Ken White interview Sept 2011

Ken White interview

Ken White

Ken White is a widely published author of local environmental, social and geographical issues. For much of his adult life Ken has cycled around the south London area collecting snippets of information and drawing the scenery in research of his latest book, which would often be published in his fine longhand. One superb example of his work is the 1999 ‘The Quaggy River and its Catchment Area’, an account of the river and the tributaries from the 18th century illustrated with maps, pictures and original sketches. Recently mentalmapping used Ken’s book to take a group of 50 individuals on the inaugural Ray Manchester walk along the river Quaggy itself. We stopped at each bridge along the way and passages from Ken’s book were read out in addition to notes on recent engineering and political history from Matthew Blumler. The walkers were attached to the Quaggy Waterways Action Group, an organisation dedicated to the sustainable maintainence of this local river. Ken also mentions the group in his book, illustrating well the complex relationship of stakeholders that take responsibility for the river’s upkeep. Ken has also written books on the Croydon Canal, a collection of the local cemeteries, local alehouses (the architecture not the beer) and walking guides.

Illustration from Ken's Quaggy book (1999)

He is in his late eighties now and cycles no longer however he is sharp as a button and quick to recall even the smallest detail of a particular escapade into the riparian undergrowth of London’s southeast. All of Ken White’s work is available at the Lewisham Local Studies library.

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Alien Invaders: Did Darwin get it wrong then?

The concept of an alien species, and therefore one deemed fit for eradication, presupposes that the decision to classify such flora and fauna as invasive is made by ‘experts’ and therefore correct. There are currently 834 species on the ISSG database, a “global network of scientific and policy experts on invasive species, organized under the auspices of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)”, so where did they come from and why are they not invited? When Darwin finally published The Origin of Species in 1859, a document that had been sitting on his desk for at least a decade, readers marvelled at Darwin’s analysis and encouragement of adaptation and succession in the natural world. Since that time global trade and Victorian inquisitevness has seen a vast number of wierd and wonderful species land on our shores. The mitten crab hid in ballast imported from China in the 1900s, the ruddy duck escaped from Slimbridge reserve in 1956, the sycamore, considered an invasive, arrived here in the 15th century from mainland Europe. Therefore while we marvel, or otherwise, at the globalisation of finacial and travel markets somehow the globalisation of nature is unacceptable (it is worth noting here that twitchers welcome and subsequently chase birds with temporary visas obsessively). Two species of flora currently being given both barrels by conservationists are the giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam, both common within riparian landscapes. There are markedly different characteristics to this pair which brings into question the decision making on their future.

The first viable specimen of giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) was imported as part of the Ibero-Caucasion garden at the Great Exhibition in 1851, and a further 5000 seeds were donated to Queen Victoria by the exhibitor and botanist Vakif Jalilabad. The subsequent planting formed a spectacle in the ‘Jardin Turc’ at Buckingham Palace but the plant escaped the walls of the palace and colonised large areas along the Regents Canal and south on Clapham Common. The plant is now widespread, favouring the moist soil along riverbanks and other natural or artificial water features, and considered a pest. Why?, because it creates a root system that compromises banking, leading to erosion, it creates a massive canopy that prevents other flora from growing and finally it has a venomous sap that can hospitalise those unfortunate enough to use the stems as pea-shooters.

The Monster

The plant also has a stem covering of spines, which are unpleasant, therefore the giant hogweed has no redeeming features apart from looking impressive and monstrous. So how is this plant removed from our greenspaces? Well, it can be dug up, often requiring a JCB if the stand and root system is large, it can be poisoned and it can be decapitated to prevent the seed head forming. One extraordinary feature of the giant hogweed is that following poisoning and having its head chopped off it often quickly produces a seed head as its last act of defiance, this quickly disperses as the plant topples. As an invasive species it is without rival, however there are other species on the invasive hitlist that may be less deserving.

