University of Nottingham

Values of environmental writing: Inspiration, communication, action

Project outline

This network aimed to raise levels of critical academic exchange and public debate about the possible relations between reading habits and preferences, levels of environmental literacy, and wider patterns of pro-environment behavioural and lifestyle change. Network activities focussed on a broad literary category: Creative Environmental Writing (CEW). CEW has been examined for its potential to inspire, to communicate and to prompt diverse forms of environmental action and social engagement in society, in the context of contemporary environmental change.

Values of environmental writing Values of Environmental Writing


Workshop 1: 'Environmental Writing and Inspiration'

Location: University of Glasgow
Date: 17th September 2010

This event explored the kinds of environmental writing and writers' voices (past and present) that prompt identifiable social responses and structures of value. Participants considered the following questions:

  • How are scale(s) of environmental change exposed and made affective?
  • How does the representation of changing habitats and ecosystems inspire environmental action?
  • Is there a continent-based or cultural geography characterising the most influential texts in CEW?
  • What are the limits of CEW as inspiration for change, or unity of purpose?

Workshop 2: 'Environmental Writing and Communication'

Location: University of Glasgow
Date: 18th March 2011

This event explored the characteristic qualities and values of creative environmental writing (CEW) that prompt action and intervention, or, alienate readers from ecological mindfulness, such as the communication of anger, resistance, caution, resilience, respect, passion, pragmatism, nostalgia, spiritualism, doubt, hope, grief, guilt, panic, and sadness. Questions considered include:

  • How do genres of CEW differently work on the imagination to drive creative environmental endeavour and action, and for whom?
  • What kinds of environmental writer are upheld as authority, as witness and as inspiration, and why?
  • Does the textual format of CEW (book or blog) attract different kinds of public attention and reception?
  • What are the implications of a critical consideration of CEW for academic writing?

Workshop 3: 'Environmental Writing and Action'

Location: University of Glasgow
Date: 17th June 2011

This final event explored what kinds of environmental action/response are produced by what kinds of creative environmental writing (CEW). It considered reformist, sceptical and radical measures, individual and social, local and global, committed and casual and was centred upon the following questions:
  • If different CEW literatures make different sorts of appeal, do they also hold varying appeal for different readers from particular communities, sector interests and social movements?
  • How does writing itself constitute environmental action and redefine values?
  • Is CEW only read by the already active and concerned?


One of the achievements of the Network is to have provided a new and effective forum for people with very different interests and investments in communicating messages about environmental change to share their views. Placed in a conversational setting, network members have exhibited a willingness to take a holistic view when seeking to understand others' positions on the challenges that society faces due to environmental change. Organising dialogues under the auspices of the Arts and Humanities may well give participants the license and liberation to offer more personalised opinion, allowing for the committed, but respectful, exchange of views. See project website.

Activities have created possible future pooling initiatives with comparable or cognate research networks in a Scottish context. Links are now established with 'Creative Research into the Environment' (a network hosted by Edinburgh College of Art, funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh) and EcoArtsScotland (a web-based interdisciplinary platform).


Ongoing influence

One of the outcomes of the network was a developing relationship with NVA, Scotland's leading public-environmental arts charity. This relationship was formalised through 'The Invisible College' a collaborative, inter-disciplinary research partnership funded by AHRC. The Invisible College designed, initiated and delivered a series of public engagement activities exploring the contested cultural significance of an iconic heritage landscape (Kilmahew estate and the architectural ruin of St. Peters Seminary, near Cardross, Dunbartonshire), and advanced plans for its possible future use for public, creative and educational purposes. Operating as The Invisible College, academics and public artists created a vibrant social forum for local communities, key stakeholders and diverse public interest groups to exchange environmental knowledge, by creative means, using experimental, performative methods.

An additional cross-project research collaboration was established with Professor Stephen Daniels and Dr Lucy Veale (University of Nottingham) and their research on the performance of landscape at Sheringham Park. Productive comparative site visits and landscape studies were arranged in the two estate landscapes. To date, this collaborative activity has produced a specialist toolkit for use by landscape researchers and designers (prepared in partnership with NVA and National Trust). Entitled 'Future Designs with Former Estate Landscapes' the toolkit will be available online later in 2014.

The cultural and media profile of The Invisible College project is still growing. It has received coverage on national radio ('Out-of-Doors' and 'Good Morning Scotland', BBC Radio Scotland) and a newspaper feature article.

The Invisible College project was a cornerstone feature in the case for support documents included in recently successful bids made by NVA to the Heritage Lottery Fund (£500k) and Creative Scotland (£500k) which will enable development work to begin on-site at Kilmahew, taking forward the project for landscape reinvention and significant environmental change.

Values of Environmental Writing 2


Award details

Duration: August 2010 - October 2011 

Principal Investigator:
Dr Hayden Lorimer

Higher Education Institution:
School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow

Project team members:

  • Dr Rhian Williams, University of Glasgow
  • Dr Alex Benchimol, University of Glasgow


Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071