Tree stories stir hearts and perhaps a sense of hope

The following piece comes from Fay Young's website, Fay Young – curiosity about the ways of the world. Young is a journalist, a gardener, a mother, and an all-around nature enthusiast. She has been opening her garden at Pond Cottage with Scotland’s Gardens Scheme since 2021 and has recently become interested in a project know as Every Tree Tells A Story (ETTAS), which aims to help connect urban communities with nature through the power of tree-based storytelling. In this blog, she writes about her experience with this event as her first venture into the world of environmental storytelling. 


Getting set up

It was a gentle afternoon. No workshops, no break outs, no lectures, and certainly no rants. Just a meandering walk and talk through paths and clearings of our almost natural woodland, sharing thoughts about trees, birds, bats and butterflies. And how much we all enjoy being in a place where you can hear birds sing. 

This was the first storytelling event at Pond Cottage. By some miracle when we chose the date – Saturday 25 May – we picked a rare day when it wasn’t bucketing with rain. I count that as a good omen for Every Tree. But we put up the gazebo, just in case. 

So here we were, a small group, 22 people aged (I’m guessing) from early 30s to early 80s, with a wide range of converging skills, interests, and experience: ornithology, gardening, education, foraging, forestry, food, conservation, community, woodland and wellbeing. The healing power of Nature runs through many of the afternoon’s conversations.  

We gathered to learn from the experience of Dr James Bonner, an active participant in a remarkable Strathclyde University research project, Every Tree Tells A Story (ETTAS), which has produced fascinating insight into the importance of storytelling in communicating hard facts and figures. James is a Strathclyde Research Fellow of Physical Activity and Health. As a Strathclyde research associate working on the ETTAS project, he has spent a lot of time cycling round Glasgow distributing postcards specially designed to collect personal stories from people of all ages. 


Striking a chord 

I first heard about Every Tree when I tuned in to the Local Zero podcast one wet and stormy night in February. We’d just suffered a direct hit from Storm Isha cutting our tallest larch in two, so the podcast struck a chord when James talked about the emotional bonds between people and trees. 

The chord strikes again on a sunny afternoon.  I had contacted James through his Strathclyde University page shortly after the Local Zero episode. Could we link the Every Tree concept to a seasonal programme of garden activities at Pond Cottage?  As members of Scotland’s Gardens Scheme, we open our wildish woodland and wetland garden to support the inspiring work of CHAS (Children’s Hospices Across Scotland). We have a lot of trees with stories to tell and concerns about climate change.  

Storm litter left by Isha after breaking through the shelter belt in February.

To my surprise, he emailed back. And now, here he is under the gazebo.  “I like to reply when people get in touch,” he tells our group. “Academics should be part of the wider world.”  James, who has cycled from Perth Station to join us, has a refreshingly open and inclusive way of speaking, drawing on his own personal reactions as he describes how Every Tree has grown from a Strathclyde University project funded by Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Business School between 2022-2024. 

Stories full of memories and meaning are providing new understanding for academic research (see How People Value Trees by Dr James Bonner, Professor Sarah Dodd, and Dr Juliette Wilson). At a most fundamental level the stories connect people and places, stirring hearts and perhaps a sense of hope; although, as James adds, they are not always happy anecdotes. Trees can stand for loss and separation as well as joy and belonging. The tales told by children are often particularly moving.  “There are some that still bring tears…” 

The phone stays in my pocket

My phone stayed peacefully asleep in my pocket. Luckily Tony Heath captured the Hawaiian Earth Blessing.

I hadn’t expected to be quite so engrossed. For the next two hours I never once thought about taking my phone out of my pocket, so I have no photo or film of delightful spontaneous moments with creative contributions from members of the group.  A poem to a felled tree, a tribute to redwoods on our woodland walk, three members of a ‘choir with no name’ singing the Hawaiian Earth Blessing, E Malama, at the end of the afternoon.  “Earth and sky, sea and stone…” 

I didn’t take notes and can’t claim perfect recall of who said what, but I remember the atmosphere when we paused in the beechwood, a calm concentration. We talked with James about a wider awareness of what Nature means and why we need to be a conscious part of it. It would seem that we have not completely lost what the pandemic taught us.   

What happens next?

The project began in Glasgow, but it could – indeed, it should – happily spread, connecting people and places through tree stories across Scotland and very much further. 

Perhaps we can add an East Scotland dimension to Strathclyde research. We have a supply of Every Tree postcards so that we can collect stories and, with authors’ permission, publish them in Tales From Pond Cottage.  There are ideas for new activities (outdoor yoga, music, meditation, story walks…)  We can experiment with lovely imaginative ideas for seeing and hearing in Nature and Wellbeing leaflets from RSPB Scotland Loch Leven (just a mile or so downstream from Pond Cottage). 

Smell wildflowers or scents on the forest air. Do you smell the damp earth, or the pine trees? 


Among people unable to attend this first event, there are storytellers, arborists and ecologists who are interested in helping to create or support future events.  

Small and gentle events, I think. 

Meanwhile, huge thanks to everyone who gave their time, support, and thoughts so generously on a Saturday afternoon when they might well have been doing something else. For delicious home baking and donations to CHAS. For creative intervals, and for enthusiastic messages since Saturday.  Special thanks to James Bonner, who cycled back up the road to catch his train home to Glasgow, leaving us with a fair amount of hope for the future.  

pond-cottage-beechwood-earlier-may-sunlight-greeted-our-every-tree-event-too-picture-tommy-perman.jpeg ©Tommy Perman
The Pond Cottage beechwood earlier in May but sunlight greeted our Every Tree event too ©Tommy Perman

Strathclyde University ETTAS project lead academics are Professor Sarah Dodd, and Dr Juliette Wilson.  ETTAS research, workshops, presentations and publications were funded by Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Business School. Further reading and information: Every Tree website and How do people value trees? A multiple stakeholder story-telling exploration of tree-sources. 

Shared with much thanks to Fay Young. To read more pieces like this one, visit Young’s website, Fay Young – curiosity about the ways of the world. If you’re interested in visiting Pond Garden by arrangement, click here