Himalayan balsam was introduced to Kew Gardens in 1839 and rapidly became a domestic garden favourite. The balsam we see in the wild is a garden escapee, in fact people still grow Himalayan balsam in the garden as it has attractive pink flowers which give the plant its common name of Policeman’s Helmet. It is a prolific seed producer with each plant producing 5000 seeds, or 600 per metre from the base. The downside to balsam is that it produces a canopy that crowds out other species while its nector production is such that it attracts the most pollinaters. Again, the Himalayan balsam prefers river banks and as such compromises the viability of berms and other substrates, thus increasing flood potential.

Himalayan balsam

Recently, during a ‘balsam bash’ or balsam removal exercise over a number of weeks in London, participants were constantly reminded of balsam identification as other species were being pulled up in the process, such as natural balsam and figwort and assorted willowherb. The probability is that this was an act of innocence and enthusiasm but the need to pull balsam needs to be unwrapped. Himalayan balsam does prevent a succession of natural fauna from developing closer to the ground and has the potential to generate into large stands but it is certainly not an ugly plant, it is even edible (Balsam to eat) and happy to co-exist, albeit individually, amongst other species.

So really, what are we trying to protect by culling these flora? It seems that Darwin’s idea of natural selection and adaptation has been anthropomorphed into an archaic regime of man’s dominance over nature. This is a kind of Cartesian duality of our time, but if we are to aspire to lives closer to our environment then a more rigorous, and accepting, regime of ecology would surely allow these species to do what they want while we learn to coexist.

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The Bruise – Booth’s poverty mapping as art

Charles Booth’s poverty map of London in 1898 depended on a strict colour legend to depict deprivation in the capital. Taken as a whole, the map reveals concentrated areas of poverty, the most extreme in black, to create a picture that can be observed as a movement from yellow and affluent through to blue and black, like a bruise. This is of course unintentional, such descriptive and artistic processes of social theory were not present in the late 19th century, they were almost quantitative in their outlook and even though the sample depended on one person’s opinion the end result was a scientific study in mapping. The healing bruise, the hit, is an apt descriptive tool to define Booth’s maps as a project possibly more subjective than intended. Of course some of these areas, and I have been concentrating on the Deptford/Greenwich part of the map, have now changed with an increasing amount of riverside development attracting the wealthy. This could lead to a comparative study whereby the Booth legend depicticting a black and blue Deptford Creek may now be painted yellow. Where trades has departed Thameside so residential dwelling and the need for a waterfront view becomes aspirational so there is plenty of opportunity for an artistic reappraisal of the whole of the south side of the river and of the northside from Tower Bridge eastward.

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Mapping with intent

In Kevin Lynch’s 1960 ‘Image of the City’ the study sample is asked to draw a map of their district and include within it not roads and place names but paths they walk and places they meet and frequent. Lynch’s Boston (1955) at:

Islands of living and experience are produced where the boundaries often are formed of highways, topographical barriers and areas of deprivation. These activity spaces are also prominant in contemporary mappers such as Stephen Walters at:

Walters includes nights out, local mythology and perceptions of space to create a vibrant account of lived spaces. Such subjectivity is also present in the perceived objective and authoritarian mapping of Charles Booth’s poverty map of London (1898-99). Upstanding members of the community e.g. the police and the judiciary, were employed to walk the streets of London and make notes of their observations and grade areas into a poverty index, leading to Booth’s coloured legend. Booth’s note-takers assessed streets and knocked on doors, leaving open the possibility of being swayed by what they saw and the conversations they got into. These discussions would have played a part in the subsequent ranking thus turning the form and accuracy of the street layout into a completely subjective accout (at

It is these interpretations that make maps more than just a plan. They are a snapshot of social mobility and environmental determinism and in their representation they are a beautifully creative artform.

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Ravensbourne Walk – summer 2010

After a gruelling few hours clearing Himalayan Balsam, a non-indigenous invasive species, out of the river banks on the Ravensbourne at the Meadows Estate in June 2010, a small group of us sat on the grass verge by Bromley Road to take off our waders and casually debrief. During this post-3-Rivers Clean-Up discussion a proposal was put forward for a walk upstream along the channel of the river from the Thames confluence to as far as we could get within about four to five hours. It was decided that where we were sitting was a good destination and achievable end target but that the likely starting point would have to be Brookmill Gardens, as a large barrier just upstream at Deptford Creek made a Thames-side start impractical. A few emails later and a date was set for June 30th with a 10am start, ‘meet at the ranger’s office in Brookmill – bring lunch’.

