3o Days Wild

3o Days Wild

30 Days Wild: reconnecting with nature

 During June I took part in 30 Days Wild, the campaign organised by the Wildlife Trusts. Along with the 430,000+ other people who took part in what was the UK’s biggest nature challenge, I was encouraged to do something each day that connected me to nature – a “daily random act of wildness” as the Wildlife Trusts put it! I decided to rekindle my love of wildlife photography by snapping something new and interesting that I saw in the garden and further afield.

 As well as taking the chance to photograph things which I see quite often on our bird feeder – robins, blue tits , blackbirds – I was amazed by what I experienced when I took the time to stop and look properly. I saw many things I had never seen, heard or smelled before (maybe simply because I wasn’t trying hard enough!). From a stunning hummingbird hawkmoth hovering to feed above a valerian flower to an amazing harlequin ladybird larva on a helianthemum plant. The referee’s whistle call of a nuthatch to the high-pitched buzz of a hoverfly. The miniature menace of a jumping Zebra spider on a garden fence to an slinky smooth slow worm basking in the sunshine on a heath trail. Raindrops sparkling like jewels on a rose leaf (cue Julie Andrews!) to the spectacular perfect symmetry of rowan leaves back lit by afternoon sun. The feel of the soft bark around the base of a mighty tall conifer to the smell of newly emerged funghi on an old tree stump. All free, all there for me to enjoy – I only needed to open my eyes, ears and nose to experience these things.

 Research carried out by the Wildlife Trusts and University of Derby highlights the benefits we all get from daily contact with nature – both in terms of our overall health but also our happiness. Being more connected to nature, getting a better understanding of how our natural world impacts and benefits us all, recognising that nature plays an important part in all of our lives and needs to be cherished – these are all things which 30 Days Wild has helped me to focus on in this particularly challenging period of our lives. It has also made me even more aware that, without a real resolve from us all to live in harmony with and protect our natural environment, this amazing variety of sights, sounds, smells may not be available to future generations to experience. Above all, that is what I will take away from my 30 days nature sight-seeing!

 

Jim Haywood

Director Achill Management and Producer Planet Pod

Earth Day 2020 – and the unique power of liminal spaces

Earth Day 2020 – and the unique power of liminal spaces

I don’t know about you, but I felt a profound sense of sadness last week when I learned that Wednesday 22nd April 2020 would be the 50th time that Earth Day has been celebrated. We cannot turn the clock back, but it is tempting nevertheless to imagine how a message might read from all of us today back to the original visionaries and activists who instigated Earth Day.

We have to accept that despite the best efforts of scientists, campaigners and change makers everywhere, the sustainability movement has failed to prevent a climate crisis or the relentless destruction of nature.

Yet my momentary sense of loss and nostalgia for what could have been quickly turned to a different realisation; that we now sit in a unique moment of opportunity. Historians will no doubt be prolific in their assessment of 2020 and the tragedy of the pandemic. We already knew that the 2020s would be a make-or-break decade; will the future look back on our present and talk about the pre-Covid and the post-Covid era?

If we zoom out even further and look at ourselves in a geological timeframe, we realise (as Johan Rockstrom points out) that “in the last 50 years we tipped from 10,000 years in the Holocene to the Anthropocene; what we do in the next 50 years will determine what happens in the next 10,000 years.”

A liminal space is an in between place, a borderland between one world and another. In certain cultures, they are seen as powerful, sacred places, a space where ideas grow; they are both fraught with danger and ripe with possibility. That’s where we are today, witnessing the transition from an established yet imperfect order towards the birth of a fragile new one.

With growing choruses of new normals, of green new deals and of “building back better,” let’s take a moment to appreciate the value, power and creative opportunity of liminal spaces. For better and for worse, change is afoot. Those of us who have campaigned for radical change for so long cannot afford to be wrong-footed now that radical change is thrust upon us. Now is a time for courage, and for all of us to re-double our work together to create the future we all want, and to restore the health of the one interconnected Earth upon which we all depend.

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Do we know the price of everything and the value of nothing?

Do we know the price of everything and the value of nothing?

