Forests have long been entwined with myth and folklore. They have enticed and inspired us since ancient times, creating stories that have been shared across cultures and centuries in oral and written language. In such stories, the forest has many forms. It can be dark and foreboding, a place that offers shelter or camouflage, and in which the wanderer can find themselves, ultimately, lost. The forest is often spoken of as if it is another realm. It is a place where time and the co-existence of flora and fauna have their own rules, in which humans are a recent intruder.
In this forest, there is a collective desire among the inhabitants to maintain the ecological balance of their land. The cultural and natural values of this landscape are inescapably linked. Historically, the Forest of Dean has a rich culture of land use. The ancient boundary, known as the Hundred of St. Briavels, is observed in local law and defines whether someone is considered a true Forester or not.
In 1838, an act was passed granting those born within the Hundred the rite to open their own mine of coal or iron ore and be deemed a Free Miner, as long as they are over 21 and have trained for over a year and a day. A handful of small coal mines are still worked by hand, and long abandoned ones have been reopened.
Commoners, known as Sheep Badgers, still retain a right to graze sheep in the open woodlands. Fallow deer have browsed this forest for centuries. Their number have fluctuated with the rise and fall of poaching and variations in woodland management. In 1999, and again a few years later, farmed boar were released and have roamed here ever since. Both the deer and boar are hunted seasonally to control their numbers.
The way people have engaged with this landscape over hundreds of years has shaped a unique and complex cultural identity. Conserving it is just as important as looking after the ecology of this area. These folk and rural traditions are part of the foundation of the Forester’s culture and collective memory. They are present in the archives of the local museum, there are traces of them in the topography of the land, and they are always spoken of.
Phillipa Klaiber is a long-form documentary photographer. The central themes of her practice are the anthropology of landscape, memory, and the materiality and topography of land.
In 2020, Phillipa completed an MA in Photography at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).
Phillipa’s work is exhibited nationally, (Diffusion Festival and The Royal Geographic Society, among others). She is also regularly featured in online publications. In addition, she has been shortlisted for the Film Photo Awards and the Genesis Imaging Postgraduate Award.
(Based in Bristol, UK)