A quick briefing wader and walking-pole selection and head-torch check and we were off, entering the river just downstream from the Elverson Road DLR station. Immediately we got into conversation with a man sitting on his jacket on the shingle beach, he said he had seen foxes, badgers, kingfishers and plenty of herons over the last week, the kingfishers, he added, only appear at daybreak and dusk. Out of Brookmill and into the concrete culvert leading up to Lewisham centre, outflow pipes and bags of rubbish slung over the railings all creating meanders along the wide flat concrete substrate with banks of weeds slowing progress.Passing the Tesco site, where my family once ran the Broadway Press, and up to the Ravensbourne/Quaggy confluence, the conversation turned to Lewisham council’s plans for the river. It was agreed that the Confluence Gardens plan, while highly contested, was a vast improvement on the current high-sided and oppressive banking, a JG Ballard-esque highway of concrete and brick that laid testament to mid 20th century mindsets of over-zealous flood control through hard engineering. Taking the right fork, we entered the first of many tunnels under roads, the river flattened, slow and featureless, there was little talking here as we felt the oppressive weight of urbanisation, our waders glided through the marbled blackness as shafts of light streamed through ahead, a beacon of life in this dead world. Between tunnels we saw bus-queuers leaning over the balustrade above us as we soldiered on in single file and out the other side toward Cornmill Gardens and our second mid-stream view of river regeneration.

Shoals of dace and chub shot upstream in front of us and ducklings scattered as we edged forward, attempting to minimise the disturbance to this apparently abundant landscape. Nick stopped to dig out a giant hogweed, another species on the invasive hit-list, as Chris (McGaw) noted coltsfoot, burdock, speedwell and the ubiquitous buddleia (another non-native species) amongst the flora. Trevor became engaged in conversation with a group of pensioners above as we entered the tunnelled culvert to the south end, their laughter echoing behind as some deep water focussed our concentration to the top of our waders and the first of many footballs drifted by. The culvert extended for 200m, on the way some stopped to pick cherries from a large tree leaning into our path, there was also a mature fig tree to admire, well out of our reach yet abundant in unripe and promising fruit. At Wearside depot we came across some nesting islands placed in the culvert by staff, chained platforms that rise in high water, these were populated by moorhens and we duly took the opposite bank with the message going down the line to keep silent. And so under the bridge by the adhesives factory (now demolished) and into Ladywell Fields. The Ravensbourne proper runs to the east past Lewisham Hospital while a new meandering channel has been cut into the park, we stepped up into the open and made our way to the café for  lunch. A round-table discussion talked of the beauty of Brookmill and Cornmill and the task that lay ahead in naturalising some of the more shrouded and challenging sections. The feeling was that while many stretches were ugly, to break out of this concrete would be difficult as buildings and other developments had driven right up to form the culvert banks. As we edged back into the stream  after lunch a dead chub floated by, this prompted talk of a minor pollution incident the month before that had been reported by a member of the public, however very little was known of its extent and whereabouts but it did rather complement the dead rat found earlier in the wade. To the south of Ladywell Fields the river, while a straightened channel, reaches the most naturalised of all the sections on our route with banking and woodland or fields on either side.  There was abundant flora and fauna, the deep turquoise of the damselflies catching the eye while far in the distance wagtails darted from bank to bank.

Again there was almost silence among the group but this time induced by the sense of privilege almost as if we had been granted an audience with nature, and a feeling of relief that there was a counterpoint to the concrete culverting. Beyond the banks are three fields that lie between Catford Bridge and Catford stations and Ladywell. This ‘natural’ stretch of the river was cleared and straightened by railway engineers in 1892 and toe-boarded in sections through flood prevention work in the 1960s.