Oscar Wilde’s quip about a cynic makes me wonder if we are all in danger of becoming cynical in our lifestyle choices and their impact on the natural environment – perhaps putting short term economic gain above understanding the longer-term value (aka “ecosystem services”) of our natural habitats and species?  When we buy our latest gadget at the lowest price on Amazon do we factor in the real environmental and social cost associated with the impact of producing, shipping, using and disposing of that gadget?

 I recently drew a simple sketch in response to a daily Facebook “Sketchbook Challenge”[i] prompt (the subject was “Supermarkets”).  My line of tree trunks reminded me of the ubiquitous bar code used by stores to price up goods.  (Maybe “bark code” might be more accurate in the context?).  A fellow sketcher in Australia responded “Your “bark code” is a great thought. The tree image brings to mind our post bushfire scenes in Australia. What price are we paying?…. In their distress, Australians have been hugely moved by the care and concern from other countries. And many of us hope it translates into far deeper global action”.

 As the need for urgent action to tackle major issues such as climate change and resource depletion, we all need to shake of our cynicism and make better buying decisions based on the true cost of what we buy.  Perhaps the time has come for us to “bark code” all our forests, mountains, streams, rivers and oceans?

 

[i] http://www.magenta-sky.com/online-courses/30-day-sketchbook-challenge/

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Standing up for Snowflakes

Standing up for Snowflakes

As we enter a new decade is it time to ditch the expression ‘Snowflake Generation’ – young adults of the 2010s who are accused of being hypersensitive and prone to take offence too easily? Our so called ‘Snowflakes’ are open to easy jibes at their phone addiction, their predilection to eat Avo on Toast and Instagram the experience, accusations they live a virtual life on social media and not an actual one. All too often these young people have been the butt of jokes from us oldies, the baby boomer and 60’s generation who have a tendency to fall into their own stereotypes of ‘you don’t know how lucky you are’ type comments.

As a parent of two ‘snowflakes’ I think it’s time for a bit of a rethink from those of us the other side of 50. Young people today are far worse off than we were at their age. We left higher education with no millstone of fee debt around our necks, free to walk into one job one day and out of it to another the next as the whim took us. Free to make our mistakes – fashion, romance, food – in relative obscurity without someone sticking it on Facebook or twitter.

Snowflakes I would argue are hypersensitive they are anxious and it seems their anxiety is justified. Data from Children and Adolescent Mental Health services (CAMHs) shows a spike in the number of young people suffering from mental ill health. There has been a sharp rise, up 37%, in young people admitted to hospital with eating disorders this year and alarmingly 12 deaths in the last 7 years. Eco-Anxiety is a reality for many and a growing sense of worry about the world and its’ future keeps many awake at night as well as propelling them onto the streets.

One of my campaigns for 2020 is to reclaim the Snowflake label – not write off young adults as over sensitive delicate young plants, but respect and understand the anxieties they carry. Real snowflakes are miracles of nature, each one unique in its form and structure, needing careful handling but we miss so much if we fail to observe their innate beauty and specialness. The same is true of our young adults- let’s stand up for Snowflakes and celebrate them instead of writing them off.

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Who are you influencing?

Who are you influencing?

In Mind in Society, his seminal book on learning and thinking, the Russian philosopher and psychologist Lev Vygotsky said this: ‘human learning presupposes a specific social process by which children grow into the intellectual life of those around them’ (Vygotsky 1978, p. 88). I was reminded of this last month listening to the great (I think we can say ‘great’) polar explorer Pen Hadow as he listed the achievements of those who had influenced and inspired him to live his life of exploration and enquiry.

He opened his talk by reminding us of the scientific import of the expedition to Antartica led by Captain Robert Scott in 1910-1913. This was news to me. The story I had grown up on was of Scott’s ‘great British failure’, albeit heroic. But Pen Hadow was at pains to emphasise that Scott viewed science as the primary reason for the expedition. In his mind the race to the Pole was of secondary importance. I certainly did not know that Scott and his team collected 2000 specimens, 400 of which were new to science. This comprised some 35 kilos of plant fossils, which included evidence, for the first time, that beech trees had once grown in Antarctica, meaning its climate had once been considerably warmer.

