds of courage for the future.
Walking Forest is ten-year art project linking together women, tree ecology and activism. Walking Forest Coventry has filled the third year of this female-led project, drawing on a hundred-year legacy of women’s activism.
It was inspired in part by the story of a tree originally planted by suffragette Rose Lamartine Yates. Still standing in Batheaston today, the tree is the sole survivor from Annie’s Wood, an arboretum of 60 trees planted by suffragettes to honour their actions. The rest of the wood was bulldozed in the 1960s to make way for new housing.
The clearing of ancient trees continues today and is a critical issue, particularly in light of increasing concerns about climate change. The large tree limbs carried through Coventry in our weekend of dawn-dusk performance action in October had recently been felled close to the city to make way for a new development. As such, the first day of action created space for people to come together and share their grief and fears about the future.
But this story ends on a hopeful note: from Rose’s tree, the Walking Forest team have gathered seeds and propagated saplings as a symbol of courage and renewal. Some of these seeds have been gifted to world leaders and activists at recent and previous COP talks, and on Sunday 12 December, two of the saplings will be planted in Floyds Fields in Coventry, where the felled tree the anchor women carried will also be laid down as a nursing log, providing nutrients for new plants to grow.
It’s a fitting place to end this phase of the story (the full project has a ten-year scope, culminating in the planting of a new, intentional woodland to honour Global Women Earth Defenders ): Lettice Floyd, after whom the field is named, was a campaigner for women’s suffrage. Born in Berkswell in 1865, Floyd was a full-time worker for the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) and a notable suffragette. When she died in 1943, she left the land at Floyd’s Fields to the people of Coventry.
During her lifetime, Lettice was in a relationship with Annie Williams, a fellow suffragette and organiser for the WSPU. As the two young trees grow together and their roots entwine underground, they’ll serve as a poetic way of honouring both women and the love and activism they shared.
The Walking Forest artists said, "Our winter tree-planting ceremony completes a circle of in our act of love and endurance for the planet and future generations. Connecting to past, present and future women activists, we’ll lay a dying birch to rest whilst planting two suffragette saplings to inspire courage in us all. It will be a time of endings and letting go and a time of new beginnings - for the woodland at Floyd's Field, for Coventry women and in our shared lives standing up for forests and ecosystems everywhere."
You can read more about the project in this Guardian article by Isabella Kaminski, or watch a film documenting our weekend of performance action in Coventry below. You can also scroll down for our photo gallery, featuring images by Maria Raluca.