Sweeping east under the high bridge structure the river meandered through a series of high culverts before entering into the first of the two long tunnels we would encounter. Inside the tunnel the channel split into two, as a flood-prevention measure this enables one channel to be kept clear if there is a blockage. We take the left and walk to the distant aperture of light, there is vegetation and debris here which we are careful to step over. We progress further to the Ravensbourne/Pool confluence, while the Pool, to the right, looks inviting we take the left fork and enter a long, straight and dilapidated culvert section that forms the boundary for the trading estate to the east and a small industrial complex to the west. Flow pipes seep an oozing orange liquid into the stream while builders rubbish and supermarket bags litter the channel, there is little wildlife here except for our sentinel, the yellow wagtail.

Two police-vehicle engineers peer over the fence telling us we are mad and that we would very likely ‘catch something’ from the river, at this point, given the amount of rubbish strewn everywhere, we would not entirely disagree. The positive correlation between sections of concrete culverting and the amount of rubbish thrown into the river seems obvious, there is a sense that if you demonstrate that the river is uncared for then the lead will be followed. This unloved section of the Ravensbourne gave way to the tunnel at Southend, just before the agreed end of the walk at the Meadows Estate. The river enters a small tunnel, possibly 1.5m high and 2m across. As we approach, two of the group decline this last challenge and opt to take the pavement. This tunnel is approximately 150m in length and travels under the Homebase DIY store and the Peter Pan Pool, it is littered with tree trunks and general flotsam. There is no distant light to aim for as clouds of midges stream into our head torches as we gingerly pick our way through. Trevor recounts a report of EA inspectors entering the tunnel last year with full breathing apparatus, we laugh as we spit out flies and head for the now visible distant light. Four and a quarter hours after we left Brookmill we are sitting back on the bank where the plan was hatched, exhausted but grateful for a chance to see both the wonders and terrors of the Ravensbourne. Enthusiastically, we agree to set up another summer walk from the source in Keston to where we were, discussing what other hurdles could possibly be encountered.

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Ethical Mindfulness, a review of Cloke and Jones

Critical Review of: ‘Grounding Ethical Mindfulness for/in Nature: Trees in their places’ by Paul Cloke and Owain Jones Ethics, Place and Environment, Vol 6, No.3, 195-214


The relationship that society has with trees can be one of enchantment and admiration to straightforward utilitarian resource value and, as such, Cloke and Jones suggest, ethical considerations towards trees are also multi-faceted. This is a discussion on how, through moral and deontological perspectives, through forms of interaction , relationship and inclusivity within Actor Network Theories (ANT), that perceptions of trees may be part of an revised ethical framework. Three case studies in Bristol and Somerset are chosen for this paper: Firstly, a square or urban greenspace, second the cemetery and third an orchard in the rural environment, all provide differing interconnections between trees and places.

Throughout the paper themes of agency, relational theory and both intrinsic and instrumental value provide a rich seam uncovered for debate. An analysis of the social construction of the co-constituents within the three case study areas allows Cloke and Jones to explain how ethical mindfulness can be developed.

