News and Events

Human-Forest Relations:

Equity and inclusion in law, ecology and society

Workshop at the Great Oak Hall, Westonbirt Arboretum, Tetbury, Gloucestershire

13-15 May 2019

Workshop convenors:

Dr Helen Dancer, School of Law, Politics and Sociology, University of Sussex

Professor Neil Ravenscroft, School of Environment and Technology, University of Brighton

Workshop aims and call for papers


This workshop invites up to twenty researchers from academia, government, the third sector and independent researchers into a creative space at the National Arboretum, Westonbirt, to generate new ideas and visionary thinking on the relationship between people, trees and forests.

Globally, the history of human relations with trees and forests has been characterised by plunder, more than preservation; and the future of these relations and the legal protection afforded to them is uncertain. The workshop comes in the centenary year of the foundation of the Forestry Commission, one year following the 800th anniversary of the English Charter of the Forest, and in the wake of an abandoned government proposal to privatise the Public Forest Estate and subsequent public consultation on the future of English woodlands. It also responds to current policy debates on the environment, new forms of agro-forestry, public goods and natural capital, alongside an emergent theoretical shift towards ecocentric law and policy, sustainability and the development of a ‘woodland culture’. This workshop invites contributions that bridge legal debates on trees and forests with history, arts, archaeology, anthropology, geography, forestry and ecology. Our conversations will aim to generate new thinking on how human-forest relations can move forward – away from plunder and towards a more ecosystemic relationship founded on principles of equity and inclusion.

The workshop will reflect on environmental governance, ecological perspectives on biodiversity, conservation and climate change, as well as socio-economic, historical and cultural issues. Trees and forests are a source of carbon capture, biodiversity, livelihoods, community ties, human health and creative inspiration; but they are more than service-providers for humans. Flora and fauna exist in and for themselves. The relationships between trees and other flora and fauna are not well understood by humans beyond scientific communities. The workshop and a subsequent published special issue of papers will reflect not only on what trees and forests mean to humans, but on their intrinsic importance and potential new ways to relate to flora and fauna, bridging the communication divide between law, arts, social and natural sciences, academia, policy-making, the wider public – and nature itself.

Call for papers

Participants for the workshop will be required to communicate their expertise to an interdisciplinary audience of researchers and to relate their papers to the overall theme of equity and inclusion (or exclusion). This is an opportunity for creative and bold thinking on the future of the relationship between people, trees and forests.

Contributions are welcomed on the following (non-exhaustive) list of themes:

  • Ancient and archaeological perspectives on human-forest relations
  • Mediaeval forest law and the origins and exercise of commoners’ rights
  • Human-forest relations, equity and inclusion in law, art and literature
  • Indigenous rights and cosmologies, forests and law
  • Sustainable forestry, law and human responsibilities for the wellbeing of trees
  • Trees and fungal networks and their implications for human-forest relations
  • Biodiversity, (re)wilding and species reintroductions in forests and woodlands
  • Climate change law and forest policy for the future
  • Human wellbeing, trees and law in urban spaces
  • Gender, poverty and equity in the context of forest investment law and policy

Please submit a title and abstract (maximum 200 words) and a brief biography (maximum 60 words) by 19 February 2019 to Helen Dancer

Participants selected for the workshop will be notified by 26 February 2019 if their proposal has been accepted and are required to prepare a draft paper of 4,000 words, which will be circulated among the participants prior to the workshop. Selected papers from the workshop will be developed for a journal special issue on the theme of human-forest relations. This workshop is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Leadership Fellows grant. Full-board hotel accommodation will be provided for all workshop participants and reasonable UK travel expenses reimbursed.

Workshop convenors and contact details

Dr Helen Dancer is AHRC Leadership Fellow and Lecturer in Law at the University of Sussex. Her research interests centre on the anthropology of law, human-forest relations, wild law and justice. Her current AHRC Leadership Fellows research project Reimagining the Law of the Forest explores the relationship between people, forests and law in England, including empirical research in the New Forest.

Professor Neil Ravenscroft is Director of the University of Brighton Doctoral College and Professor of Land Economy, specialising in people-environment relationships associated with farming, forestry and water resources. He currently holds grants from the AHRC and from NERC and has worked as a consultant for UN FAO. He is also a member of UNESCO’s UK Man and Biosphere Committee.

For further information please contact Helen Dancer

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