The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis


The Listening Wood Launches On Hampstead Heath

2 April 2019

A digital poetry walk around Hampstead Heath which launched on Thursday, 28th March, 2019 encourages the public to slow down and discover fourteen of London’s veteran urban trees.


The Listening Wood has been created by artists and computer scientists from UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) in collaboration with the City of London Corporation.

Veteran trees provide important habitats for a variety of wildlife and help to maintain the biodiversity of spaces like Hampstead Heath. Located in and around Golders Hill Park, the fourteen trees included in the Listening Wood have been selected by the arborists who manage them, and range in age from c.40-500 years. The Listening Wood takes stories about these trees and uses them to create digitally-generated poems.

Visitors to the Heath can now look out for the keywords etched on roundels of wood beside trees in Golders Hill Park and Sandy Heath. Sending these keywords as a message via thelisteningwood.com or SMS text to 07857 593029 unlocks lines of poetry relating to the history of park and the tree. By repeating this process for all of the project trees, participants can generate a poetic record of their walk, recalling the tradition of the Romantic poets associated with Hampstead Heath.

Last Thursday, the CASA team of Professor Andy Hudson-Smith, Dr Duncan Hay, Dr Martin de Jode and Dr Leah Lovett were joined by Arborial Team Leader, Alasdair Nicoll, members of David Humphries’ tree team and Dr Lucy Fraser, Policy Advisor (Cyber) for the City of London for the project launch.

On collaborating with the City of London arborists, artist lead Dr Leah Lovett says:

‘Some of the team have been managing these trees over thirty years and more – they’re like old friends. To have a chance to meet each tree, to really get to know them through the team has helped me to see trees differently, as actors that share and often shape our cities.

In creating the Listening Wood, we have tried to capture the unique character of each tree to give a glimpse of these actors playing out their dramas in slow time, in tree time.’

Professor Andrew Hudson-Smith, the project investigator stated:

'The Listening Wood project with the City of London is fundamental to the developing research field around the Internet of Things. It illustrates how objects all around us can have a voice via technology and working with the team it has been developed in such a way that it adopts a ‘slow’ take to technology, allowing reflection and thought in response to the business of the busyness of lives.

After interacting with the installation in Hampstead Heath, one participant responded:

‘I thought what was lovely about [The Listening Wood] was using SMS as a sort of physical probe – like it felt as if I could use it to nudge the tree, or wave at it, or something, to have another level of depth to the encounter. And I guess knowing that there were more possible responses than I received helped it all seem like an encounter with a world bigger than me.’

The Listening Wood will be live until August 2019. SMS text messages are charged at standard network rates, and no personal data will be stored.