Background philosophy

Assumptions based on a superiority of humans over nature have through time provided a deontological base for the destruction of natural resources, and the advancement of a ‘globally capitalist culture’ (C&J pg 196) has perpetuated this view of human ‘rights’. Pepper’s (1986) view that there has been a general abandonment of hope of reconciliation with nature, despite a growing concern for environmental issues over the last fifty years, is perhaps unduly negative. Cloke and Jones believe there is hope if new moral relationships can be developed and a revised ethical position can be found. Two important dimensions of nature-society relations are therefore worthy of discussion. Firstly, the position of agency with regard to non-humans has often concentrated on animals and not trees, as animals most clearly define the nature-society divide, and second, that a relational encounter with trees in their places allows for different social constructions of nature and different formulations of ethical mindfulness. In analysing Krebs’ (1999) assertion that a shift from anthropocentricism to ecocentricism is necessary to allow an ethical shift towards nature, Cloke and Jones suggest that even that gives rise to the sense that humans are still ‘reviewing the case for inclusion’ (C&J pg 197) of all other nature and only begrudgingly extend moral respect to lower animals and plant life. Callicott (1994) notes that the differing behavioural rules, adopted by anthropocentric philosophy of Western European environmental values, ignore the obligations of stewardship and citizenship to be found in the scriptures of the Bible, and the Commandments in particular, and tend instead to assume that a Christian traditional leaning toward exploitation is prevalent. The utilitarianism of Bentham suggested that individual activity should promote human welfare while a Kantian emphasis on deontology advocated human rights and both, claim Cloke and Jones (pg 197), cast tree-related issues in a different light in terms of intrinsic and instrumental value. Callicott (1994) argues that in the case of deforestation, from a utilitarian (Bentham) perspective, few benefit while many suffer, such as the displacement of indigenous people, while from a human rights perspective (Kant) the wrongs of deforestation are less clear because it is a human right to own property and engage in free enterprise regardless of the consequences.

Therefore the fate of trees depends of human decision about their utility and resource value. At different scales trees have been cut down, valued as a living resource or cherished. What is not discussed here is the potential for deontological liberalism as developed by Rawls (1971) where an immovable human right can be manipulated to incorporate concern for the other, in other words a more developed view of ethical consideration. The discussion of morality and the moral community moves on to discuss ‘non-human agency’ and the social constructions of the natural world citing Latour’s (1993) ‘simple mute forces’ as a commonly held view of nature. Latour continued in ‘Politics and Nature’, published a year after Cloke and Jones, stating that there is no place for nature either within the modernised Western world or within other cultures that have lived in nature for centuries and aspire to modernisation (2004, 46). The idea that agency can only exist within language and intention creates a view that any non-sentient being, or non-human actor, is therefore without agency and only operates under the ‘laws of nature’ (McPhail & Ward, 1988 p.72). However it is the fluidity of relations between human and non-human actors that allows the acknowledgement of contextual forces, as Whatmore (2002, 14) states: ‘The manoeuvre involves animating the creatures in (actor) networks as active subjects in the geographies they help to fashion’. Cloke and Jones agree that is it an acknowledgement of the creative capabilities and intentionalities of non human actors that enables them to be included in the moral community. Callon (1986) included scallops and scallop fishermen within an ANT framework after research revealed that scallops had intentionality and Plumwood (2002, 177) believes this ‘re-animation’ can present the non-human as a ‘potentially communicative other’. Indeed the creativeness of trees in the synthesis of chlorophyll, the expanding of root structures in moisture-gathering and the balance of the evapotranspiration process make them perfect partners within an ANT framework. They exercise both transformative and purposive agency, the acorn/oak tree, for example, demonstrates reproduction in both spatial as well as temporal terms. This recognition is supported by Roger Deakin’s visit to sculptor Paul Nash, he observed: ‘As in any collaboration the trees have their own ideas, and Nash must continually work his hedgerow skills to influence them as a sculptor, or choreographer. He admires the sense of purpose in each tree, its stroppiness. Again it is a question of resistance, of arm-wrestling the muscular trees. “The tree has a purpose, and it will keep trying to fulfil its purpose whatever happens,” states Nash.’ (Deakin, 2007, 159)

Cloke and Jones claim that a ‘postmodern turn’ is required to rework the normative  frameworks of a collective morality founded in the Enlightenment, this alteration of perceptions allows for a ‘repersonalisation’ (C&J pg199) of engagement with nature. Importantly this allows for individuals to be more for nature rather than just with nature and forms the basis of Cloke and Jones’ ‘ethical mindfulness’.

