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Fallen tree at Highams Park, April 2024. Photo: Shaun C. Badham.

Follow the Forest is a new project by artists Shaun C Badham and James Ravinet exploring the unique ecology, land rights and history of Epping Forest. The project draws inspiration from a historic walking path that traverses the green spaces of Waltham Forest, first established in 1978 to mark 100 years of the Epping Forest Act 1878. Concentrating on a small 2-mile stretch of the route from Highams Park to the Royal Hunting Lodge in Chingford, the walk passes the London-Essex boundary line, ancient woodlands and open spaces that were once the subject of organised protest and lobbying in a bid to protect them from enclosures and development of the land. With its protection now enshrined in law, the undulating forest is a rich ecosystem of wildlife and heritage that provides respite, meaning and exploration for residents and visitors alike. Comprising a series of free public guided-walks and associated audio-work taking place later this year, participants are invited to follow the forest to explore and observe the natural environment, registering the layering of social histories, governance and ecologies that converge along the way.

‘Follow the Forest’ emerges from an earlier project titled ‘Marking the Land’ (2023), which sought to explore the preservation of public rights of way along The Essex Way; an 81-mile long waymarked route from Epping Forest to Harwich, Essex. The route was first established by students from Chelmsford Technical College in 1972, but made accessible and popularised thanks to the voluntary work of the West Essex Ramblers. This same group has strong ties to Epping Forest, working alongside conservation and community groups to uphold the protection of the forest, and maintaining or promoting walking routes in the area. In this sense, the walking route and project is indicative of how access to greenspaces can connect us, both literally and historically, promoting shared values and cultures associated with upholding the protection of access to greenspaces.

Highams Park, April 2024. Photo Shaun C. Badham

Follow the Forest made possible by Waltham Forest Council’s Make It Happen grants programme.