Showing us the diary that Scott kept on the expedition was a moving experience. Emaciated and hypothermic, with his fellow explorers lying dead in the tent next to him, Scott knew his time was up. He also knew, without satellite phones or radio, that the only means of leaving a message to the family he had left behind was to write it in the diary he hoped others would one day find. Thinking of his son Peter, his dying words urged to ‘make the boy interested in the natural world …’

That boy, brought up by his nanny, one Enid Wigley, went on to establish the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge in 1946 and found the World Wide Fund for Nature. Brought up by Wigley in a deliberately spartan regime, Peter Scott was to spend the majority of his time as a child out of doors, with as little clothing as possible, to toughen him up to the cold. A brilliant communicator in adult life, he was instrumental in setting up the BBC’s Natural History unit in Bristol, just down the road from Slimbridge. His successor? David Attenborough.

But it was Enid Wigley who fascinated me the most. Pen was the last of her charges. He grew up under the same spartan regime laid down by Captain and Peter Scott before him, listening to stories of their deeds. He remains the only person to make a solo journey from Canada to the North Pole, a feat he completed having spent 15 years on the sea ice of the Arctic ocean. Without a hint of immodesty, he claims to have spent more time there than anyone else. I like to think he could not have made these achievements without these important influences guiding him on.

It is not given to all of us to become Polar explorers. But we can influence the people around us. We don’t have to become Pen Hadow. But we could be an Enid Wigley, who, it turns out, was one of the great environmental influencers. It might be the most important thing we do. Who are you influencing?

First published at https://www.tonbridgetalks.com/blog

With thanks to Amanda Carpenter and Tonbridge School

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Civilised Rebellion

Civilised Rebellion

 Perhaps it can teach our parliamentarians a thing or two

“Humbug”, “Big Girls Blouse”, “Girly Swot”, “nose ringed crusties” just a sprinkling of some of the phrases our Prime Minister has cast about in recent weeks, seemingly oblivious to the inappropriateness and offensive nature of his language. In fact he revels in this carefully cultivated, boyish ‘devil may care’ look at me I am so outrageous but don’t you love me for it personae – and make no mistake it is a cultivated and it is entirely manufactured for the benefit of his audience and the press. What is not manufactured is the damage that such language does. Insults thrown across the chamber or the airwaves designed to undermine or wound the recipients and to stoke the growing sense of injustice in the rightwing elements of his party and the country. Sadly he is not alone when it comes to insult and injury – our MPs shout, barrack, insult, interrupt and behave in a way that would see most children and teenagers sent out of class or to their rooms!

But rather than just join the list of those moaning about this appalling behaviour I should like to suggest a remedy. I had the pleasure of joining my first Extinction Rebellion Citizens Assembly this week in, of all places, the Jubilee Room in the Houses of Parliament. It was an incongruous event in some ways – as we crowded in, surrounded by heavy replica Pugin wallpaper and at the mercy of division bells and wobbly IT – the XR rebels came from all walks of life  junior doctors, ex policemen, consultant psychiatrists, teachers, economists, students, CEOs, business men and women and not a crustie in sight!  We heard from Caroline Lucas MP and Clive Lewis MP, architects of the Green New Deal, from housing specialists, those responsible for city planning, health professionals and from a farmer (without his tractor sadly as the police prevented him from bringing it into the centre of London). Not only were they measured, informed and respectful they were listened to with respect and in silence. New to me is the XR method of no clapping but showing appreciation by jazz hands. Despite being in Parliament we needed no Speaker calling Order Order at ever greater decibels – the facilitator merely raised her hand when she needed silence and one by one we did the same and stopped our conversations. When we gathered into huddles to produce questions for the Department of Health, for Treasury, for DEFRA there was no interrupting, no jockeying for position. A raised finger was all it took to take a turn to speak and we listened carefully to one another – ‘hugging them with our full attention’.

The care, the consideration and the energy of the gathering reminded me of a Quaker Meeting. What was also extraordinary is how effective we were – producing three hard hitting questions for each department in less than 20 minutes from 60 strangers. Citizens Assemblies are the way to heal the divisions in our society, listening to one another and being respectful.

The XR rebels could certainly teach our parliamentarians a thing or two. Rebellion is the way to respect.

Hear XR in conversation with Planet Pod about their new Parliamentary Bill and the 3 demands here.

 

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