The meeting point, it is claimed, of non-human agency and human moral concern provides the node for ethical mindfulness and the array of potential for non-human agency is only released by relational encounters. Therefore relational ethics is dependent on the context in which the encounter occurs. Raymond Williams (2005. 77) notes: ‘Nature contrasts with man, except when presumably when man is looking at it’. That said, the presumption in relational terms, according to Cloke and Jones, is that the individual when looking at a tree is thinking tree thoughts but this is not a given. David Harvey (2006, 276) suggests that an individual could be thinking about that morning’s breakfast, or relationalities, when held in absolute space-time with the tree. The feelings the individual has, whether tree-related or not, means merely that the individual and the tree are co-present or are co-constituents within a precise space-time. It is acknowledged, however, that the subsequent ethical codings envisaged would depend on the context of the encounter.

The Tree Places

Co-constitution therefore varies in the three tree places selected for the case study; a tree-lined residential square, a Victorian cemetery and an orchard, each either in the city of Bristol or nearby. While the places suggest wider cultural, ecological and political networks there is a minor concern that nature is being compartmentalised, or seen in isolation and not in the wider context. However, they are seen as suitable territories to observe anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric ethics.

The Square

The Victorian square was built in the mid 19th century in Clifton, a fashionable and desirable area to the north of the city. The square was planted out as a communal garden to add aesthetic value and over recent years, following adoption by the council, the railings have been taken down and general usage allowed. The grassed area had a path running through it and mature trees line the perimeter. Council maintenance is minimal as ‘the trees tend to look after themselves’ (C&J pg 201). The trees provide canopy and dominate the seasonality of the place while also enhancing the sense of place for the residents, who spend a good deal of time looking at them. Residents have favourite trees, one commented after moving away from the area that she returned to ‘be with’ (C&J pg 201) her tree when it had fallen and stayed with it and wept. As such, our interactions with trees can be theorised in terms of relationality. All trees in the square receive ethical mindedness, either by residents, who water them in the summer, but also from the council who protect them with preservation orders.  New shoots and trees appropriate value once they have passed the aesthetic test, where the majority view is that they have potential to be beautiful. Likewise the council trimmed some of the wider trees so that buses could pass, claiming that the majority of residents would have wanted this. While it is possible to see how intrinsic value may be given to the trees in the square by observing how the leaves make the most of the fine weather or the root systems adapt to changing hydrology, it is also environmental virtue ethics that are on display. Holmes Rolston III observed: “The fallacy is that such humans were really in the dark about the depth of values in nature beyond their own lighting up.” (2005, 76).

– The Cemetery

Typical of a large Victorian cemetery, the site in Arnos Vale is host to a wide variety of self seeding ‘wild’ trees and a number of exotic evergreens. Succession and crumbling statuary are both evident throughout, much in the fashion of the former private cemeteries of London at Nunhead and Highgate, and levels of maintenance have declined over the years and the council has only recently gained ownership following a threat of development. The different interest groups at the site incorporate those with family buried there and conservationists keen to preserve greenspace. There has been past conflict between those that wish to preserve the site for remembrance and those with an interest in nature conservation with restoration to non-interventionalist plans considered for the future. The management plan has raised ethical issues as cutting down some trees that are breaking up the graves would upset the trees’ previously privileged position. So under a new management plan should some trees be preferred over others and can the intrinsic and localised value of some trees be observed while others are treated as woodland.

– The Orchard

The orchard at West Bradley is a 70-acre site planted out with a variety of apple trees. These are planted in orderly rows with a strong management plan in place to maintain optimum growing conditions. This is achieved by arranging the trees in rows to facilitate picking, pruning and spraying for pest control. Unproductive trees are pulled up and replaced by species most aligned to consumption needs. The cropping of the tree is the only relational aspect of the human engagement, unlike both the cemetery and the square where engagement was more varied. The ethical question is whether the trees should be cropped and should poor cropping trees be replaced. Recently, the value of orchards in Somerset has been significantly recognised as orchards appropriating iconic status in heritage terms. As a result, county subsidies are available to preserve them while in the past farmers were encouraged to pull them up. Therefore there is an ethical concern to preserve ‘orchardness’ (C&J pg 207) rather than individual trees and the overall value is aggregate, although from a production viewpoint the value is still attached to the individual tree.

