Sacred Woodlands

Episode 50: Sacred Woodlands with Simon Leadbeater

Hello and welcome to this episode of the podcast. In this episode, I’m talking to ecologist and woodland owner Simon Leadbeater. We talk specifically about whether trees are sacred; spoiler alert, Simon thinks they are and he explains eloquently and convincingly why. He touches on books by authors you may well have already read; The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and Thus Spoke the Plant by Monica Gagliano. However, if you believe trees are sacred and sentient, a problem arises, namely do you have any right to move them, to prune them or even to move amongst them. And it’s questions like these that we touch on in the episode.

About Simon Leadbeater:

Simon has a background in local government and the third sector. He and his wife bought Rector’s Wood in 1999 and have lived there since 2015. Simon has published work around the themes or ecology, rewilding and forestry. In his own words, Simon sums up his feelings on woodlands and the right to roam therein;

“I think my essential philosophy is that we lack empathy for nature and particularly her animals, and we no longer venerate nature, in particular we no longer consider trees (and other plants) as sacred. If you have empathy, and wish to act as animals’ proxy, then obviously you will give them space; if you consider trees sacred, then you will wish to look after them with reverent care. The latter would include behaving in a woodland as if you were in a temple or church – our behaviour would be appropriate for such sacred settings.”

What We Discuss:

Simon’s beliefs surrounding the sacredness of trees.

What are the historical roots of considering trees to be sacred? How/why have we moved away from this idea?

What makes Simon believe trees are sentient? How does this sentience manifest itself in the everyday lives of trees?

What is open access to nature? Why might it be problematic?

How do humans rediscover their connection with forests and woodlands?

Why is important to consider the feelings of the trees themselves?


Simon Leadbeater on Twitter

Simon’s Work:

Leadbeater, S.R.B. (2019), ‘Ancient Roots to Untruths; Unlearning the past and seeing the world anew,’ Quarterly Journal of Forestry’  January 2019 Vol 113 No.1

Nearby Wild Blog

Leadbeater S (2019) ‘In defence of tears’ The Ecological Citizen 3(Suppl A): 101–3

Leadbeater, S.R.B., (2018) ‘Meat: the Alpha and Omega of Extinction’ ECOS, 39(3)

Books Simon mentions in the interview:

Wohlleben, P., (2016) The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, Discoveries from a Secret World (2016), Greystone Books

Gagliano, M., (2018) Thus Spoke the Plant: A Remarkable Journey of Groundbreaking Scientific Discoveries and Personal Encounters with Plants, North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, California

Mathew Hall (2011), Plants as Persons: a Philosophical Botany, State University of New York Press
The Imagination of Plants: A Book of Botanical Mythology (out this year, not yet read – but probably excellent)
Safina, C., (2015), Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, Henry Holt and Co.

Taylor, B., (2010), Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future, University of California Press

Powers, R., (2018) The Overstory, William Heinemann: London

Hill, J., Butterfly, (2000) The Legacy of Luna: the story of a tree, a woman, and the struggle to save the redwoods, HarperCollins Publishers Inc

Get in touch:



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