In early 2017 I was commissioned by Gingko Projects & East Devon Council, Exeter City Council and Wildlife Trust for a year long project as artist in residence in the Riverside Valley park which runs through Exeter either side of the River Exe. This is a site that has undergone significant upheaval through the recent flood prevention works by the Environment Agency. My brief was to create connection throughout the site, celebrate biodiversity and work with the residents in the neighbouring communities of St Thomas and Exwick. I had a busy research period mostly on site and in science labs, walking the park with local residents with different perspectives on the site, learning more about Devon’s orchard heritage, deepening my understanding of the connection between carbon dioxide, climate change and deciduous trees.

FLOW is a extensive reconfiguration of the Environment Agency’s planting scheme creating a ribbon orchard along the site (around 4 km) to enhance the habitat for pollinators and foragers human and non-human. It encourages movement through the site, and including a wide range of fruit and nut varieties planted for a changing climate. FLOW involved close and patient work with a complex partnership of different communities, landowners and government agencies. FLOW project activities included: Orchard Ideas Lab, a curated day with people from local communities of Exwick & St Thomas, Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency & Exeter City Council visioning the possibilities of the project and feeding in local knowledge and ideas; Running With Trees, a running performance exploring the relationship between trees, breath and carbon dioxide working with Dr.Tom Powell, earth systems scientist as adviser & a collaboration with Amy Shelton (Honeyscribe) to make a portable Orchard Box containing blossoms that have been pressed and made into slides which are viewed and illuminated in the box. The Orchard Box formed part of a series of public events in Exwick and St Thomas (eg as part of St Thomas Festival) where people could feed in ideas to the project, ask questions and learn more.

The planting took place in January 2018. Over 130 people turned up to plant trees and over 250 people to welcome the trees in song and celebration. I collaborated with Emma Welton, a composer from Exwick to create the Exeter Wassail for 2018 with new lyrics for the project. Exwick Community Singers opened up rehearsals to members of the public to come and learn the song. The wassail was sung at dusk to welcome the new trees. Amy Sheldon facilitated lantern making and showed people the Orchard Box, toryteller, Heather Jane created and shared a new story for FLOW and Devon Wildlife Trust showed people how to make bird feeders with apples studded with seeds and fat balls. Paul Conneally had made a giant wordsearch using all the tree variety names on the route and we asked : How do we welcome the trees into the community of this place? with cards for people to add their experiences, stories and memories to the map of the route.

Some funding has been secured to support interpretation of the route, and its development with the local community.

Project website: www.flowriverorchardexeter.wordpress.com

It is one of the most inspiring ways of working and projects I’ve been involved with and it has culminated in a way of working I thought I could only dream of – Mary-Rose Lane, Environment Agency

Photos: Jenny Steer. Blossom Slides: Amy Shelton.