Ethical mindfulness – discussion

So we see evidence within the three tree places that the autonomous individual is moving away from the collective morality in demonstrating ethical agency. Cloke and Jones tackle the dilemma that Whatmore (2002, 151) describes as a post-modern turn that fails to interrogate humanist presuppositions of ethical discourses. Normative configurations of community ethics are challenged by the contexts in which individuals engage with trees and non-human agency becomes part of the social construction of the tree places. Whether intrinsic or instrumental valuations are made of these trees there remains throughout an inter-connectedness that shapes our ethical concerns. Cloke and Jones suggest that there is ‘clear utility’ (C&J pg 210) in tree places and that they have strong welfare value. Much in the way that Ulrich (1984) found that patients recovering from surgery did better if their rooms overlooked trees in full foliage and also in the work by Fuller (2007), whereby a tree in full foliage would indicate species richness and encourage individuals to further engage with public greenspaces. There are themes of stewardship in all tree places, whether trees are seen as individuals or groupings, yet to reach a more sensitive ethical mindfulness it would be necessary for individuals in the communities to move beyond deontological collective positions to more nuanced and personal ethical considerations. Trees may connect with the individual by demonstrating an ‘agency contributing to the performance of the multiple lived worlds concerned, threading their matter and sometimes their meaning through the assembled associations and place characteristics’ (C&J pg 210). The question of being ‘for’ the trees is clearly observed in the square where residents watered trees and mourned their departure, there is however uncertainty as to whether the giving to the trees is unconditional or making use of in terms of well-being. It is the contexts of these meetings that may decide to what extent an individual is ‘for’ the trees or merely engaging in a colonisation process of harnessing the wild and unmanageable.

What is clear, state Cloke and Jones, is the degree of enchantment in formulating opinion at all three tree sites. In dialogue with individuals at each site, the authors found ‘a sense of captivating delight’ (C&J pg 211) in apple blossom, the sunlight dappling through the trees, the restful shade and the birdsong. While these elements may draw people closer to nature, a recognition of otherness is important to consider, as Cronon (1996) observes: “On the other hand, I also think it no less crucial for us to recognize and honor nonhuman nature as a world we did not create, a world with its own independent, nonhuman reasons for being as it is.”

There is an acknowledgment that aesthetics plays an important role in formulating ethical positions through enchantment but a more reasoned ethical stance is possible when incorporating this with more pragmatic issues such as well-being. The hybrid nature of our relations with trees may also include space and place and emotional social constructions. Whatmore and Hinchcliffe note that  ‘trees are active figures in the generation and durability of attachments to place that mark personal and collective senses of urban conviviality and memory’ (2003, 5), indeed, they are part of a lived world full of personal networks. A concept of dwelling in portrayed not as a world of restrictions, boundaries or exclusions but one of situatedness and the recognition of personal networks and relations. The relations to place and space, which often includes specimen trees as important nodes of mental mapping, is described by Lynch (1960) as collections of habitual practices connected to certain locations therefore ethical considerations ‘for’ these nodes are often played out, as seen in Cloke and Jones’ square, by individuals exhibiting personal attachments.

In concluding, the authors describe the ethical mindfulness engendered in the orchard where collective considerations for orchardness compete with individual tree productivity and the labour, weather and machinery that interact with the trees; in the cemetery where associations between human and non-human are couched in concerns for loved ones and those celebrating the ‘wildness’ of place and in the square, where considerations for individual trees are akin to the nurturing of plants in domestic gardens and therefore singular attachments can be made. Ethical mindfulness is therefore ‘place located’ (C&J pg 212) and formulated through relations.

The position of trees in such multiple lived worlds therefore produces convergent ethical stances within the realm of the human and non-human and the hybrid nature of these associations presents an opportunity for a re-appraisal of ethical mindfulness.

Ethical encounters therefore have to be both contextual and relational and the social constructions of trees in their places is dependent on both ethics and morality to create an embeddedness of enjoyment of the otherness.


Callicott, J. Baird. 1994: Earth’s Insights. University of California Press. Berkley, CA USA

Callon, M. 1986: Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay. In: J. Law, Ed.  Power Action and Belief—A New Sociology of Knowledge Sociological Review Monograph, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London pgs 196-233.

Cronon, W., 1996, The trouble with wilderness or, getting back to the wrong nature, in Cronon, W. (ed.), Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W.W. Norton, pgs. 69 – 90

Deakin, R.2007: Wildwood: A journey through trees. Pg 159. Penguin. London

Fuller, R., Irvine, K., Devine-Wright, P., Warren, P. & Gaston, K: 2007. Psychological benefits of greenspace increase with biodiversity. Biology Letters doi:10.1098/rsbl.2007.0149

Harvey, D. 2006: A Critical Reader. Pg 276. Eds: Castree, N., Gregory, D. Wiley-Blackwell. Oxford

Krebs, A. 1999: Ethics of Nature. de Gruyter. New York. USA

Lynch, K. 1960: Image of the city. MIT Press. Cambridge. MA. USA

McPhail, R. & Ward, D. 1988: Morality and Agency. Pg 72. University Press of America, Lanham, Maryland. USA

Pepper, D. 1986: The Roots of Modern Environmentalism. Routledge. London

Plumwood, Val (2002) Environmental Culture: the Ecological Crisis of Reason. Routledge. London

Rawls, J. 1971: A Theory of Justice. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Mass.

Rolston III, H. 2005: Half the truth but dangerous as a whole. Pg 76. In Environmental Virtue Ethics. Eds Sandler & Cafaro. Rowman & Littlefield. Maryland, USA

Ulrich, R.S.:1984. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery Science 224: 420-421

Whatmore, S. 2002: Hybrid Geographies: natures cultures spaces. p.14. SAGE. London

Whatmore, S. & Hinchliffe, S: 2003. Living Cities: Making space for urban nature Soundings. Journal of Politics and Culture. (Jan ’03)

Williams, R. 2005: Culture and Materialism. Pg 77. Verso. London

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Ravensbourne catchment

The Ravensbourne is a spring-fed stream that rises to the south of Keston at Caesar’s Well (TQ 417637) on the north (dip) slope of the North Downs and flows northwards through the boroughs of Bromley, Lewisham and Greenwich to join the Thames at Deptford Creek. The main rivers in the catchment are the Ravensbourne, as the main branch, the Quaggy (E) and the Pool (W). The geomorphology reveals large areas of

The Ravensbourne Catchment (Flickr 2010)

underlying pebbly Blackheath beds and smaller areas of underlying sandy Woolwich and Reading beds in places (EA 1996).

While the main branch of the Ravensbourne rises in Keston there is an eastern branch rising at Nobody’s Wood at Locks Bottom, this is the Kyd Brook. The confluence of the main and eastern branch is just below Mason’s Hill in Bromley. The length of this watercourse is 25kms. The Kyd Brook tributary draining the eastern flank becomes the Quaggy at Sundridge Park before joining the Ravensbourne at Lewisham High Street, the confluence being by the bus station (see Fig 2), and the total length of this system is 23kms. The Pool River, including the Chaffinch and the Beck, drains the western flank of the catchment, rising at Addington and entering the Ravensbourne at Catford (see Fig 6). The total length of this system is approximately 19kms. According to the EA report in 1996, the heavily engineered concrete channels and toeboarding sections make up 30kms of the 66kms of channel (EA 1996), however since the ‘daylighting’ of the river at Chinbrook Meadows, Sutcliffe Park etc, this ratio has altered. As is typical for any urban river, flows following rain events are dictated by run-off from tarmac, paved streets and walkways. The dense urbanisation within the Ravensbourne catchment ensures a fast return of rainfall into streams and gullies feeding the main branch.

Serious flooding has not occurred in Lewisham since 1968 (Fig 9), when Lewisham and Catford town centres were affected. Previous flood events occurred in 1928 and 1965 with the 1928 flood the product of overtopping from the Thames (EA 2010). The last flood was in 1992 when 50 properties along the Quaggy at Lee were affected (EACE 2009).


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